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Wheels: London Congestion Charge — what is it, which cars pay and which are exempt?

THE London Congestion Charge now costs £15 a day and operates seven days a week between the hours of 7am and 10pm. The new, increased charge and hours of operation are said to be a ‘temporary’ response by Transport for London (TfL), caused by falling ticket revenues on buses, trains and Tubes due to coronavirus — although no date has been set for the charge to revert to its previous format and price.

Those who need to pay the charge must pay in advance, or by midnight on the day they entered the zone, although absent-minded motorists can pay £17.50 if they remember to pay by midnight of the third day after driving into the charging area. Residents’ discounts, which see those living within the zone pay just ten per cent of the charge, are to be scrapped from 1 August.

Prior to 22 June the Congestion Charge cost £11.50 a day, and was active from Monday to Friday between the hours of 7am and 6pm.

The increases in cost and hours of operation of the Congestion Charge are connected to conditions set out in a £1.6billion bailout TfL received from the government, TfL says, although the rise will also help reduce traffic levels in the capital, which are now returning to pre-pandemic levels, and could, the organisation estimates, double if the charge were not increased.

London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, said the Congestion Charge price increase was a response to the ‘unprecedented challenges’ posed to the city by coronavirus. These challenges have caused the capital’s public transport system to carry only ‘a fraction of’ the number of passengers seen during normal times.

Mayor Khan added: ‘While capacity on the network needs to be preserved for those people who need it most, we can’t allow journeys that were previously taken on public transport to be replaced with car trips.’

Driving into London is being strongly discouraged, and public transport only to be used ‘when absolutely necessary,’ travellers are being encouraged to walk or cycle to get about.

TfL’s ‘Streetspace’ project has seen and extra 19,000m2 of space set aside for walking and cycling, much of it portioned off from roads that would otherwise have been available to cars. The major intends ‘to make central London one of the largest car-free zones in any capital city in the world’.

About the Congestion Charge

Since 17 February, 2003, motorists wanting to drive into London at peak times on weekdays have had to pay a Congestion Charge for the privilege. Failure to pay the charge results in a fine of £160, reduced to £80 if paid within 14 days.

The scheme is enforced by TfL and is separate from the ULEZ (Ultra-Low Emission Zone) which operates in the same area.

Read on to learn more about the Congestion Charge, including what it is, which vehicles are affected and how to pay it.

What is the Congestion Charge?

The Congestion Charge is a £15 daily fee that motorists have to pay if they want to drive into central London at any time between 7am and 10pm, seven days a week. As its name suggests, the purpose of the Congestion Charge is to reduce congestion in the city centre — something that was first examined in a government report in 1964.

The charging zone applies to the area within the London Inner Ring Road, including the City of London and the West End. Out of Greater London’s total population of around 8.9million people, approximately 136,000 live within the Congestion Charge zone.

Congestion Charge reimbursements are available for local authority workers, as well as charity workers providing ‘certain pandemic support services in the zone’. NHS patients vulnerable to coronavirus can also claim reimbursements.

London Congestion Charge zone

You can find out if a specific address is in the Congestion Charge zone by inputting the postcode on the TfL website.

Which vehicles have to pay the Congestion Charge and which are exempt?

If you drive a conventional petrol or diesel car, or a non-plug-in hybrid (including mild hybrids), you will have to pay the Congestion Charge if you drive into central London during its hours of operation.

All alternatively fuelled vehicles used to be exempt from the Congestion Charge but, in December 2018, TfL announced that these exemptions were to be phased out. Since 8 April 2019, only vehicles capable of achieving zero-emissions driving — such as plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars — have been exempt from the Congestion Charge.

To avoid the charge, a plug-in hybrid must be capable of travelling for at least 20 miles on electric power alone and must have official CO2 emissions of under 75g/km. If you own and electric car or plug-in hybrid that is exempt from the charge you need to register it with TFL before driving into the zone or you will still be fined.

These rules will tighten up even further in October 2021, when PHEVs will lose their exemption. Then, in December 2025, drivers of electric cars will also be required to pay.

The following groups of people and vehicles are fully exempt from the Congestion Charge or eligible for a discount:

Residents of the Congestion Charge zone (90 per cent discount)

Blue Badge holders (fully exempt)

Accredited breakdown vehicles (fully exempt)

Vehicles with nine or more seats (fully exempt)

Motor tricycles less than one metre in width and two metres in length (fully exempt)

Roadside recovery vehicles (fully exempt)

How to pay the Congestion Charge

If you regularly drive into central London during the Congestion Charge’s hours of operation, you can set up an Auto Pay account. Doing so demands a £10 annual registration fee, but you’ll receive a £1 discount on the daily charge.

You can also pay the Congestion Charge on the TfL website, the TfL app or over the phone by calling 0343 222 2222

If you’re buying a used vehicle and you want to check to see if it has outstanding congestion charge fines you can email TfL at this address.

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