Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

London Doubles Size of Its Controversial Pay-to-Drive Zone

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

London Doubles Size of Its Controversial Pay-to-Drive Zone

Article excerpt

Jane Morris didn't have to wait until this week to know what a new toll on driving in her district would do to her upholstery and interior design shop.After all, vehicles are essential to her business, she muses, surveying the fabrics and soft furnishings of the quaint west London boutique she has run for 25 years. Delivery men, carpenters, tradesmen, carpet fitters, and, of course, the customers all need vehicles."You can't really carry pieces of furniture home on public transport, can you?" she asks.Starting this week, they might have to. Monday, London's controversial toll zone, in which motorists pay an 8 ($15.60) daily fee to drive, was extended westward into the upscale neighborhoods of Chelsea and Knightsbridge - home to such landmarks as Harrods department store. At almost 16 square miles, it's nearly double its original size.For Ms. Morris, that will mean the loss of some regular customers."Already, we have had three customers saying they shan't be coming in any more," says Morris. "We are going to see a big drop in customers. If it takes out 10 to 20 percent of our business, it will be very serious."Morris is one of many railing against government moves - local and national - to charge motorists for using a road network that is expected to otherwise become increasingly congested in the decades ahead. In west London there is strong opposition to Mayor Ken Livingstone's scheme to extend the world's biggest congestion charge zone. Nationwide, more than 1.5 million people have signed a petition against plans to introduce in the next decade a "pay-as-you-go" road-pricing system where cars are tracked and charged automatically.Mr. Livingstone argues the new toll zone will ease congestion in the Kensington and Chelsea areas by 15 to 20 percent. He says congestion has been cut by more than 20 percent in the original zone, and tolls raised more than 120 million ($234 million) last year for investment, primarily in public transport. Traffic has fallen in one of Europe's most congested areas since the charge was instituted in February 2003. London authorities also claim that harmful emissions have been cut by 15 percent. Sales of environmentally friendly cars - as defined by the TransportEnergy Powershift Register (www.powershift.org.uk) - which are exempted from charges, have jumped."The congestion charge has so far been a very considerable success," says Professor Stephen Glaister, a transport expert and member of the Transport for London (TfL) executive board. "It met its objective of reducing traffic by what was expected. It has not raised quite as much money because trip patterns changed."But critics say the scheme is costly, flawed, and primitive. Businesses say half of all firms have seen a drop in profits since the 2003 charge was brought in. …

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