Principal Consultant, IBM Center for Applied Insights
The IBM CAI blog has moved - please bookmark and follow the new blog at http://www.ibmcai.com
This month is the 10th anniversary of London’s congestion charge. It was not quite the first such scheme (Singapore had been running theirs for almost 10 years) but it was certainly one of the earliest internationally visible Smarter City projects before the term had even been invented. So what can we learn 10 years on from their experience?
Prevailing opinion at the time was that it was an audacious experiment. Most people expected it not to work, & certainly not to be popular. But if it was a success, it would establish London as a pioneering city, with many others in the UK and elsewhere keen to emulate it.
How wrong that opinion was! Congestion charging has been a success with remarkably few technical problems and an acquiescent, if not wildly enthusiastic, public. It had an immediate impact on traffic volumes and congestion and London is a cleaner city as a result. Yet the follow on wave of implementations has not happened. Why not?
I think the reason is in how the benefits from congestion charging are delivered and communicated to the public. The economic case for congestion charging is hard to dispute – it is cheaper to implement than road building programmes and the benefits of reduced congestion, from fewer accidents, increased mobility and fewer emissions are considerable and proven. Yet these benefits are not clearly visible to the public, who only experience the inconvenience of adapting to a new way of paying for their commute. When proposed schemes are put to the public (as they were in Manchester, Edinburgh and West London) the public voted strongly against. It takes a particular brave mayor to risk upsetting public opinion, whatever the ultimate gain to the city as a whole.