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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 14:12 GMT
First congestion fines to go out
Drivers enter the congestion charging area
About 80,000 drivers paid the fee by Monday evening
The first congestion charge fines could be sent out on Tuesday, as London Mayor Ken Livingstone's traffic scheme enters its second day.

Transport for London (TfL) predicted a few thousand drivers would have failed to have paid the 5 fee before 2200 GMT, or 10 before midnight, leaving them liable for an 80 penalty.

About 80,000 drivers had paid the first day's fee by Monday evening.

Smithfield workers protest
Smithfield workers took their fight to City Hall
After a smooth start to the scheme saw traffic levels 25% below normal, Mr Livingstone will be hoping the prospect of clear roads will not tempt people straight back into their cars.

The launch was deliberately planned to coincide with the school holidays, when traffic is lighter anyway.

The day also saw 300 new buses introduced onto the capital's streets to help meet the expected rise in demand for public transport.

'Teething problems'

But London Underground reported that tube trains were no busier than normal.

TfL managing director Derek Turner warned commuters they would have to be patient with the scheme.

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

He said: "It's not totally introduced yet, we still have a school holiday period on, there could be further teething problems and adjustments to be made."

Despite fears of drivers creating rat runs as they search for alternative routes, Mr Turner said there was not yet evidence of congestion in new areas.

He said: "Central London has seen the introduction of the largest congestion charging scheme in the world, and it's gone very smoothly."

Mr Livingstone said on Monday: "I would expect for us to see the benefits by Easter and to know whether or not it will work.

"I will be disappointed if it takes six months....but no-one knows and we shall have to wait and see."

'It is unfair'

Despite the upbeat mood among those behind the scheme, its many opponents remained angry.

The AA warned reduced traffic in central London could impact on the capital's economy.

Freight companies oppose the charge and before their annual Freight Summit on Tuesday, some representatives said the arrangements for delivery firms to pay were chaotic.

David Sheppard, deputy head of transport for the John Lewis group, which has registered 1,600 vehicles in the scheme, said: "We've had many problems with the scheme."

"We registered our vehicles before Christmas only to be told that many of them had been rejected."

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

Conservative candidate for London Mayor Steven Norris said Monday was an "atypical day" because of the school holidays.

"There was never going to be chaos and blood on the streets," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said this was traditionally the quietest day of the year.

But the success of the first day did not change the fact the scheme was "regressive and unfair" by moving traffic from wealthy areas to poorer areas around the zone.

'Nonsense'

Shadow minister for London Eric Pickles called congestion charging "an unfair tax".

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 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.

Trader George Wittey, who drives to the market from Essex, said: "We are basically paying money to be allowed to get home. We are going the other way to the traffic."

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.

If successful the scheme could eventually be repeated in up to 30 cities across the UK including Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and Bristol.

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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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