Boris Johnson is scrapping the congestion charge in the western zone despite clearly having doubts over the policy after his election victory. He is bowing to the pressure from his cheer leaders in the Tory party and the Evening Standard, despite the thinness of the evidence suggesting that the charge was doing any harm.
The Standard yesterday reported that retailers had reported a two per cent decrease in sales during the week and a one per cent increase at the weekend. This is neither economically nor statistically significant. The whinges of a few retailers should not be allowed to override a policy which was environmentally positive and which showed London was leading the way in thinking about how to reduce the problem of congestion in cities. Moreover, even Boris’s greatest fan, Andrew Gilligan, had to admit that traffic in the area is down ‘albeit less than expected’ and that local opposition had fallen.
Indeed, the campaign by the affluent residents of Kensington & Chelsea against the western zone extension demonstrates that there is a pretty random relationship between brains and money. These knuckleheads, who got a 90 per cent reduction as residents in the zone, will now find that they have to pay £8 to cross the border at Park Lane.
As well as being implemented on little evidence, the real damage of Johnson’s move is that it sends out all the wrong signals. For all his faults, Ken Livngstone had a long term strategy of trying to move people out of cars and onto public transport, or cycling and walking. Everything Johnson does seems to encourage the opposite, whether it is scrapping long term investment plans, allowing motorcyclists into bus lanes or abandoning pedestrianisation plans for London’s major squares. It is great the he is pressing ahead with his cycle hire scheme, but he will not encourage new cyclists to take their first wobbly trips if he does not create better conditions for them. All his policies so far are doing the opposite.
The main point is that while Johnson presented himself as a young, environmentally-friendly and maverick fresh thinker, he is just an old-fashioned Tory, trying to cut back on services to keep the council tax low. Those who voted for him because they thought he would be a breath of fresh air must be sorely disappointed.