The following article was originally published during the 2004 GLA Elections. It includes several contributions from Mayoral candidates in that year’s elections.
A recent ‘end of term’ report on the London Congestion Charge has hailed the scheme a “success”.
The charge, introduced by Mayor Livingstone in the face of strong opposition and much scepticism, has seen traffic levels fall by 18% and bus passenger numbers rise. However revenues have been much lower than predicted with officials now expecting to collect about £70 million pounds this year as opposed to the £180 million originally claimed. In addition criticism of the scheme hasn’t ended with a number of business leaders claiming it has had a negative impact on trade.
MayorWatch has spoken to several Mayoral candidates about their plans for London’s Congestion Charge should they win June’s election as well as representatives of some key organisations in London to see what changes they’d want from a new Mayor.
Conservative Mayoral candidate, Steve Norris said “Livingstone’s congestion charge has inflicted real and permanent damage to businesses within the zone especially small retailers and restaurants. Drivers on low incomes who need to make essential journeys have been penalized. In effect, the Mayor has erected a sign that says, “poorer motorists keep out”. Significantly, Sir Stuart Hampson, the Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership has recently warned any city that is thinking of copying London’s example to think again.
The charge is also likely to be the only tax in history that loses money. Having promised that it would raise £200 million to invest in public transport, the latest figures show it is more likely to lose that amount.
I will scrap the congestion charge scheme on Day One of becoming mayor and there will be an amnesty for all those with outstanding fines.”
Green Party contender Darren Johnson describes himself as “one of the congestion charge’s biggest fans” claiming it has been “a huge success” and proposes expanding the zone to cover the whole of London. Johnson explains; “at the moment it covers only a small part of central London. As Mayor I want to introduce three separate zones for central London, inner London and outer London so that the benefits of congestion charging are spread to every community“.
Ram Gidoomal who is again standing as the Christian Peoples Alliance candidate takes a pragmatic view of the scheme: “As a party we have always favoured the principle of the charge and welcome the fact that it has worked to decrease the number of traffic movements into London at peak periods. Although the charge is a major source of funding for the GLA and it has failed to reach the targets set for it, the fact that it has led to a decrease in cars using central London will have important environmental benefits, especially over air pollution.
However, the CPA would like to see if workers in the charitable sector can benefit from exemptions which currently favour key sector workers and residents of the zone. We also see a case for looking again at the time periods in which the charge currently works. For example, it may make sense to end the charging period earlier, or to create a window at another part of the day when the charge will not apply, to aid business. As Mayor, Ram Gidoomal would conduct a study to look at these options, bearing in mind that we do not want exemptions to undermine the scheme’s coherence or deterrent effect.
Lastly, the GLA is starting a consultation period over extending the zone. We are developing our views on this, but in the first instance we see a case for allowing London’s boroughs to apply the charge in specific areas where peak traffic is a problem or where rat-running happens. The revenue would go to the GLA (so it does not become another local tax) and the GLA would be responsible for the running of the charge, as at present. The effect would be to use the charge as a means of controlling peak traffic rather than as a way of raising funds. It would be an alternative to creating whole new swathes of London as new zones.”
Peter Cardy, Chief Executive of Macmillian Cancer Relief strikes a note of caution over the charge and possible future schemes: “Before other cities introduce their own congestion charge following the so-called ‘success’ of Ken Livingstone’s scheme in London, let’s hope they consider the impact it will have on NHS patients and their families.
Often, people who are undergoing treatment for cancer are not well enough to use public transport to travel to hospital and need to use a car. It is unfair to impose an extra cost on patients just because their hospital happens to be within a congestion charging zone.
Macmillan Cancer Relief recently welcomed a proposal from Transport for London to remove the minimum income requirement for NHS patients seeking reimbursement of the congestion charge. This is good news because it means patients, who meet certain clinical criteria, will no longer have to cover this extra cost out of their own pockets.
However, as far as we know, this proposal was only introduced after intense pressure from Macmillan. If other councils are planning to introduce a congestion charge they need to take note of a simple fact: cancer does not discriminate on the basis of income. They have an opportunity to address this issue now, not a year after introduction of their schemes.
The congestion charge, wherever it is levied, should never be a tax on cancer.”