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Last Updated: Monday, 12 February 2007, 00:01 GMT
'Why I love the congestion charge'
By Alison Freeman
BBC News, London

Julia Stephenson
Julia got rid of her car more than a year ago
The chorus of voices against the extension of the congestion charge has been noisy and unrelenting.

From the shopkeepers who say their trade will be ruined to the mums whose school run is to become dramatically more costly, and even those who simply say that driving is a right and motorists are an easy target when it comes to filling up the public purse.

But despite their pleas to London's Mayor Ken Livingstone not to extend the Congestion Charge zone west-wards into Kensington and Chelsea, it is coming into force on 19 February.

But one person who is one hundred per cent behind the charge is Julia Stephenson, a writer and green campaigner who lives just off of Sloane Square.

She ditched her car over a year ago having got fed up with the costs of residents permits and what she calls the 'stress' of being a car owner in central London.

People will begin to realise that having a car is an unnecessary and stressful expense
Julia Stephenson

"It's almost like looking after a child," she said, "Having to work out what you are going to do with it, where you are going to park it and so on. I am much happier without having to worry about it.

"Public transport links are already good in Chelsea and if I have a lot to carry I get a cab."

Julia is clearly one of those people who has become very conscious of the effect her lifestyle has on the planet and is doing her bit to cut her 'carbon footprint' - the amount of carbon dioxide her behaviour generates - overall.

"I used to fly five or six times a year but I've cut that down to two," she said.

"Sometimes it's just not practical if you are going on a long haul fight to find alternative means of travelling, but I've just got back from Austria and I did the whole journey by train. It makes it feel like much more of an adventure."

Julia Stephenson on her bike
Julia says pedestrians use their local shops more

Julia says that getting out of her car and onto her bike, or even just on foot has made her feel more neighbourly. She says she has got to know those who live around her.

Julia also doesn't buy the argument that shops lose trade because of the congestion charge. She says that local businesses actually make more money from those on foot than passing motorists.

Even from Julia's top floor flat, the buzz of traffic below is clearly audible.

"As you can hear, I live in a busy street," she said, "and when the charge comes in I'm hoping to see an instant improvement in noise and air quality.

"It will also be nice to not have so many cars about when I'm just out and about at the shops."

But alongside these short-term effects, Julia hopes that the congestion charge will bring about even greater changes in the motorists of London.

She said: "People will begin to realise that having a car is an unnecessary and stressful expense and they'd be much happier, healthier and better off without one - just like I am."

Views of a resident, on the congestion charge.

Borough wants congestion charge
07 Feb 07 |  London
Polluting cars face charge rise
14 Nov 06 |  London


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