So, farewell, then, the Western Extension Zone. You hadn’t even reached your fourth birthday.
While the capital was on its extended Christmas break, a team of road workers took to the affluent streets of Chelsea and Kensington to remove the signage associated with the notorious Western Extension of the London Congestion Charge zone. All that’s left are dark patches of tarmac where the red and white roundels used to be.
Very few of us probably paid to enter the WEZ, but its removal marks a turning of the tide for the idea of congestion charging - or tolling existing roads, as it should be more accurately known.
Transport for London estimates a loss of annual income of some £55m as a result of removal of the WEZ (it would be interesting to know just how much of that was from fine revenue, rather than the £8 daily payment).
The opposition to Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson, who removed the zone after a local survey, predicts automotive and environmental armageddon.
Chelsea and Kensington is a long way from being the most congested or polluted part of the capital and few could understand why previous Mayor Ken Livingstone picked on K&C when he announced plans to extend the ailing central C-Charge zone. It did, however, enable him to electronically fence off the district and then propose a £25 per day charge for vehicles emitting over 225g/km of Co2.
Own a Range Rover Sport in K&C and its £25 per day to drive down your road. Own one in Islington or St John’s Wood and it’s free. Perhaps K&C was an area of special scientific interest. Or perhaps it was because K&C was the only central London borough to vote Conservative in the 2004 mayoral elections. You’ll have to make the judgment.
You could argue that the WEZ (and the fee hike from £5 to £8) also undermined the idea of ‘congestion charging’ across the country. The referendum for the introduction of a C-charge in Edinburgh was held a year after the introduction of the WEZ. It was rejected by 74 percent of voters.
In December 2008, the ambitious Greater Manchester C-charge scheme was also resoundingly rejected on a massive 52 percent turnout - some one million voters. Drivers in Edinburgh and Manchester might well have looked at the random nature of the WEZ and figured that giving such significant fund-raising power to local politicians was extremely risky. After all, we all pay the rampant price of local council-administered parking fees and fines.
Road tolls are still being hinted at by the coalition government, but probably only for newly-built roads. But the cash-strapped M6 toll road suggests few private companies would take the financial risk.
So it’s good riddance to the WEZ and the bogus ‘green tax’ that is C-charging.
Incidentally, the WEZ’s number-plate reading cameras are still mounted on their high poles. Something tells me they’re still active, even if the WEZ isn’t.