LONDON, England — With Manhattan traffic potentially worse than ever and a second phase now targeting and fining recent model cars for their emissions, Eyewitness News went to London to see how their city fared with congestion pricing.
Uber driver Henry Dalfinis doesn’t get a break from the endless traffic in the middle of the day on a holiday in one of the world’s great cities.
“You’re looking at this and this is good traffic,” Dalfinis said. “This is good traffic because we going forward.”
Moving forward is what the city of London promised it would do in 2003.
With great fanfare, it launched what it called its congestion charge, which uses a network of cameras and plate readers to toll every vehicle passing into the city center.
Their hope was to tackle the endless procession of traffic, one of London’s most persistent problems.
“The idea was you pay this charge and you’re able to move more predictably and smoothly through the streets,” said Prof. Tony Travers, of London School of Economics.
Travers, who studies urban government, has watched the rise and fall of the plan.
At first, the numbers showed a marked improvement with traffic speeds up and congestion delays down.
But a decade and a half later — with the trend toward bike lanes and pedestrian paths – London, like New York, has much less space for cars.
Drivers are shelling out 12 pounds — about $16 — to access the zone with London as jammed as ever.
“Here we are, 16 years later, and the congestion and the road speeds are the same as they were before,” Travers said. “That’s the weakness in it.”
One street goes into the zone and there’s no one driving on there at all. But then on the ring road, around the congestion zone, there’s a jam up of people trying to avoid spending that extra cash.
“We need to be real here,” said Sue Terpilowski, of London Federation of Small Business.
Terpilowski said it has done damage to her printing business, her factory outside the zone and her clients inside.
“We park here,” Terpilowski said. “Literally with our own hands, we have to manhandle the lighter stuff and carry it into the office.”
Fifteen years ago, London invested heavily in mass transit — improving the underground and adding buses — but since then, bus times are even slower than before.
And just last month, the next shoe dropped as the cost doubled for any vehicle that doesn’t meet the tightest emissions standards.
“It’s a bitter, bitter, bitter pill,” Dalfinis said.
Dalfinis’ 2-year-old van doesn’t make the cut, as driving into the zone now costs him $30 every day. He worries he may lose his home.
“I really don’t know how we’re going to get out of this,” he said.
However they get there, it won’t be quick.