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Does congestion pricing work in London? It depends on who you talk to.

Does congestion pricing work in London? It depends on who you talk to.
Does congestion pricing work in London? It depends on who you talk to. 04:38

LONDON -- With congestion pricing paused in New York City, it's ultimate fate is unknown. The plan was modeled off London's congestion charge, which was implemented in 2003.

When London first implemented the charge, cars paid the equivalent of about $8 once per day to enter Central London, a zone about the same size as Manhattan's Central Business District.

Two decades later, the charge is up to roughly $18.

CBS New York sent reporter Ali Bauman across the pond to find out if New York is missing a big opportunity, or dodging a bullet.

This graphic shows how much the congestion charge to enter Central London has increased over the last two-plus decades. CBS2

Does the congestion charge work in London?

Alina Tuerk is head of transport strategy and planning at Transport For London, or TFL, which is akin to New York's MTA. She says the congestion charge works.

"Yeah, definitely. So we have seen when we first introduced congestion charging it's had a really, really positive impact," Tuerk said.

TFL says the number of vehicles driving into Central London dropped by 18% within the first year of congestion pricing, and congestion inside the zone was reduced by 30%.

But now, 20 years later, the traffic is back.

"It's very, very hectic," one driver said.

"Horrible. Every day it's horrible," another said.

Other drivers said congestion pricing does not work.

"The only benefit is ruining the public's mood," one driver said.

Traffic analysis company INRIX determined London was by far the most congested city in the world as of 2022. CBS2

According to the traffic analysis company INRIX, London was the most congested city in the world as of 2022, with the average London driver that year losing 156 hours sitting in traffic, compared to 117 hours in New York City.

Bauman asked Tuerk how it is determined that the charge is working if people are still sitting in traffic.

"It's about overall vehicle numbers going down, but that space being repurposed for other uses," Tuerk said.

Changes London made to traffic flow

In the years since the charge was introduced, London got rid of various car lanes within the zone and repurposed them as walkways, bus lanes and bike lanes.

All those changes gummed up the car traffic again, but increased cycling by 137%.

"Making Central London and the city a much more pleasant, people-centric place to be. But also increasing the throughput of people that you're getting through," Tuerk said.

Revenue brought in by London's congestion pricing charge. CBS2

In its 20 years, revenue from congestion pricing has put the equivalent of $3 billion into public transportation.

So, Bauman went down to the crowded tube and rode along the double decker bus fleet.

"After driving all my life, I can't drive anymore. And, to be honest, I don't miss it at all," commuter Tony Fenwick said.

"The service we get going from where I need to go is excellent," bus commuter Dave Smith said.

Smith said switching from his car to the bus in recent years shaved half an hour off his commute.

"It's working where it's stopping cars coming into London, without a shadow of a doubt," Smith said.

"It hasn't really worked in the way it was initially intended"    

When congestion pricing first launched in London, the city added 300 buses to its roads and now the system has five times the number of bus passengers as New York City. But because of the slowing congestion, some of the bus fleet had to be pulled back in recent years.

"There's traffic jams, and then it takes much longer to get to my place," bus commuter Pei Jean said.

Tony Travers is a professor of public policy at the London School of Economics.

"What's happened subsequently means that it hasn't really worked in the way it was initially intended," Travers said. "It has had other consequences, some of which people would think were good, but it has not had the lasting effect on increasing traffic speeds and improving the predictability of journeys."

What it's like for everyday people in Central London  

On a Monday morning, Bauman rode in the back of Grant Davis' black cab. Davis is the president of the London Cab Drivers Club.

"For nearly 40 years, my life and my brain has all been the roads of London, journeys through London," Davis said.

Now going on his fourth decade as a cabbie, Davis knew London before congestion pricing, and he knows it with the tolling program.

He said he did notice a change in the traffic when it was first getting started.

"Definitely. But it was only short term, right? Since then, it's built up. This is just another burden," Davis said.

Davis took Bauman inside the congestions zone during what would be considered rush hour traffic and they were moving, but only slowly.

So, again, does London's congestion pricing work? It depends on who you ask.

"It's like a class thing. As long as you pay, you can drive. And that's what's happening in London," Davis said. "Where the poor people, who haven't got that disposable income, they're the ones who are being affected the most."

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