A Sustainable Success story: Urban Mobility


How Ken Livingstone Won London’s Battle Against Congestion

The very first voices recommending congestion charging in London started coming out as early as 1964. However, it took almost 40 years for those recommendations to turn into reality. It wasn’t until the arrival of Ken Livingstone as the Mayor of London in the early 2000s, that one of the world’s busiest cities, finally got around to introducing a congestion charge. As London’s congestion charge idea was born out of a democratic vote, it took three years for Ken Livingstone to finish preparation and consultation for its implementation in February 2003.

During his second term as the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone expanded the congestion charge area, but this resulted in protests and legal challenges. The protest was led by the future Mayor of London and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the congestion charge area was reduced in 2010.

Despite the size reduction, London’s congestion zone is still one of the largest congestion charging areas on the globe. It has resulted in a wide range of sustainable mobility benefits. In the first six months after the congestion charge was implemented, the number of non-exempt cars entering the central zone saw a 30% drop. The air quality of London also improved consequentially. It also led to a dramatic increase in the number of people using sustainable modes of transport such as buses, cycling (which saw a 20% increase), and walking. London’s successful congestion charge model has been replicated in cities like Stockholm, Copenhagen, Milan, and Valetta. Proposals for similar congestion charges have been floated in cities like New York, Bogota, and Manchester, but nothing has been implemented yet.

Oyster card: Promoting Sustainable Transportation via Fare Integration

Continuing his efforts to make urban mobility more efficient, Ken Livingstone introduced a streamlined way to pay for fares, the Oyster Card: a multi-operator, multi-mode, smart integrated ticketing system. All Transport for London (TfL) train and bus services within the city accept it and it’s used to pay for 83% of all trips.

According to TfL, the use of such a system prevents bottlenecks that limit rail ridership, and fast boarding times reduce bus fleet sizes and raise the appeal of buses as a mode of transportation. Revenue loss due to ticket fraud has also been reduced because of the system.

While the Oyster Card is far from perfect (it’s expensive and the customer experience isn’t the best), it was still one of the first large-scale fare integration efforts using advanced technology and has served as an example for several transit systems around the world.

Ken Livingstone’s contribution towards reducing London’s traffic congestion isn’t restricted to just the congestion charge and the Oyster Card. He also created extensive pedestrianized spaces, such as Trafalgar Square, and implemented the United Kingdom’s first Low Emission Zone in 2008, which charges heavy commercial vehicles for entering the greater London area. Led by Livingstone, the TfL enhanced transit service provision by replacing bus fleets, creating bus priority lanes, improving user information systems, and making large capital improvements in transit hubs.

So that was London’s success story. Next time, we will find out how another of the world’s great cities, Singapore overcame traffic congestion under another leadership.

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