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.