Two Capital Cities in the UK Make Parking and Traffic Changes
October, 2004The cities of London and Edinburgh have made major changes in how they deal with traffic and parking. A year ago in London, the city began to charge $8.50 for each private vehicle driving into the central city. The goals? To reduce congestion in the clogged center of London and generate upwards of $180 million per year in revenue.
Six months ago, the city of Edinburgh put in place a program to allow its citizens to use their cell phones to pay their on-street parking. So, what are the results?
Here are two articles taken from the pages of Parking News, the publication of the British Parking Association.
'Congestion Charge' Lowers Traffic, and Parking Revenue, in London
Opponents of the London plan claim that in addition to reducing traffic, the "congestion charge" has also reduced parking revenue. Recently, Westminster Council blamed the charge for a massive $15 million drop in parking revenue. Fewer cars in London mean less to spend on transport projects, the council says.
Others say that reducing congestion was the whole point of the measure in the first place and that reduced numbers of cars mean that it is working.
Michele Dix of the London Transport Agency talks to Ian Round from the British Parking Association's Parking News about the first full year of "congestion charging" in London
"When we spoke more than a year ago, 'congestion charging' was just a clever idea. The scheme had been planned to the last detail, but up to Feb. 17, 2003, it was all theory; congestion charging had no significant track record anywhere, let alone in the center of a major city like London. So, one year in, how's it been? Has it been a happy birthday for you?
Yes, but it's been London's happy birthday, not just mine! Congestion charging's been a big success for the capital. The traffic's moving a lot better, and that was the main aim of the whole project, you remember.
How has the year worked out?
This has been the largest single traffic management experiment of its kind anywhere. When we were planning the scheme, we had all sorts of research studies and projections, but that was all. Now we have a year's experience to draw on, and plenty of facts and measurements covering the whole period.
Our primary aim was to get Central London moving, and we forecast that a daily charge at the $7.50 level would reduce congestion in the controlled area by between 20 percent and 30 percent. In the end, we did the 30 percent, which was brilliant. We also estimated that traffic levels would be between 10 percent and 15 percent lower, and again we hit the top end of the band: 15 percent.
What these figures mean is that journeys in Central London can now be shorter and more reliable, and the distribution of goods and services has been considerably improved. London is no longer choking in its own traffic, as it was before.
What about the fears of disruption and extra problems for traffic outside the zone?
Our surveys show that this hasn't happened. If anything, there have been improvements in traffic flow outside the charging zone, particularly on London's radial routes, because of the smaller number of vehicles moving through toward the controlled area.
What about all the charges you have collected? You were originally forecasting net revenue in excess of $160 million dollars.
That figure came from the mid-range of our estimates for traffic reduction. What actually happened was that we hit the top end of all our projections, and the result was that there were considerably fewer vehicles to pay the charge. We were victims of our own success, if you like. Also, many more drivers claimed exemptions or discounts than we had anticipated. Nevertheless, our net revenue this year will be around $100 million after all administration and collection costs have been taken out. And next year we expect to exceed that.
How much has evasion of payment been a feature of the scheme?
At first, perhaps it was, because our enforcement measures weren't fully active, and the penalty procedures themselves needed time to kick in. It's certainly not been a problem for us, and we don't expect it to be.
The movement of people in London and the methods they choose can be incredibly complex. What about the wider picture?
You're right. So far we've talked just about road traffic, which is only one way Londoners move to work or go shopping or sightseeing or whatever. What we have found has been a cascade effect, where travelers have systematically moved from one mode of transport to another.
It works this way. The car drivers who no longer drive regularly in the charging zone seem mostly to have moved onto the Underground. At the same time, many Underground users have moved onto the buses because they're cheaper and now much quicker and reliable than they were. This was why we were anxious to increase the bus fleet. Even before the scheme started, 500 extra buses had been added to the routes crossing Central London, and the overall increase is now 560 extra buses, which is 23 percent more than we had before. In fact, the bus service has been a considerable beneficiary from congestion charging. Quite apart from all the extra vehicles, the service is generally greatly improved, with a 60 percent reduction in excess wait time.
London is made up of a great variety of communities, often with considerable diversities within each. Has congestion charging affected some boroughs more than others?
I'm sure that this is so, but our studies are not yet complete. We carried out benchmark studies all over London before congestion charging started, analyzing pre-existing journey patterns. Now we shall repeat these studies and be able to determine what shifts there have been in each area and how much these have been caused or modified by congestion charging in the central zone. It should be highly interesting and help us enormously in our future planning.