Congestion charging gets more people on bikes, claims study

A new report has claimed that congestion charging is an important way to get more people on their bikes. The report ‘Congestion charges and cycling’, from the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), claims that investment from the revenues of congestion charging into sustainable transport plans, particularly cycling, can help get cities moving.

London is one of four cites featured in the report, the others being Milan, Gothenburg and Stockholm. The four cities were able to achieve similar positive results from the introduction of congestion charging. They were able to create net revenues, reduce congestion, improve air quality and benefited sustainable mobility, claim the ECF.


The congestion charge in London was introduced in the beginning of 2003. It is applied in the inner city, an area of 21 square kilometres, delimited by the Inner Ring Road. There was a westward extension of the zone between 2007 and 2010, but this was abolished after local elections brought a change in the city government. Plans to transform the flat-rate congestion charge into a pollution charge based on vehicle emissions were also abandoned by the new city government. When it was introduced, the daily charge was £5 per day, and has been raised several times and is now £11.50 per day.

In London’s financial year 2014/15, the scheme created revenues of £257.4 million, with operational costs of £84.9 million, giving a net income of £172.5 million. When it was introduced, it was stipulated by law that the revenues be reinvested in measures to improve transport in London. From 2003 to 2013 the scheme generated revenue of more than £1.2 billion. This amount was invested in:

  • Improvements to the bus network – £960 million
  • Roads and Bridges – £102 million
  • Road safety – £70 million
  • Local transport/borough plans – £51 million
  • Sustainable transport – £36 million

So this means that around 3% was invested in the area where cycling would specifically fall, although it may also have a share in local transport plans, roads and bridges and road safety. The total share of cycling investment from congestion charging could be estimated to be around 5 percent.

Impact - Traffic and Air Quality

According to Transport for London (TFL), the schemes introduction has led to a significant reduction in traffic in the charging zone. Within the first 12 months Traffic entering the zone was reduced by 18%, traffic circulating within it reduced by 15% and congestion was reduced by 30%. TFL also claims that an emission reduction of 12% for both NOx and particulate matter (PM10) in 2003, was a result of the introduction of the scheme.

Impact - Cycling

London, and in particular central London, has seen a significant shift in traffic modes towards sustainable mobility since the introduction of the scheme. In 2013 road traffic from motor vehicles has decreased by 19% in central London compared to 2002, despite increasing by 1% in Great Britain as a whole in the same time period. There was a 10.6% shift towards public transport, walking and cycling between 2000 and 2013 in the whole of London, and cycling levels in the congestion charging zone went up by 66% since the introduction of the scheme.

Research also showed that introducing the congestion charge made cycling safer by reducing cycling crashes in Central London by 30 per month, or 40%. This has been matched by similar reductions in those killed or seriously injured, showing the charge has saved both lives and the costs associated with crashes.

It’s obvious that the congestion charge has had an impact on transport in London, and it has most likely contributed to an increase in cycling. However, it’s highly doubtful that this is all because of the congestion charge alone. There area a variety of other factors which have contributed to the increasing number of cyclists such as; the introduction of the Cycle hire scheme or ‘Boris Bikes’, the boost to cycling from the 2012 London Olympics and the introduction of cycle superhighways.

To read the report click here.