A congestion charge area is also known as a congestion charge zone. This is a specific geographic area, typically located within a large city or urban area. Drivers are charged a flat fee to use the roads within this area. The purpose of a congestion charge area is to reduce the amount of vehicular traffic from passenger cars.
The political will required to establish a congestion charge area is substantial. While many voters understand the need to reduce traffic into specific areas, both from an environmental and traffic congestion perspective, not many people want to pay to drive public roads. These areas have already been established in several major European cities and are expected to be implemented in more regions over the next five to eight years.
The largest congestion charge area in Europe is London, England. Users are required to pay a flat daily rate to travel in the city area during the work week. There is a fine for non-payment that is levied against the vehicle owner if the fee is not paid.
As part of the congestion charge area policy, there are several exemptions and discounts built into the system. Buses, taxis, emergency response vehicles, motorcycles, and bicycles are all exempt. People who live in the congestion charge area receive a 90 percent discount off the congestion charge.
This method of reducing the volume of traffic in a specific urban area has been very effective. The number of drivers has decreased, as more people turn to public transit as an alternate method of commuting to work. The revenue generated from the congestion fee is spent on improvements to public transit. This was an important part of the entire model and is critical to supporting these changes in the long and short term.
Enforcement is based on the use of closed circuit television cameras, license plate tracking, and physical inspections. Upon payment of the fee, a ticket is provided that must be displayed on the dashboard. Fees and fines for non-compliance range from $60 to $120 US Dollars (USD) per incident. The level of compliance with this type of initiative is directly related to the effectiveness of the enforcement activities.
An increasing number of cities in North America and Australia have been reviewing the success of congestion charge areas as a way to both reduce pollution within the city core and increase revenue. However, it is important to note that the success of these programs is based on the availability of reliable, clean, safe, public transportation. Cities without this infrastructure will not be able to implement this option successfully.