Postcard from London:(Archive)
How would you like to be charged $7.50 every time you drove your car into Chicago’s Loop or into a central Manhattan area bounded by 57th Street on the North, 34th Street on the South, Third Avenue on the East and 10th Avenue on the West? That is precisely what is going to happen next year in London when the city’s populist Mayor, Ken Livingstone, will mount 230 cameras at checkpoints to monitor the license plates of all vehicles entering an eight-square-mile section of central London.
The plan, to be implemented on February 17, 2003, calls for a levy of £5 for everyday usage, payable in advance or by 10 p.m. on the day of entry. You will also be able to pay by the week, month or year. Motorists who enter the area and fail to pay will face a fine of £80, to be reduced to £40 for quick payment or raised to £120 for late payment.
People in major metropolitan areas across the world complain about the congestion on the roads but London is the first city to try and do something about it. If you are heading for Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square or the Houses of Parliament, you will be subject to the charge. The plan is expected to cut traffic in central London by 15%. It will cost the city £600 million to set up the invisible gates but it’s then expected to produce an annual revenue stream of at least £130 million, which will be used to improve public transport.
I was in London when the mayor disclosed the details of the plan. He had brushed away requests for a study, deciding to move ahead unilaterally. “People elected me to sort out the transport mess and that’s what I am going to do,” he said. I saw and heard very little criticism of the plan. Environmentalists welcomed it. The business community seemed split. The most serious objection came from those who pointed out that the London public transit system — buses and subways — would have to be expanded and improved to handle extra traffic, and this is a system that is already creaking badly.
Livingstone remains enormously popular. He is known as “red Ken” for his former affiliation with the Communist Party.
I say, “More power to him.” A cab I was recently taking from my hotel to The Sunday Times took 40 minutes to cover about five miles.
What else is news in London? Complaints about the slow-moving railroad trains and the beleaguered Natonal Health Service continue, and the ferocious British press is having a field day with sleaze in a Labor government that looks uncannily like a Bill Clinton replay. Some of the scenes played out seem to come right out of a script from “The West Wing.” Much of the recent uproar was prompted by a horrendously inappropriate message sent by Jo Moore, one of Tony Blair’s many press aides.
On September 11, after watching the World Trade Center Towers collapse, Moore sent an e-mail saying: “It’s now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councilors’ expenses?”
Now can you see CJ saying that?