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Stories about the lives we've made

module:Urban sustainability

Cities and the role of technology

page:Technology and traffic management: London case study

London is a great world city but its transport system by the twenty-first century had obviously lagged behind the needs of its economy and its citizens. The population of London has grown slowly over the last 10 years having exceeded 7 million in 1995 for the first time since the 1970s.

The number of people employed in London has also increased – to over 3,840,000. In 1997, 1.07 million people were estimated to enter central London on an average weekday between 07:00 and 10:00, again part of an upward trend. Around 82 percent used public transport, this proportion remaining almost constant over the past decade.

Congestion charging is a controversial scheme which pioneers new transport management tools and would not be possible without state-of-the-art technology. Look at the following London traffic facts and figures to get a better idea of why the technology was introduced.

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London travel
  • Prior to congestion charging 40,000 vehicles an hour drove every morning into central London, equivalent to 25 busy motorway lanes.
  • With all this traffic, drivers in central London spend 50 percent of their time in queues.
  • Traffic speeds in central London dipped below 10 mph in the period 1998–2000 for the first time since records began. there are now no longer any 'peaks'.
  • Drivers spend as much as half their time in jams, costing the capital's economy £2 to £4 million a week.
  • 136,000 residents live within the charging zone, about half in car-owning households.
  • Each weekday, 6,000 buses accommodate 4.5 million passenger journeys on 600 routes around London; bus passenger travel increased by 6 per cent in 2000/01 to 4.7 billion passenger kilometres.
  • If the congestion charge works it is estimated there will be a 10 to 15 percent cut in traffic, enough to cut journey times by 20 to 30 percent.


    The only other city to attempt such a scheme in United Kingdom so far, although on much smaller scale, is Durham. This was intended to cut traffic by half in the city's historic centre. It has actually cut the number of cars from 2,000 a day to 200 within three months, using a coin-controlled barrier.

    Singapore is a success story on a larger scale, using similar state-of-the-art technology as do some cities in Sweden and the Netherlands. Cities such as Manchester, Leeds, York, Bath and Hong Kong will assess the London's success before they decide whether to follow its lead.

    The congestion charging scheme directly tackles four key transport priorities for London

    1. Reducing congestion
    2. Improving bus services
    3. Improving journey time reliability for car users
    4. Making the distribution of goods and services more reliable, sustainable and efficient.

    The scheme has also raised significant funds to improve London's transport system. Six months after the system was introduced, in autumn 2003, a report on its success was commissioned by Transport for London (TfL).

    According to the report the following successes have been achieved

    • congestion in the zone has dropped by around 30 percent – at the high end of TfL's expectations
    • congestion is now lower than at any stage since the mid-1980s
    • the number of motor vehicles entering the zone during charging hours has dropped by 16per cent
    • 50,000 fewer cars per day are being driven into the charging zone with the majority of their drivers switching to public transport or other modes of transport such as bicycles, scooters and car sharing; people are also diverting around the zone, resulting in 4,000 fewer people coming to the charging zone
    • no significant traffic displacement around the zone has been observed
    • car journeys to and from the charging zone are quicker and more reliable – car journey times have decreased by an average of 14 percent and reliability has improved by an average of 30 percent
    • public transport is coping well with the increased number of ex-car users and bus services are benefiting from the reduced congestion
    • there is a suggested 20 per cent reduction in the number of accidents within the zone
    • the various payment systems are working satisfactorily, and although net revenue from the scheme are less than anticipated, over £68 million will be raised in 2003/04 and £80 to £100 million in future years for reinvestment in further transport improvements



    Text only version

    The scheme is expected to raise about £130 million per year. By law, this has to be spent on improving London's transport system for ten years from the start of congestion charging.

    What will the revenue from congestion charging be spent on?

    • Bus network improvements
    • Safety and security improvement schemes
    • New Thames Gateway (estuary development)
    • River crossings
    • Increasing late-night public transport
    • Restructuring fares on public transport
    • Expanded Underground and rail capacity with new services across central London, together with improved orbital rail services

    Open question

    Sort the above beneficiaries of congestion charging revenues into long-term and short-term improvements

    Your local town or city

    The transport problems outlined above are not unique to London. Do some research into your local city or town's traffic issues. You could use the local authority Web site and local press Web site as a starting point.

    Use the following headings to create a spreadsheet comparing the issues:

    Key transport problems
    Causes of problems: from physical (the site and age of the settlement) to economic (such as demand from businesses) and socio-political (such as the reluctance of local politicians to tackle problems)

    Solutions attempted and dates of these measures
    For example, pedestrianisation, relief roads, parking permit zones, one way systems, traffic calming measures, and park & ride can all be included.

    Effectiveness of solutions
    Have older schemes been replaced, extended, or scrapped? Is there any traffic or air quality data to support this? You could create a questionnaire to ask locals, visitors and businesses whether things have improved or explore changing data on traffic counts and average speed counts.

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