It's a year today since Ken Livingstone risked his political future and started charging vehicles a fiver to enter central London. As you'll remember, drivers rebelled, gridlock ensued, businesses collapsed and Ken was forced to resign. Except no, it didn't actually turn out like that did it? The streets cleared, traffic speeds increased, drivers acquiesced and Ken is on track to be re-elected Mayor by a thumping majority. Even the Evening Standard seems to have stopped complaining about the Congestion Charge, which has to be a measure of the degree of its success. Of course, it's not all perfect. Some small businesses have suffered, not enough money has been raised to fund improved public transport, and the company who collect the charge are an incompetentmonolith. But, overall, an unexpected success.
The Congestion Charge isn't what puts people off driving into Central London. Central London is what puts people off driving into Central London. You have to be mad, or an addicted petrolhead (or both) to want to drive into the middle of this city. One-way systems, bus lanes, traffic wardens, speed cameras, narrow streets, jaywalking pedestrians, limited parking, red routes, endless traffic lights and, above all, other lunatic drivers - driving in London is an absolute nightmare. It amazes me that anyone would want to even own a car here. There's a bloody good public transport network available - not perfect, not complete, and not fast, but still perfectly adequate. I know rich people would still rather sit in their gas-guzzling 4x4s to collect little Jasmine from ballet, but little Jasmine would survive sitting next to a pensioner on the tube, honest.
So, where next for the Congestion Charge? Onward and outward. Ken's eyeing up extending the zone to Kensington, to Heathrow and maybe to Canary Wharf, and other UK cities are equally interested. But Central London could still do better. I'd like to propose a fifty pound charge for the following: • Driving any single journey of less than a mile.
• Entering an IKEA car park during daylight hours.
• Riding the state coach in a ceremonial procession.
• Parking at bus stops (unless you're a bus, of course).
• Travelling on a giant coach with fifty other foreign tourists.
• Cycling through a red light, because 'red lights are only for cars'.
• Owning a huge jeep designed originally only for Welsh mountainsides.
• Venturing south of the river (most taxis already charge extra for this).
• Running a marathon through the streets of Docklands dressed as a cow.
• Being driven by your own chauffeur (get used to having a bus driver instead).