From today the area covered by the charge is expanded, to include most of Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster.
The tax zone now begins in west London at Shepherd's Bush, bounded to the north by the Harrow Road and in the south by the River Thames. A few 'drive-through' routes have been left tax-free, the main one being from Vauxhall Bridge, up through Grosvenor Place and via Park Lane up Edgware Road.
The charge remains £8 per day - but the operating hours will be shortened by half an hour, running from 7am to 6pm.
Since its introduction in 2003 the congestion charge has proved an administrative minefield for businesses. Exclusive research by Fleet News, sister title to AM, revealed the total cost of penalty charges incurred by their customers’ drivers is more than £11 million a year with an additional £4.5 million added to fleet running costs by drivers incurring fines for non-payment of the charge.
In addition, many leasing companies have to impose an additional charge to cover the burden of administration related to dealing with the charges.
And today one of the initial supporters of the scheme has openly criticised the extension.
Nigel Bourne, director of CBI London, said: “Although we backed the original introduction of the charge, this westward extension is premature. More time is needed to understand the full effects of congestion charging on business, because it is clear there have been both winners and losers.
“The extension could hurt the many retail businesses that support the area, by deterring customers from visiting and by hampering the transport of goods.
“Restrictions around deliveries are making it much harder for many firms to operate. To compensate, Transport for London needs to put more effort and funding into improving parking and delivery options for business premises.”
However, hybrid car manufacturers like Honda are praising the extension.
Honda is trebling supply of its petrol-electric Civic Hybrid in the UK to 3,000 during 2007 in the expectation of increased demand over the next two years.
Honda’s sales forecasts predict there will be over 6,500 more low-emission hybrid cars on London’s roads by 2008, each taking advantage of the 100% discount allowed by hybrid vehicles.
Honda’s sales figures confirm the regional growth, with a third of recent orders for its Hybrid coming from London and the South East – influenced largely by the impact of congestion charging on buying habits in and around the capital.
John Kingston, environment manager at Honda (UK) says: “Hybrids are now mainstream cars. Global demand is increasing and across the world we are ramping up production to meet that interest. It’s true that more people want to drive ‘greener’ cars, but financial incentives such as congestion charge discounts and lower road tax are also playing their part.”