LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The western extension to London’s congestion charge zone is to be scrapped after two-thirds of Londoners and businesses said they wanted it removed, Mayor Boris Johnson said on Thursday.
A consultation on the future of the extension, brought in by former mayor Ken Livingstone in February 2007, found that 67 percent of individuals and 86 percent of businesses favored scrapping the scheme.
With a few exceptions, such as taxi drivers and motorcyclists, all motorists have to pay a weekday charge of 8 pounds to drive through the parts of London covered by the scheme.
Plans to extend the congestion charge zone, the world’s largest, had always attracted fierce opposition and in the manifesto for the Conservatives’ election campaign earlier this year, Johnson had vowed to ask the public for their views.
“I promised that I would respect their opinions and I promised that if clear support for a particular way forward emerged then I would act on that opinion,” he said.
“Londoners have spoken loud and clear, and the majority of people have said that they would like the scheme scrapped.”
Johnson said he had now started the legal process to remove the extension, which includes top shopping areas such as Chelsea’s Kings Road; Knightsbridge, which is home to luxury store Harrods; Kensington and Notting Hill.
The earliest this can be completed is in early 2010.
Business groups welcomed the move but Johnson’s decision was branded a “foolish and backward step” by his Labour opponents on the London Assembly and one that would cost Transport for London (TfL) 70 million pounds.
“London’s environment as a whole will suffer and local residents will no longer enjoy having 30,000 fewer cars a day clogging up their streets,” said Labour’s transport spokeswoman Val Shawcross.
She said it would now cost extra money removing the cameras, road signs and other apparatus that had cost 100 million pounds to install.
The Campaign for Better Transport also condemned the plans arguing the extension had helped reduce traffic by 10 percent.
“Now traffic will grow again and congestion and carbon emissions with it,” said spokesman Richard Bourn.
“London is rapidly losing its reputation as a leading city in progressive transport and environment policies.”
A TfL report in August found that while traffic levels have fallen significantly since the congestion charge was first introduced in 2003, London’s roads are as clogged up as before it was brought in.
Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato