London’s population is 3-4 times that of Melbourne, although it is 25 per cent smaller in area. Like Melbournians, Londoners prefer living in residential suburbs, segregated from industry and therefore have high car-dependence.
Like Melbourne too, most jobs, retail, entertainment and educational institutions are located in central and inner suburbs while most people live in the periphery. Thus most journeys are radially directed to or from the city. Unlike Melbourne high costs of fuel, road congestion, parking and the availability of an extensive public transport system, make public transport the preferred mode of travel, accounting for 84 per cent of trips to central London.
Nevertheless, London has suffered all-day congestion, with drivers spending long periods in traffic jams and with peak periods approaching gridlock. Estimated congestion costs were £2 billion per year with residents also suffering health and aesthetic costs due to some of the worst quality air in Europe. Demand-side congestion reduction tactics, such as parking restrictions and high fuel taxes, have failed to curb congestion.
London’s public transport consists of an Underground Rail, surface rail and bus services. The quality of this system has deteriorated over recent decades due to public expenditure restrictions. The network has developed a reputation for poor punctuality and for being uncomfortable and unsafe. High fares exacerbated the problem. Buses, primarily responsible for cross-town journeys, have experienced declining productivity due to congestion, funding cuts and mismanagement.
On 17th February 2003 London implemented cordon pricing to rejuvenate its failing transport system. The cordon covers central London including the centres of government, business, finance and entertainment. Its perimeter is formed by the Inner Ring Road, use of which is uncharged. The cordon is designed to reduce traffic entering central London and on the radial arterials, while improving the efficiency of road-based public transport. By reducing traffic overall congestion was predicted to fall 20-30 per cent.
London has opted for an area cordon so vehicles parked on the street within the cordon are liable for a charge, regardless of whether they cross its perimeter. This is done because much congestion is caused by illegal parking. The cordon is electronically monitored using video stream and automatic number plate recognition to view automobiles.
While start up costs of £200 million the cordon was expected to generate substantial future net revenues to be reinvested in public transport. Reduced congestion and other transport benefits from charging were estimated at £180 million per year against costs of £130 million. The normal cordon toll is £5 giving all day access between 7:00am and 6:30pm on weekdays. Hefty fines and penalties are levied on non-payers. Exemptions from tolls are made for taxis, motorcycles, mopeds, buses, emergency vehicles, alternative fuel vehicles, health service and vehicles driven by the disabled and there is a ninety per cent discount for residents.
The cordon has significantly reduced vehicle numbers entering central London. It has reduced congestion, increased travel speeds and travel time reliability. Overall traffic flows within the cordon have fallen 10-15 per cent with journey times across the cordon down 14 per cent. Journey times and traffic speeds in central London have shown small improvements and traffic delays have fallen thirty per cent. Journey time reliability has increased by thirty per cent. Average speeds on roads in the cordon have increased from 14.3 to 16.7 kilometres per hour.
Only 4,000 people per day have stopped coming into the city area because of the cordon. Of those not entering the cordon 20-30 per cent have diverted around the cordon; 50-60 per cent have transferred to public transport; 15-25 per cent have switched to carpooling, bicycle, motorcycle, travel outside of hours or are not making trips. There has been no substantial shift in the timing of journeys.
Outside the cordon there has been a small reduction in congestion on the Inner Ring Road. Radial roads immediately outside the inner ring road have had significant reductions in congestion. On outer arterial roads there has been no noticeable change.
Average commuting times from outer London to the cordon have fallen from 46 to 40 minutes . There has been no significant traffic displacement to local roads around the cordon due to £100 million spent on ‘traffic calming’ boundary roads.
Revenues are lower than expected as vehicle numbers entering the cordon are lower than anticipated and levels of attempted evasion much higher.
London has spent the revenue generated by the cordon on upgrading the public transport system. The bus network has been the primary beneficiary of both reduced road traffic and extra revenue from fares. Three hundred extra buses have been added ) and the number of seats available has increased by 11,000 due to higher frequency trips, new and altered routes and larger buses. Bus delays due to traffic inside the cordon have reduced by 50 per cent. Excess waiting times for buses have reduced by over a third on routes servicing the cordon area.
Overall the London experience of using cordon pricing has been successful.