Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Rubbing salt in an American's wounds

Back in February 2003, the odious London congestion charge, brainchild of Mayor “Red” Ken Livingstone, came into effect, costing me (and other commuters who cannot vote against Red Ken)£5 per day for an 8 minute car journey through a small part of the congestion area. After a week of the charge, in an article headlined “No increase in congestion charge”, the BBC reported:

There will be no increase in the fee paid by drivers to enter central London for at least 10 years, Mayor Ken Livingstone has said. Summing up the first full week of congestion charging, Mr Livingstone said the scheme's success meant that "£5 was enough".

Last autumn Livingstone clarified that what he actually had in mind was 10 dog years. As the BBC reported:
London's congestion charge should be increased to £8, mayor Ken Livingstone has proposed. Mr Livingstone has asked Transport for London (TfL) to begin consulting on a £3 increase for a private car to enter the central zone.
Today, I had a peek at the Transport for London website and discovered, after some considerable searching, hidden away as a footnote on the payments and penalties page, this:
PLEASE NOTE: From July 4th 2005 the existing daily charge amount of £5 will increase to £8.
July 4th, the anniversary of a rather famous revolt against British taxation without representation? The renowned British sense of irony is alive and well in Ken Livingstone.


Blogger john b said...

I realise these may be a novelty for someone originally from the left-hand-side of the Atlantic, but in London we have assorted magical devices called "trains" and "buses", which mean that nobody actually needs to commute into Central London by car. At all. Ever.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...

john b.

" all. Ever."

Except when they don't run. Which means that, in fact, the need to take a car is, well, often.

I used to take the train. Gave up because the service was so unpredictable.

12:37 PM  
Blogger john b said...

I'm told by people unfortunate enough to live outside Greater London that some of the train lines can be dodgy (never had a problem with SWT myself, but haven't experienced the others, so they may be as dreadful as their detractors claim).

However, even for such folk, leaving one's car at a Zone 4-6 station (many of which have carparks especially designed for this) and then getting a tube or train in is entirely reasonable behaviour...

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody forces you to commute into London. if you're going to come into the City and use our infrastructure, you should damn well pay for it.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


The congestion charge does not go to pay for the "infrastructure" that I am using. In fact, the whole scheme was sold to the public as a way to raise revenues that would be put back into pubic transport ... precisely the "infrastructure" that we congestion charge payers are not using.


2:15 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...

whoops! That should be, um, public transport. Obviously.


2:49 PM  
Blogger Steamboat Lion said...

It's interesting seeing an American - from the supposed land of free enterprise - bagging a unreconstructed Marixist like Red Ted for introducing a scheme to have drivers actually pay for the road space they consume, a scheme beloved by such bastions of economic liberalism as The Economist and the Adam Smith Institute (and pretty much anyone else who was paying attention in Economics 101). Why should be ration road space the same way the Soviet Union rationed everything i.e. by queuing rather than using a payment mechanism?

Who says there is no irony left in the world!

3:23 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


I would be happy to pay for my personal use of road....if i wasn't paying for everything else as well. The congestion charge didn't replace the system that had paid for the upkeep of roads simply added on to it.

If you really want to have cars pay for the roadspace they use, then the solution is to privatize the roads. However, it was not Ken's intention (stated or otherwise) to get cars to pay for the use they make of the roads. it was, explicitly, a scheme to get them off the roads and, failing that, to extort more money from them that would go to subsidize users of other forms of transport. The congestion charge, as implemented and in the context of the existing tax structure, is decidedly not economically liberal.

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Valentina K said...

The road charge is made for the cross-subsidasation of the public transport, otherwise the Balance of Payments will grew up into bigger deficit.

The provition of a greater accress into the UK from the EU side as well as EU legislation forced govrnment to the introduction of the road charges. Who will be affected the most by such actions? The low - income occupiers while the rest of car owners will generate extra profit for the government as Scott has pointed out. Everything is simple as that.

The stardard and the quality of life for Britons has risen and the car is a luxury in lesser degree now, therefore, to put the car back into the luxury could be done by extra charges and that's exactly what you were talking about guys. No surprise for me though.

3:58 PM  
Anonymous thedogsdanglybits said...

I wonder if the people above who would no doubt criticise me for driving into Central London would enjoy sharing their bus or tube with my half a ton of assorted equipment or indeed me after a long, dirty day's work.
Actually, the congestion charge doesn't bother me. I don't pay it. You do. I do what everybody else who has business in the central zone does. I pass the cost on to my customers
If you are fortunate enough to employ me to re-model your kitchen, at the end of a fortnight it will have cost you an extra 80 quid for my vehicle alone.
And it doesn't stop there. My congestion charges appear in your invoice, which has VAT added to it, so you get to pay an extra £14 to Gordon Brown as well.
Have a nice day.

7:10 PM  
Anonymous max said...

The people above won't mind. As long as you're not an American.

2:21 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...

On the one hand I think such a charge will have a desired effect of causing people to drive less through the toll area unless "it's worth it for them". I agree with Scott's analysis concerning where the money is going, but nevertheless, probably the reason for the charge (just guessing) is they wanted to reduce congestion in a part of town, and it should have that effect.

Here in the U.S. we have private toll roads in some places, which tend to be less congested than the non-toll public roads. We have one here in Colorado, and from what I understand, the proceeds are used by the company that own the road to maintain it, keep it in good shape. I heard an analysis of this from a representative of the Independence Institute, a local think tank, and it made some sense. He likened congestion on public highways to "the tragedy of the commons": everyone uses and abuses it. Toll roads are a good thing to have, because people will use them if they want to get someplace fast, since they're less congested. They pay the toll, but it's worth it for them. They get a more productive drive, wasting less time and gas. It would be unfair to make every road private, because not everyone would be able to afford it, but toll roads are a good thing to have in the transportation mix.

Re: the trains. I visited the UK in 1999. Shortly after I arrived there I saw on the BBC a documentary talking about a few of the major train accidents that had occurred over the last few years. It woke me up some to the dangers. The documentary even showed some Brits saying that after the accidents they gave up on the trains and bought a car. I don't know if statistically that was the wisest decision (I don't know what the accident rate for trains and cars is in the UK). I suspect the trains have a better safety record than auto drivers, when travelling over long distances.

Taking the advice of some experienced travellers in the UK, I decided to not rent a car until I was ready to drive into the countryside. While in London, I either walked or used The Tube to get everywhere. It wasn't too bad, but then I was a tourist. I had time to spare.

6:08 AM  
Anonymous Mark T said...

The original point was that Ken Livingstone said the rate wouldn't rise for ten years. He lied. He also said there would be no increase in tube and bus fares. He lied again. He is currently proposing extending the zone westwards into largely residential Kensington and Chelsea. Congestion here is currently LOWER than the target rate for the original zone and is by no means the worst in London. Repeated "consultations" have revealed an overwhelming no vote by residents and local businesses. And yet it is pushed through. The increase is a simple tax grab while the extension is simply a poll tax on car ownership.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott, only TOP bluechip executives actually bother to get driven into London. EVERYONE else takes the tube. When in Rome..

7:05 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


The very fact that traffic congestion is an issue belies your claim. I mean, how many "TOP bluechip executives" do you think there are in London? Certainly not enough to cause the kind of congestion which led to the congestion charge.


8:16 AM  

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