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London's Traffic Level Falls 25% on First Day of $8 Toll Program

February 19, 2003|From Times Wire Services

LONDON — The traffic level dropped by 25% on the first day of London's program to charge motorists $8 to drive into downtown, city officials said Tuesday, but opponents said the anti-congestion plan's launch was aided by a school vacation.

Mayor Ken Livingstone, who has staked his turbulent political career on the success of the plan, heaved a public sigh of relief Tuesday.

The program aims to cut the number of vehicles on London's roads by up to 15% and to raise $200 million annually for public transportation projects.

Livingstone described the first day as "the best day in traffic flow we have had in living memory" in the British capital. But opponents said the real test will come next week, when parents again begin ferrying children to school.

Local government figures showed that about 190,000 vehicles crossed into the 8-square-mile area and that more than 100,000 people paid the toll. Up to 10,000 drivers did not pay the toll and face steep fines. The other vehicles were exempt.

Drivers can pay the daily fee at post offices, shops and supermarkets or by phone, on the Internet or even by sending a mobile phone text message. Cameras monitor car license plates, and drivers failing to pay the toll face fines from $64 to $192, depending on how quickly they pay.

Taxi drivers, disabled people, emergency services, moped riders and drivers of vehicles powered by alternative fuels are exempt.

Residents of the zone get a 90% discount.

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