Why don’t city council members visit London to explore traffic solutions?
Why not stop trying to reinvent the wheel on traffic congestion and start with what works? Nobody in Aspen wants to formally entertain the idea of a congestion charge. But economists worldwide acknowledge that congestion charges are the necessary foundation of systems to effectively reduce traffic congestion in cities throughout the world.
The London traffic congestion charge is widely acknowledged by economists to be the “base case” example of a solution that still works to this day, more than fifteen years after its implementation. On Feb 17, 2003, London successfully introduced a congestion charge system to control traffic into the city center. A £5 daily charge was enforced on private vehicles driving into the cordoned Congestion Charge Zone (“CCZ”) from 7:00am to 6:30pm on weekdays. The charge has risen gradually from £5 in 2003 to £11.50 today. Residents receive a 90% discount and registered disabled people can travel for free. Emergency services, motorcycles, taxis and minicabs are exempt.
The effects were both immediate and lasting. Six months into implementation, the volume of cars in Central London fell by 27% and average travel speed was 20% higher than before. Bicycle trips are currently up by 210%, inclusive of the bicycle superhighways installed in the city. There has been little detrimental effect on businesses inside the CCZ. Even today, the system is widely hailed as a success.
Admittedly, London’s congestion charge was only one part of larger efforts to improve travel across all forms of transport in the city, but we already have the buses and bike lanes in place here. The London congestion charge was and is the crucial foundation for getting people to actually use the available public transportation and bicycles and leave their cars at home. Isn’t that what we want here?
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