Today has seen a flurry of writing and I blame it on the fact that I have no voice available to me. When one method of communication is eliminated, the others become more attuned, I guess. I would bemoan my raw throat and the intermittent bursts of pubescent squeals I create when attempting to produce coherent language, buuut I kind of saw it coming. Sore throat and flu-like symptoms be damned! I had a Bavarian Village to rock last night! And so I sit at my computer, a shadow of the person who sang it like she meant it but a few hours ago. Sigh. Ow. Ok, no sighing either.
In my youth, sick days were often used as a time of education and PBS watching. I say we stick with the learning sick-day, if only to ensure that kids have nothing to gain but more schooling for skiving. Mwahahaha! Sorry, back to the point at hand: you’re gonna learn some stuff now.
Fear not!! I am not here to share the mucousy details of my current state of un-health. I speak of the Congestion Zone so near and dear to the heart of your fair author. As we will be exploring this area intimately in the coming weeks, I thought it might be wise to maybe get to know it first. You know, ask it a few questions, buy it a coffee, learn about its great aunt and see photos of its childhood before we just go in, guns blazing.
Right. So what is the CZ?
The Congestion Charge Zone was created back in February 2003 as a means for….well we don’t really know. Decreasing congestion and emissions, and increasing income and public transportion ridership seem to be common themes from those in support of the initiative. Decreased business and increased costs are the main complaint of those on the other side. Basically there was a lot of talk from a lot of people with a lot of issues about the necessity and validity of its creation. Nonetheless, the CZ we have.
The current boundaries are the same as those defined at its February 2003 inception. There was, however, a period of time when the charging area was much larger. On February 19th, 2007 (TFL seems to love the week of my birthday!) the zone was expanded to stretch along the river, up through Earl’s Court, around North Kensington and along the rail line back to Paddington and Edgware Road.
This extension was hotly contested by resident businesses who argued the charge had cost them up to 25% of their sales due to reduced traffic. After much politicising and banner-raising, the people got their way and the CZ was reduced to its original size on Christmas Eve of 2010.
Currently, the charge for entering the congestion zone is £10 per day (£9 if you are part of the direct debit scheme). This is, of course, if you enter between the hours of 07:00 and 18:00 Mon-Fri and are not:
- a CZ resident
- an ambassador from a country that just doesn’t wanna
- a President (yes, USA we mean you)
- using photocopied number plates
- a German
- driving a dead relative’s car
- driving a fake mini-cab
- driving a real Prius
- or on your way to hospital with a sickness so out of control you can’t take the tube (I’ve been down there and let me just say, there are some sickies. It takes a lot to not be able to commute via public transport).
If you are none of the above and enter the zone without having paid your fare, you face a fine of £120. This drops to £60 if you pay within a fortnight or jumps to £187 if you pretend it never happened. Don’t worry, though. Wikipedia says that the Guardian says that in 2005 out of 65,534 penalty tickets issued, only 1,993 people forked up the cash.
IS IT BENEFICIAL
Once again, it depends who you ask. The CZ does bring in money to London. How much it brings is a topic of debate with numbers ranging from £189.7 million in its first three years to £10 million when stretched out to four years. I don’t know what TFL was doing that last year but it must have been one hell of a party!
TFL’s studies have shown significant decreases in emissions of nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and airborne particulates. A report from King’s College, however, believes it’s nigh on impossible to measure changes in a bubble of air that’s a small part of a large city. Those pesky winds do make things difficult, now don’t they?
ARE YOU in the ZONE
For those of you who have never driven London’s roads, here’s a useful tip: the roads explain if you are in the CZ. White CZ symbols let you know when you are getting close to the border. Red symbols mean you are entering it. Simple as that. One more thing to look for while you try not to run over pedestrians, get hit by buses and stay on the left side, right?
All told, all we really know for sure about the CZ is that it’s there. Has it done what it’s set out to do? Well since we don’t know what that was in the first place, it’s anybody’s call. I just know it helped me define a challenge for myself that let’s me share with you fine folk. That’s enough benefit for me.
Quick update from the future: now that this project is finished, I’m off on another adventure! Keep in touch on my new blog at Three Miles an Hour. See you there!