17 February 2003: London introduces the Congestion Charge

Traffic in London has always been a problem. But by the end of the 20th century, the city was drowning under some of the worst congestion in Europe.

The average speed in the centre of the capital was just over 10mph. Transport for London, the quango charged with keeping Londoners moving by road and public transport, reckoned that would fall to 7mph unless something was done.

And so a radical scheme was proposed by the then mayor Ken Livingstone: create a zone within the city’s central ring road that drivers would be charged a daily fee to enter.

The details were thrashed out and the infrastructure put in place, and – to much cheering on one side and a lot of grumbling on the other – London unveiled its Congestion Charge on this day in 2003. From this day on (except at weekends) anyone driving into the central zone would be spotted by cameras and be liable for the £5 daily fee (now £11.50).

But not quite everyone. Only 30% of vehicles that enter every day have to pay the full charge –buses, taxis and blue-badge holders are exempt, and people living within the zone are allowed a 90% discount.

Many less-polluting cars were also exempt, which led to an explosion in the sale of Toyota Priuses and other hybrid cars. Now, however, even those are deemed too dirty. Only cars which emit 75g of CO2 or less per kilometre and which meet the Euro 5 emissions standard get in for free. But that does include such convenient city runabouts as the Tesla Model S, the Porsche 918 Spyder and the electric version of the Porsche Panamera.

So was it a success?

Private car traffic dropped by 20% after it was introduced, and speeds in the zone rose for a few years. But traffic has since increased, and speeds have dropped back.

It does bring in £220m a year into London’s coffers, however – though some £85m of that is used to administer the scheme.