17 February 2003: London introduces the Congestion Charge

In a bid to reduce the amount of traffic entering central London, the city unveiled its Congestion Charge on this day in 2003.

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 between 7AM and 10PM would be spotted by cameras and be liable for the £5 daily fee (now £15, every day except Christmas Day).

But not quite everyone – buses, taxis and blue-badge holders are exempt, and some people living within the zone are allowed a 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 6 emissions standard get in for free. But that will change in October 2021.

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.

Recommended

28 May 1937: the Volkswagen car company is formed
This day in history

28 May 1937: the Volkswagen car company is formed

On this day in 1937, Volkswagen, now the world's second-biggest vehicle-maker, was founded as the 'Society to Prepare the German People’s Car'.
28 May 2021
1 April 1999: The minimum wage is introduced in Britain
This day in history

1 April 1999: The minimum wage is introduced in Britain

On this day in 1999, the national minimum wage was introduced in Britain, bringing an instant pay rise to 1.9 million low-paid workers.
1 Apr 2021
20 March 1602: Dutch East India Company formed
This day in history

20 March 1602: Dutch East India Company formed

The Dutch East India Company – considered by many to be the world’s first multinational company – was founded on his day in 1602.
20 Mar 2021
27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party
This day in history

27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party

Responding to the need for a single political party to represent the trade unions, the Labour Party was formed on this day in 1900.
27 Feb 2021

Most Popular

How to invest as we move to a hydrogen economy
Energy

How to invest as we move to a hydrogen economy

The government has started to roll out its plans for switching us over from fossil fuels to hydrogen and renewable energy. Should investors buy in? St…
8 Oct 2021
How to invest in SMRs – the future of green energy
Energy

How to invest in SMRs – the future of green energy

The UK’s electricity supply needs to be more robust for days when the wind doesn’t blow. We need nuclear power, says Dominic Frisby. And the future of…
6 Oct 2021
Why the world’s most important economic data release has unnerved markets
US Economy

Why the world’s most important economic data release has unnerved markets

The US added only 194,000 jobs in September, far shorter than the 500,000 that were expected. John Stepek explains why markets didn't react as they no…
11 Oct 2021