Yes, London, Stockholm and Milan among other cities, have successfully implemented road pricing. Schemes have grown in popularity as their benefits have become clear. They have reduced motor traffic, improved air pollution, generated income to reinvest in more sustainable transport and enabled the reallocation of road space for buses, cycling and walking.
London has three targeted road pricing schemes, which — together with the provision of better sustainable travel alternatives partly funded by income from road charging — have transformed transport and air quality in the city:
- The Congestion Charge, established in 2003, is the oldest scheme. It applies to petrol and diesel vehicles in the central 21km2 of the city;
- The Low Emission Zone (LEZ), first introduced in 2008, now covers 1580km2 (nearly the whole metropolitan area) and charges the most polluting and heaviest vehicles;
- The Ultra Low Emmision Zone (ULEZ), launched in 2019 covering the Congestion Charge zone, was expanded in October 2021 and now covers 381km2 (all of inner London). It targets the oldest, most polluting private vans, cars and motorcycles. From August 2023, it will be expanded across all London boroughs.
An initial scheme to reduce congestion
Implementing a congestion charge in London was viewed as a risky strategy, despite studies concluding that it would benefit the economy, improve traffic and raise revenues. Road pricing on that scale had not yet been implemented elsewhere in Europe and there was significant opposition, for example from Westminster Council, politicians, the press and some trade unions.
The risk paid off, though, and the Congestion Charge was a success. In the first year of the Congestion Charge, there was a 30% reduction in traffic congestion (i.e. time taken for trips) and a 38% increase in bus passenger numbers. Income from the scheme has been reinvested in transport infrastructure and those travelling in the charge area have changed their transport behaviour, shifting to more sustainable ways of getting around. By 2019, trips by private car were 14.7% below the levels from the year 2000.
You can find out more information about the London Congestion Charge from the links below:
- How road pricing is transforming London and what your city can learn (C40 Knowledge Hub)
- London’s congestion charge (Centre for Public Impact)
- London congestion charge: what worked, what didn’t, what next (The Conversation)
Schemes to reduce air pollution
The ULEZ has helped to reduce NO2 concentrations by 44% and PM2.5 concentrations by 27%. In the first year the LEZ was introduced, London met the legal limits for annual mean PM10.
The success of London’s low emission zone, has lead to the adoption of the model elsewhere in the UK in the form of Clean Air Zones. Four cities outside London have already established Clean Air Zones and many more are planning to follow.
Stockholm (Sweden) has had a congestion charge since 2006. The scheme has been a great success, cutting the number of cars on the roads by around 20%, raising revenue for sustainable transport and allowing the reallocation of road space to other road users. The scheme started with a trial, then was made permanent after a referendum. At the time of the trial, both the public and the politicians were sceptical, with one politician anecdotally describing the scheme as “the most expensive way to commit political suicide”. Public support for the scheme grew, though, as the benefits became clear, and 55% voted in favour of the scheme when it was made permanent through a referendum. Public support for the scheme is now very high, at around 75%.
Milan (Italy), previously one of the most car-dependent cities in Europe, now manages motor traffic through road pricing and a low-emission zone.
The city’s Area C congestion zone was introduced in January 2012, following a referendum in which nearly 80% voters supported the upgrade of an existing scheme to cover more vehicles and also a wider area. The zone has been highly successful, with vehicle access falling by 28%, productivity for freight deliveries increasing by 10% and road crashes with injuries falling by 26.3%. You can read more about the scheme here.
Milan also has an Area B low emission zone, which came into force in 2019, banning the most polluting vehicles from entering 75% of the area of the city, to combat Milan’s dreadful air quality. Prior to the establishment of the zone, life expectancy amongst Milan’s residents was reduced by 2 to 3 years on average due to toxic air pollution, underlining the need to take action.