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London's congestion charge has reduced the number of cars entering the central city by 30%. Now New York City is planning to impose a congestion charge of its own starting in 2021.

Air Quality

Congestion Pricing Cuts London Traffic By 30%. Now New York City Wants In.

London’s congestion charge has reduced the number of cars entering the central city by 30%. Now New York City is planning to impose a congestion charge of its own starting in 2021.

If you drive a car into central London weekdays between 7:00 am and 6:00 pm, you will pay a congestion charge of £11.50, equivalent to about $15. The rules are enforced by automatic cameras that snap photos of the license plates on the cars entering the congestion zone. Other cameras record the license plates of cars inside the city on a random basis. The city’s transportation agency tells Bloomberg the charge is having the desired effect, cutting the number of cars entering the city by 30% on weekdays.

Photo by Craig Adderley, via Pexels

The congestion charge is having another effect as well. Fewer people who live in London are buying cars. In 2017, there were 710,000 cars registered in London. That’s down 2% since 2017. By contrast, auto sales across the UK are up nearly 11% during the same period.

Congestion is part of the reason for the fee to enter the city center, but poor air quality is another. Now London will add a separate charge of £12.50 a day for older cars with high tailpipe emissions in an effort to further reduce air pollution in the central city. Like most large cities, the air over London is filled with carbon dioxide, particulates, and various poisons from vehicle exhausts that are harmful for humans to breathe.

New York City Moving Toward A Congestion Charge

Following approval from the New York state legislature, the city of New York is moving forward with its own plan to implement a congestion charge for all of lower Manhattan below 60th Street. The city says 880,000 vehicles enter that area every day.

Details of the plan are still being worked out as officials try to figure out how to enforce the new policy and who will be exempt, but the proposed fee will be similar to London’s — between $12 and $14. It is expected to raise over a billion dollars a year, most of which will be devoted to improving the city’s ailing subway system, according to the New York Times.

Many people are in favor of the congestion charge in theory, but nobody wants it to apply to them. New Jersey officials are up in arms about the proposal because more than 110,000 of its residents drive into lower Manhattan every day to work, paying hefty tolls to do so. Firefighters and police officers want to be exempt because they need to quick access to the city in times of emergency. Handicapped drivers feel they should be exempt as well.

People moving through the city on the FDR or the West Side Drive who do not enter lower Manhattan will not pay the fee. Some want to see electric cars exempted. Residents of Staten Island think they should be given special consideration.

The plan is not scheduled to go into effect until 2021 and there will be plenty of politicking and string pulling between now and then as people try to avoid the burden of the congestion charge. Other US cities will be following the New York experience to see whether they should adopt congestion charges of their own.

Less congestion and less pollution. What’s not to like? If you are one of the people who has to pay a congestion charge, you probably are less than enthusiastic about shelling out your hard-earned money to drive into your favorite city. But if cities are to address pollution and congestion effectively, such charges make perfect sense.


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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.


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