Quantcast

Are You Willing to Pay for Your Time Stuck in Traffic? Londoners Already Are

Insights + Opinion

By 2002, drivers in London, England, were spending as much as half their commuting time stalled in traffic, contributing to much of the city center's dangerous particulate pollution. To deal with a growing population, increasing gridlock and air quality concerns, the city implemented a congestion charge, using a photo-based license-recognition system.


Between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays, drivers entering a 21-square-kilometer zone in Central London are charged a fee, which has risen from about C$8.50 in 2003 to $20 now. The city offers discounts or exemptions for zone residents, people with disabilities, emergency vehicles, motorcycles and taxis.

Congestion pricing is a solution that works. But politically, it's a difficult sell. Drivers don't like to pay tolls on top of what they already pay to buy, maintain, fuel and park their vehicles. They often forget, though, the less visible costs of congestion: arriving late, having to leave early and burning fuel while stalled or moving at a crawl. Most people end up better off with a well-designed congestion pricing plan.

Although London's plan faced opposition and debate—even a legal challenge—its success has led to widespread acceptance. Almost overnight, drivers who could change behavior did, traveling at off-peak hours, carpooling or taking transit. Those who chose to drive despite the charge benefited from less congested roads. Within just three years, traffic went down by 15 percent, and congestion—the extra time to make a trip because of impeded traffic flow—was reduced by 30 percent. Businesses saw immediate gains, as costs of shipping delays and paying drivers stuck in traffic fell.

Benefits continue. More people take buses to the center and fewer rely on private automobiles. Shorter commuting times mean more time with family and friends, less aggravation and saving money on gas and vehicle maintenance. The fees also generate about C$300 million a year, which are invested in non-car transportation improvements.

London now has new congestion challenges. To improve safety, health and the environment, and to move more people, road space has been allocated to walking and cycling, which are surging in popularity. For-hire vehicles like Uber, taxis and minicabs—which are exempt from the fee—have also increased significantly. London is looking to a number of solutions, including expanding the fee zone and studying congestion pricing in places like Stockholm, Sweden, where rates vary according to zone and time of day.

As cities grow, challenges around pollution, traffic congestion and automobile infrastructure increase. Studies show you can't build your way out of congestion. More roads and bridges bring more cars.

Cities worldwide have implemented or are considering congestion pricing, including Singapore, New York and my hometown of Vancouver. Metro Vancouver's Mobility Pricing Independent Commission recently released a report that concluded, "Region-wide road usage charging is the most effective tool to provide a systematic, meaningful and lasting reduction in traffic congestion."

The report recommends point- or distance-based charges which "could generate enough revenue to re-assess our broader approach for funding transportation in the region," including "the potential to shift or reduce taxation away from other existing revenue sources, including the regional fuel sales tax."

The commission acknowledged that more study is needed to ensure the system is fair and effective. For example, London already had a good public transportation system and added 300 buses to the Central London fleet on the day the congestion fee came into effect. Because the charge is designed to encourage people to use other forms of transportation, viable alternatives must be available.

The report says congestion pricing could cost an average household that doesn't alter commuting behavior anywhere from $5 to $8 a day, not accounting for savings from reduced congestion. Charges would reduce congestion by 20 to 25 percent—an hour or more a week for the average city commuter. Costs can be offset by reducing or eliminating gas or other taxes, and revenues can be invested in transit improvements to make getting around without a car easier.

Reducing congestion and pollution and tackling the climate crisis require getting people out of their cars. Congestion pricing is a fair, effective way to reduce reliance on private automobiles, improve traffic flow and help fund public transportation. Let's do it.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Emily Deanne

Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.

Read More Show Less
Kokia drynarioides, commonly known as Hawaiian tree cotton, is a critically endangered species of flowering plant that is endemic to the Big Island of Hawaii. David Eickhoff / Wikipedia

By Lorraine Chow

Kokia drynarioides is a small but significant flowering tree endemic to Hawaii's dry forests. Native Hawaiians used its large, scarlet flowers to make lei. Its sap was used as dye for ropes and nets. Its bark was used medicinally to treat thrush.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Frederick Bass / Getty Images

States that invest heavily in renewable energy will generate billions of dollars in health benefits in the next decade instead of spending billions to take care of people getting sick from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, according to a new study from MIT and reported on by The Verge.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
A couple works in their organic garden. kupicoo / E+ / Getty Images

By Kristin Ohlson

From where I stand inside the South Dakota cornfield I was visiting with entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren, all the human-inflicted traumas to Earth seem far away. It isn't just that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye — are people singing that song again? — but that the field burgeons and buzzes and chirps with all sorts of other life, too.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A competitor in action during the Drambuie World Ice Golf Championships in Uummannaq, Greenland on April 9, 2001. Michael Steele / Allsport / Getty Images

Greenland is open for business, but it's not for sale, Greenland's foreign minister Ane Lone Bagger told Reuters after hearing that President Donald Trump asked his advisers about the feasibility of buying the world's largest island.

Read More Show Less
AFP / Getty Images / S. Platt

Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.

Read More Show Less
Newly established oil palm plantation in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Hans Nicholas Jong

Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging.

It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."

Read More Show Less