Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Weighing Up All the Risks of Livingstone's Latest Gamble

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Weighing Up All the Risks of Livingstone's Latest Gamble

Article excerpt

Byline: TONY TRAVERS

KEN LIVINGSTONE took a major gamble with his central London congestion charge, and it paid off.

He is now planning to try his luck for a second time by extending the charge into a new western zone. Already the local protests have started: the residents of Kensington are on the march.

But why should the Mayor worry?

Once his original scheme began, protests against it melted like the April snows.

A promise to abolish the congestion charge was not enough of an inducement to get Tory candidate Steve Norris elected in the recent mayoral election.

Benefits - in terms of reduced traffic - for the many clearly outweighed the extra [pounds sterling]5 a day paid by the few. Despite moans from John Lewis and other traders about lost business, the Mayor's economists estimate that the overall benefit to the London economy was equivalent to [pounds sterling]50 million a year.

An extension to the scheme, flagged up in Mr Livingstone's manifesto, seems a logical next step. Why not extend to other parts of Westminster and Kensington the benefits already enjoyed by the central area?

Such a move would be far less risky than the original leap in the dark.

After all, we now know (and this is much to the Mayor's credit) that the technology works and that the effect on traffic is, broadly, as predicted.

However, the move west is likely to prove problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly the set-up costs, probably of some [pounds sterling]120 million, would have to be funded by Transport for London - that is, from the Mayor's own funds.

Mr Livingstone currently has a long list of rail, tram and bus projects competing for a sum of that size. Central London's congestion charge was also costly to set up, but the costs were in effect underwritten by a large grant from the Chancellor.

Secondly, the extra yield of the charge from the Kensington zone (estimated at [pounds sterling]50 million to [pounds sterling]60million a year) would only just cover the annual operating costs. …

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