In an effort to reduce traffic and improve the flow in central London, a ‘congestion charge’ was introduced in February 2003, which has proved successful, although unpopular with those unable or unwilling to forsake their cars, who must pay £10 per day to enter the restricted area. In the early days of the congestion charge, Transport for London stated that it had reduced the number of cars entering central London by some 70,000 a day, although more recent figures suggest that London is now just as congested as it was before the charge was introduced. Most vehicles (motorcycles, scooters and mopeds are exempt) must pay the fee to enter the Congestion Charge Zone between 7am and 6pm, Mondays to Fridays. There’s no charge on weekends, local public holidays, designated non-charging days (e.g. between 25th December and January 1st), and between the hours of 6pm and 7am.
The charge zone (see map) is indicated by signs (signposts and road markings) showing a white C in a red circle. You can pay the charge by phone (0845-900 1234), text message, online, mail (using a downloadable form sent to Congestion Charging, PO Box 4780, Worthing BN11 9PQ), at selected retail outlets and petrol stations. If you regularly travel into London, the best way to pay is via the CC Auto Pay automated payment system (see congestioncharging.tfl.gov.uk/b/pb/accountType.faces?referrer=cc), which also offers a £1 per day discount.
You can pay the charge up to 90 days in advance and can also pre-pay monthly or even annually in advance; refunds are available for days you don’t use. Single visits can be paid for on the day of travel, before or after your journey, but must be paid by midnight. If you pay the charge on the following day it increases to £12 and it can only be paid via the TfL website or call centre. If you travel on a Friday you have until midnight on the following Monday to pay.
WARNING: If you fail to pay the charge by midnight on the following charging day (or by Monday after a weekend), you’ll be issued with a Penalty Charge Notice of £130, which is reduced to £65 if paid within 14 days, but increases to £195 if not paid within 28 days.
CCTV cameras check whether your car remains in the charging area for longer than the period paid for, in which case you’re liable to be fined. Certain vehicles and drivers are exempt from the congestion charge, including the disabled, vehicles using ‘alternative’ fuel (including electrically-powered vehicles and hybrid vehicles) and those with nine or more seats. Residents living within the congestion charging zone can register one private vehicle each and receive a 90 per cent discount, for which there’s an annual £10 registration fee.
For more information, see tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/congestion-charge.