PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

News

Londoners wail anew as mayor hits choked streets via wallets

Tom Hundley
Chicago Tribune

LONDON - "I hate cars," Ken Livingstone told an interviewer back in 1999. "If I ever get any powers again I'd ban the lot."

A few months later, the outspoken Livingstone got himself elected mayor of London, and while he hasn't been able to actually ban the automobile from his city's streets, he has made driving in London a very expensive proposition.

In 2003, London became one of the first major cities to establish a traffic congestion charge zone. Motorists driving their cars in the city center between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. are now obliged to pay a $16 daily fee. The fine for violators is $200.

This week, Livingstone doubled the size of London's congestion zone, extending it westward into some the city's poshest residential districts. The total area is now 6.5 square miles.

The mayor says he hopes to increase the fee to $20 next year, with a special super-sized congestion charge of $50 on the cars he hates most - those gas-guzzling, road-hogging, American-style sport-utility vehicles. They are known here as "Yank tanks."

The latest expansion of the congestion zone has been greeted with anguish by some, a stiff upper lip by others.

"We're not enthusiastic at all," said Hugh Blandon, a spokesman for the Association of British Drivers. "The original congestion zone is just as crowded as it ever was.

"What happens is that people back off for a little while. Maybe they try alternative means of transport but eventually they just swallow the pain. People need to drive to get to work and go about their business."

The charge is particularly hard on small businesses and their suppliers. One study said the extension of the congestion zone would cost as many as 6,000 jobs. Even people who don't drive get stuck with the charge. For example, a person living in the zone who hires a plumber from outside the zone can expect that the congestion charge will be added to his bill.

But the mayor's war on cars also has its supporters.

"The congestion charge has reduced congestion, increased bus and bike use and cut carbon dioxide emissions," said Tony Bosworth, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth.

Livingstone, whose far left leanings and open admiration for Latin American leaders like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez have earned him the nickname Red Ken, said he was pleased with the results.

"London is again taking the lead in tackling the problem of traffic congestion and emissions which blight virtually every major city in the world," he said.

Livingstone says that congestion charging has cut the number of cars coming into the city center each day by 70,000, or 20 percent, and reduced emissions by 15 percent.

The congestion zone also brought in about $490 million last year, about 30 percent of which came from fines. Most of the profits, which came to about $244 million, will be invested in the city's bus network.

London's buses are among the most expensive in the world. The regular fare is about $4. But Livingstone this week struck an unusual deal with Venezuela's President Chavez to supply London buses discount fuel. The savings, reportedly worth $32 million a year, will be passed on to pensioners in the form of half-price bus fares.

Whether the charges really cut down congestion is still a topic of debate among urban planners and traffic experts.

Despite the reduced number of cars in the city center, journey times in London remain among the longest in the world, according to some studies. Others suggest that it simply relocates the congestion to the zone's peripheries. A common sight in London these days is a long line of cars, engines idling, waiting just outside the zone until 6 p.m.

A number of cities, including Oslo and Singapore, have established congestion zones. Others are studying the London experiment.

Would the idea work in the U.S.? Probably not, judging from the American Embassy's reaction. The embassy has refused to pay more than $2 million in fines that it has accumulated since 2005, making it Britain's biggest scofflaw.

The embassy's argument is that the congestion charge is a tax, not a toll, and that diplomats are exempt from all host nation taxes. After this week's enlargement of the congestion zone to include 80 more embassies, several other nations have said they would be joining the U.S. protest.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.