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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 14:12 GMT
Congestion charge cuts traffic levels
Roger Wooley from Maidstone pays at a self-service machine in Westminster
There are several ways to pay the charge
The first day of the world's biggest congestion charge scheme has seen traffic in central London fall by an estimated 25%.

Organisers called the day "historic", although transport chiefs said it would be months before the full impact of the ambitious scheme was known.

About 80,000 people are expected to have paid the 5 fee to enter the zone by the end of Monday.

There was little sign of the anticipated traffic gridlock or major public transport problems during either the morning or evening rush hours, with roads surprisingly quiet.

congestion charge
London was like a ghost town and possessed an eerie beauty

The worry now, said BBC transport correspondent Tom Symonds, is that driving conditions may become so attractive that more people are willing to pay the charge - thus clogging up the roads again.

However, the first day of the scheme was deliberately planned to coincide with the first day of the school half-term holidays, which always sees about 14% lower traffic levels.

If successful the scheme, which aims to get motorists out of their cars, could eventually be repeated elsewhere in up to 30 cities across the UK.

Some opponents have vowed to fight the scheme, saying poorer-paid motorists are unfairly penalised by the flat flee.

Open in new window : In pictures
The view from the street during the first rush hour

London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who had anticipated a "bloody day", told BBC London on Monday evening that the scheme appeared to have been a success.

"No-one expected it would go this easy today. That doesn't mean we're out of the wood, but it's a very good sign and I've already been getting phone calls from people saying it's the best day's journey they've ever had into work."

If the scheme was still considered a success by July, he said, he would hope to be "extending it westwards, perhaps doubling the size".

The first 80 fines for motorists failing to pay the daily charge - payable 0700-1830 GMT weekdays - will go out on Tuesday.

Officials from 30 other British cities, including Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and Bristol, will consider introducing congestion charges if the scheme is successful.

HOW THE SCHEME WORKS
Charge applies in eight square miles (21 square km)
Charges apply 0700-1830 GMT Monday to Friday, except public holidays
5 flat daily fee in advance or on day
Non-payment fines of up to 120
There was no early rush of motorists attempting to get in before the charge began at 0700 GMT or signs of extra traffic around the zone, according to the RAC.

London Underground also recorded "no significant difference" in passenger numbers.

Meanwhile motorists were able to get through to the Transport for London congestion payment phone line.

Bob Kiley, London's transport commissioner, said: "We do anticipate problems and challenges but nothing on a cataclysmic order.

"I think it is going to take us several months to work our way through this to get it in the best possible shape that it can be."
TALKING POINT
What do you think of congestion charging?
It will affect those that can least afford it

Michael Thomas, London, UK

Derek Turner, of Transport for London, said the scheme had begun "very smoothly".

"I believe we have seen a brand new chapter in London's transport system and I am sure Londoners are going to reap the benefit in years to come."

It is hoped the charge will raise 130m in two years towards improving public transport in London, where average traffic speed has fallen to 10mph.

Opposition

Opponents of the scheme are calling on the courts to order a review by the mayor of the charge for lower-paid workers.

Solicitor Steven Alexander said: "These people should be taken out of the scheme altogether. Frankly it is unfair."

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith was among those joining protests across the capital.

He met traders at Smithfield market before they headed for City Hall with a petition against the charge.

"It's a nonsense that they [Transport for London] are doing this. It is hitting the wrong people," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Montague
"The end of a historic day"
Congestion

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TALKING POINT
 VOTE RESULTS
Do you agree with congestion charges?

Yes
 63.39% 

No
 36.61% 

49889 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

11 Feb 03 | Politics
17 Feb 03 | England
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