Why We Need a Congestion Charge

UK, 2003: Mayor Ken Livingstone, aka Red Ken, introduces a fee of £5 on all private cars crossing into central London. There are some exceptions, mostly lucky essential servants. At the time, £5 equaled over $11 Canadian, more than most hosers would consider for parking, let alone their god-given right to drive.

Yesterday: The road is shaking.

I am cycling downtown past traffic more congested than Billy Joe Armstrong during allergy season. Some douchebag in a static Hummer is blasting hip-hop at antisocial volumes. When traffic opens slightly, he catches up and roars by, waving at me – who knows why? – while chanting along to tuneless boasts of priapism with ya bitch ‘n’ ho’ on ya kitchen flo’.

Traffic continues to suck. I pass him again five minutes and two clicks later. Aggrieved, he gives me the finger!

It gets me thinking what a blessing a congestion fee could be for city life here.

My friend is a doctor at the London Bridge Hospital (no it’s not just a great song). He enjoys both no-charge access and 24/7 parking in central London. The value of these could put Russell Smith’s newborn through university. During a visit in 2001, this friend drove me to Victoria station. We gave ourselves an hour, anticipating traffic. It was three miles from Clapham (Britain has yet to go metric or accept Euros) but I nearly missed my train.

When Red Ken first suggested a congestion charge, all hell broke loose.

The shriller media predicted apocalypse: Tourism would evaporate; the economy would collapse; gnashing of teeth; rending of garments, etc.

London, 2003: I visit again. Funnily, the economy has not collapsed (that happened last year for other reasons) but the air is noticeably cleaner; traffic flows; and my friends get me to my train in a half hour.

Would all hell break loose if a Canadian mayor introduced a congestion charge?

With municipal voter turnout at dismally low percentages these days, I doubt it. The suggestion would certainly ignite debate about democracy and conservation. Which is good.

But mostly I want suburban douchebags paying for their air, noise and space pollution.

Image courtesy of Tronics on Flickr.

Image courtesy of Tronics on Flickr.

2 thoughts on “Why We Need a Congestion Charge”

  1. I think that’s an awesome idea. It would not only save on time and congestion but probably reduce stress and heart attacks too.

  2. I completely agree with this idea…especially considering how bad toronto traffic has gotten recently and there is no way it is sustainable. The problem though is that its a bit of a balancing act.
    Firstly, while this does result in revenue for the city, not only via the toll, but also for city services like buses and subways and go transit, it does result in lack of revenue for private parking lots on most nights.
    Secondly, you can implement something like this in london or NY with spectacular and far reaching public transit. Toronto lags far behind when it comes to this, and thus it would be very frustrating for people out of town to come downtown. While i live downtown and would love clearer streets, i do empathize with suburban visitors for having a lack of public transit connection with toronto (despite the mess they leave downtown streets in on weekend nights).
    Lastly, i find Toronto city street traffic taking on very odd patterns. Theres specific offending streets at specific times. Yesterday spadina street was wide open, but i was stuck for 15 minutes between chestnut and dundas and yonge and dundas. everything around it was clear. Spadina south going onto QEW is bursting at rush hour along with blue jays way and front street, but all else is ok. King street generally is ok except the stretch between univeristy and king and yonge and king which is rammed due to street cars. Im not so sure a urban city centre tax would eliminate these pockets of bad traffic. This requires generally better public transit, faster streetcars, broader roads, and a way to have more crosswalks like those at dundas square (alot of times a right turn lane might be blocked because with a green light too many people are crossign on the other sidwalk, and with a red light too many people crossing sidewalks infront. I love toronto being a pedestrian friendly city but some areas should require pedestrians to wait a while longer with no walk signs in either direction while a bit of congestion clears up).

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