As this post is being written, drivers in west London are holding a go-slow to protest the possible extension of the Congestion Charge to their blessed plot.
This is taking place without any obvious sense of irony. A go-slow to protest something that would make traffic go faster. A protest that is happening, incidentally, inside the C-Charge zone, so if it weren’t for the C-Charge, the protest against it wouldn’t be possible – or at least wouldn’t be noticed. What next? A love-in to protest sexual promiscuity? A hunger-strike against anorexia? These people are plainly masters of subtlety.
The protestors say that extending the charge to their area is unfair because “only 5% of the roads covered in the extended zone suffer congestion”. This point has the virtue of being both completely accurate and entirely wrong-headed.
For start, it is stating the obvious to say that that 5% are clearly the most useful and important roads in the west. You know, the ones that actually go somewhere. You don’t see them lining up bumper-to-bumper on cul-de-sacs and mews. (What is the plural of mews, anyway?)
The other big flaw in this “5%” case is that it leads to this absurd reasoning, as stated in the next paragraph:
They say drivers should pay for the use of congested roads only, rather than the camera system used in the existing congestion charge zone in central London.
Before you can say “rat-running”, a whole host of awkward questions come stumbling forwards. How, for instance, would this system of turnpikes be regulated, if not by cameras? The honour system, with honesty boxes at each junction? And how would these residents react when their delightful mewses were over-run by motorists dodging the ‘pikes? After all, 95% of Kensington & Chelsea’s streets are so famously quiet. Not for long. Would you still be charged if you just wanted to cross a ‘pike to get between two uncharged streets? It’s remarkable that a campaign against something that would reduce congestion would end up with a system that was more complicated, more expensive, and actually created congestion where none existed before.
At this point Londonist could be fairly accused of being a cabal of anti-car puritans. The subject has come up before. The fact is, you’d have to be crazy to want to drive in central London, and it’s been that way for 20 years or more. However, Londonist is prepared to concede that there are arguments against the Congestion Charge in west London that did not exist for the central area.
For a start, it is more of a residential area. Granted, the majority of those residents could afford the charge, but this leads to the most convincing argument Londonist has yet heard against the charge: west London residents are the most likely to drive into the central zone, and so giving them the residents’ free pass would significantly reduce the C-Charge take.
The key to the anger in the west isn’t to do with any of this, of course. It’s the fact that people in K&C don’t want to incur the charge on school and supermarket runs – and also there’s anger from those who keep homes in K&C but don’t actually live there most of the time.
Now, the school-runners’ argument Londonist can understand. But their problem isn’t to do with congestion, or charging, or anything related to the roads – it’s to do with a lack of local services that somehow makes it necessary for parents to make absurd journeys across town to deliver their kids to school. The real issue here is provision of services; precisely the sort of issue Telegraph or Mail-reading mums in their suburban war machines were able to conveniently ignore when they had the privilege of driving Toby and Portia to a school 13 miles away. Never mind the pollution and expense – they could afford it. This is precisely why punitive taxation, while unfair in the short term, is fair in the long run – it will force a deeper, systemic change in the way we organise our city. It will mean better local schools, if there’s any justice in the world. People will have to reform their lifestyles.
As for those who are rich enough to maintain pieds-a-terre in K&C – fuck them. Rural areas complain about the huge problems caused by second homes, and London should too. They inflate property prices and drive out people who are unfortunate enough to only be able to afford one home. And can’t even do that right now.
There. Rant over.
There’s one other thing this story brought to Londonist’s mind. Why in merry hell is “Transport for London” called “Transport for London”? Was it just a contrarian desire to be different to the old “London Transport”? “Transport for London” sounds like they’re doing us a frickin’ favour and somehow going out of their way to give us transport.