5 October 2004

Transport for London (TfL) is set to scrap the multi-million pound Congestion Charge (CC) camera system and replace it with a more advanced set-up that can read electronic road toll tags, Autocar can reveal. TfL has not publically confessed its plans to move to electronic road tolling, a system which will allow prices to be varied according to vehicle type and the time of day. It would allow SUVs be charged extra in the CC zone, something desired by many politicians.

The initial £34m contract was placed last month for ‘new digital enforcement technologies’, which will be able to read number plates and identify cars at the roadside before the results are transmitted to the CC administrative HQ.

TfL wants the new camera system to be rolled out by late 2006 in the proposed extension to the Congestion Charge zone that would cover Kensington and Chelsea. The cameras in the existing CC zone will be replaced by late 2008. It is thought that a switch to electronic charging will be the centrepiece of London mayor Ken Livingstone’s campaign for a third consecutive term in spring 2008. Such a move would have the implicit backing of the Government, which wants to see a move to country-wide road charging. Introducing the system in London would be an ideal starting point.

The new system should allow TfL to raise much more money from the CC, which will not cover its start-up costs until 2007. Protests are likely to be raised about the huge expenditure on another enforcement system just two years after spending nearly £300m on the current camera set-up.

Livingstone was forced to raise Greater London bus and tube fares last week in order to help cover the interest on his planned £3bn borrowing for transport projects. The fare hike will raise £150m per year, nearly double the current £85m income from the Congestion Charge.

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