Sam Smith, publisher of the estimable e-letter The Progressive Review, is perhaps the ultimate pragmatic environmentalist, with a sharp eye for what works and a sharper ability to deflate the pompous and overly-self-loving.
He is often the sole commenter picking up on policy proposals and practices that a less parochial media less obsessed with infotainment would be interested in — such as the success of congestion charges in London’s central district, implemented by Mayor “Red Ken” Livingstone (elected by IRV):
The facts about London’s congestion charging scheme are clear. It cut the amount of traffic entering central London by 20%. Each day in 2006, there are were almost 70,000 fewer vehicles entering the charging zone compared to the number that had been entering each day before charging began.
The figures following the extension of the zone westwards show that it is also operating at the expected level. Traffic in the area of the western extension of the zone is down 13%, right in the middle of the 10-15% reduction that had been predicted. And since the extension, traffic in the old congestion charging area has not risen at all – an even better result than anticipated.
The results are particularly striking as London is going through a huge growth in utilities’ roadworks, as the antiquated water supply system, which leaked away a third of the city’s supply, is being replaced. Without the reduction in traffic due to congestion charging, major parts of the centre of the city would have been close to gridlock.
In addition, road safety has improved, CO2 emissions have been cut, and congestion charging contributed to the growth of cycling with more people than ever before traveling by bike – a 72% increase in the number of cyclists on the capital’s major roads since 2000.
Naturally, all these benefits were not only brought by congestion charging itself but by the public transport measures that accompanied it. Bus ridership in London has risen by 2 million a day, and the city has embarked on the largest programme of public investment in transport for 50 years. Doubtless, New York will be looking at implications for public transport in the city.
Finally, New York’s decision has another implication. It is a final nail in the coffin of the claim by rightwing pressure groups and anti-environmentalists that policies being pursued in London are against the interests of its economy – for the one thing that cannot be claimed against New York is that it is an anti-business city!
In reality, of course, the evidence was already in. Retail sales in central London are far outperforming those in the rest of the country. The West End theatre trade is strong. Tourism is growing strongly. Congestion charging has achieved exactly what it was designed to do – not cut the number of journeys, but shift them from private cars to public transport. It has cut congestion, and cut environmental damage, with the economy continuing to boom.
The next proposed step for the congestion charge is to increase its benefits by enhancing its ability to tackle climate change. This would see the introduction of a L25 charge for cars responsible for the highest CO2 emissions, with reduced charges for cars with lower-than-average emissions, and the greenest cars would pay nothing.
Get Grist in your inbox