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Do congestion charges and parking levies actually improve transport in city centres?

With London's congestion charge having just passed its tenth anniversary and other cities, most notably Bristol, currently considering introducing similar schemes, this seems like the right moment to evaluate whether or not parking charges and levies actually work. In other words, do such schemes improve transport and reduce congestion in our crowded cities?

How do the Schemes Work?

London's congestion scheme charges motorists each time they enter central London. The congestion zone is monitored by a network of CCTV cameras and, by law, any money raised has to be invested in the transport infrastructure.

Several more UK cities are considering launching congestion schemes while others, such as Nottingham, have introduced a workplace parking levy to encourage motorists to leave their cars at home and use public transport.

Has it Been Successful?

London's congestion charge has had some successes. Despite a general increase in car ownership, traffic levels in London have declined over the last ten years, although the initial reduction has slowed down considerably in more recent years. As a result, the scheme's supporters argue, central London's streets are not as congested as they might otherwise have been. As a consequence of the reduction in the use of cars, more Londoners are using public transport than they were ten years ago.

One major down-side to the charge, however, is the effect it has had on trade in the central zone. Retailers point to a reduction in sales and London's Chamber of Commerce suggests that up to a quarter of businesses are considering moving out of the congestion zone. In addition, revenues raised from the charge have been lower than expected, which means there is less of an annual surplus to invest in public transport.

Looking at the congestion scheme as a whole, it would appear that the initial gains from the first year or two have gradually decreased.

An alternative approach adopted elsewhere is a workplace parking levy, which involves charging companies for each car space they provide to employees. The experience in Nottingham, however, has not been wholly successful, with a number of businesses threatening to move elsewhere because of the increased costs the levy places on them.

Individual motorists are not happy with the levy either. Most cities do not have as well-developed a public transport network as that which serves London, so for many people in other cities, an alternative to the car does not exist.

Where Does This Leave Us?

We all agree that we would like to see less congestion on our city streets and a better, more efficient public transport infrastructure. However, despite some initial improvements, congestion charges and levies do not seem to have moved us significantly towards that aim.

With congestion zones it is almost as if once the initial shock of the new charge has faded then motorists will gradually start creeping back into the central zone. The impact can perhaps be sustained by continually increasing the charge, but such an approach clearly makes no economic or political sense.

Author: Eoin Olivers photo

Author: Eoin Oliver

Eoin Oliver is a web designer and blogger with six years of experience writing content and designing graphics for clients large and small. For the past three years Eoin has been focused on researching and writing about the childcare voucher scheme. When not hard at work, Eoin can be found in the company of his 4-legged companion Layla.

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