Honolulu Advertiser

Second Opinion by Cliff Slater

June 8, 2003


London offers lesson in traffic management

LONDON—For as long as I can remember, traffic congestion in the central part of this city has been awful. In recent years, vehicle speeds have averaged less than 10 mph.

However, beginning in February this year, the traffic congestion ended. The City’s Mayor, Ken “Red Ken” Livingstone, began charging an $8 daily fee for driving in the center of the city to reduce traffic 15-20%. It worked.

The fee is easily paid by phone or Internet and, to verify payment, video sensors digitize vehicle license plates and check them against a database of those who have paid. There is a significant fine if you do not pay on time.

The reduction in congestion has had some startling effects. The private bus operators that run London’s double-decker buses have had to readjust their schedules since bus speeds have radically improved.

London’s Oxford Street, the shopping Mecca for millions, has experienced bumper-to-bumper traffic for as long as anyone can remember. Today, traffic moves freely.

In 1997, I wrote about the dramatic reductions in crime in New York (5/13/97) resulting from radically changing their crime management techniques. Police from all over the world were traveling to New York to find out how they had cut crime in half.

Today, to witness another success, elected officials from all over the world are traveling to London to see how it has been able to eliminate its formerly horrendous traffic congestion.

While congestion pricing has now been successfully implemented in Singapore; Trondheim, Norway; and Rome, Italy, among others,(1) it is its success in London—one of the world’s largest cities—that has caught everyone’s attention.

Congestion pricing in the U.S. is limited to a few highways such as the SR-91 tollway in Orange County and the I-15 tollway in San Diego.(2)

Based on both public and business support for the London experiment,(3) the UK now plans a nationwide highways program of eliminating gas taxes and instead, substituting congestion pricing. They are planning for a GPS in every vehicle hooked to an anonymous Smart Card reader with communication by satellite.(4) They anticipate that rural road use will be nearly free while in-town travel at rush hour will be the most expensive.

One of the counter-intuitive facts about highway travel is that many more cars can be moved along a freeway at 40mph than when it is highly congested and traffic is moving at 20mph. Thus, by managing the traffic through congestion pricing more cars can be carried by our highways. This is one of the prime reasons why car travel should be managed instead of continuing the chaotic conditions we have today.

Six years ago when I wrote about New York crime I noted that though Hawaii’s crime was up while New York’s was down, Honolulu police had still not gone to New York to see how they were doing it. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for any of our elected officials to get to London.

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater


(1) European Transport Pricing Initiative Newsletter (http://www.transport-pricing.net/CUPID4.pdf)

(2) U.S. Congestion Pricing Homepage. (choose “Established Projects”) http://www.hhh.umn.edu/centers/slp/projects/conpric/

(3) London First. Three months on—continued strong business support for congestion charging. May 23, 2003. (http://www.london-first.co.uk/key_sectors/newsreleasedetail.asp?L2=105&NewsReleaseId=1986)

(4) UK Commission for Intregrated Transport: Congestion Pricing. (http://www.cfit.gov.uk/congestioncharging/factsheets/guide/)

& London Observer. Road tolls could end vehicle tax. May 25, 2003.