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February 14th, 2016:

Congestion charging ‘no instant cure’ for traffic gridlock

Paul Cowperthwaite, the general manager for congestion charging at Transport for London.

As Hong Kong decides on how to deal with traffic gridlock, the boss of London’s congestion charging scheme said any similar system in Hong Kong should not be expected to bring benefits overnight.

Officials are more than halfway through a three-month public consultation on the impact of a pricing scheme to ease Central’s notorious traffic jams.

The government has said it was no longer a matter of whether, but how, to start charging road users.

Paul Cowperthwaite, the general manager for congestion charging at Transport for London (TfL), told the Sunday Morning Post Hong Kong could succeed in changing habits and overcoming road blocks to any such scheme, but should not expect miracles.

“One of the key things for any city: Don’t assume you’ve solved the problem on day one,” he said, adding “what we’ve always done is keep the scheme under review so it’s having an impact.”

He added that congestion charging had “become a part of everyday life in London” that worked.

Opponents of the Hong Kong plans believe an increase in fines for illegal parking would be adequate to ease traffic jams, rather than the government’s two-pronged approach of raising the parking fines and charging for driving in Central.

The latest statistics by TfL showed 18 per cent fewer vehicles entering the congestion charge zone and traffic within the paid area down 15 per cent, leading to 70,000 fewer daily car trips during charging hours, 30 per cent less congestion and 40 per cent fewer traffic accidents since 2003.

The British capital will celebrate the scheme’s 13th birthday next Wednesday, having raised £1.4 billion to reinvest in roads and public transport schemes.

Cowperthwaite said it was important to have full political backing to any congestion charge.

“There are a number of key steps we can share from London. Having strong political support. London was lucky that we both mayors who strongly supported the scheme,” he said.

More than three decades have passed since a road charging scheme was first floated in Hong Kong.

Similarly, London spent almost four decades talking before implementing a congestion charge in full.