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History of the London Congestion Charge

Many toll roads and bridges exist in Great Britain such as the Severn crossing, Dartford Crossing and Forth Road Bridge. Previously toll roads run by turnpike trusts had been common from the late 1600s to 1800s. General road tolls have also been advocated by many others in the past, such as the 18th century economist Adam Smith.

Schemes similar to the current congestion charge have been under consideration by the British Government since the early 1960s. The Smeed Report of 1964 first assessed the practicality of road pricing in a British city. During the early years of the Greater London Council the first plans were drawn up for a system of cordon charging or supplementary licensing for use in the central area. A formal study was undertaken into the merits of the scheme, and in 1973 concluded that it would improve traffic and environmental conditions in the centre. However, the newly elected Labour council rejected the study's findings in favour of greater investment in public transport.

The idea nevertheless persisted and gained renewed support in the mid-1990s. The London Congestion Research Programme concluded in July 1995 that the city's economy would benefit from such a scheme. The power to introduce a form of congestion charge was given to any future mayor in the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Having won the first mayoral election in 2000, Ken Livingstone opted to exercise these powers as promised in his independent manifesto , and carried out a series of consultations with interested parties. The basic scheme was agreed in February 2002, and charging commenced, with some concessions accepted, on 17 February 2003. By law all surpluses raised must be reinvested into London's transport infrastructure and it was anticipated that this would be around £200m. The initial cost of setting up the scheme was £161.7m, with an annual operating cost of about £115m anticipated. Total revenues have been £677.4m with the surplus over operating costs being £189.7m. On introduction, the scheme was the largest ever undertaken by a capital city.

After the introduction of the charge, there were a number of suggestions for its future. Soon after charging commenced, Livingstone announced that he would carry out a formal review of the charge's success or failure six months after its introduction — brought forward from one year, following the smooth start. On 25 February 2003 Livingstone stated, "I can't conceive of any circumstances in the foreseeable future where we would want to change the charge, although perhaps ten years down the line it may be necessary" referring to the amount that drivers have to pay, indicating that £5 was sufficient to bring about the reduction in traffic that he had hoped for. By November 2004, Livingstone directly contradicted his earlier stance and said in an interview with BBC London, "I have always said that during this term [his second term in office] it will go up to at least £6." By the end of the month, Livingstone changed his position again, saying in an announcement that in fact the rise would be to £8 for private vehicles and £7 for commercial traffic. Business groups such as London First said following the announcement that they were "totally unsatisfactory and unacceptable". The rise to £8 was announced formally on 1 April 2005, along with discounts for drivers buying month or year-long tickets. On 10 May 2006, in a live TV debate, Ken Livingstone supported a rise in the charge to £10 by 2008. The £10 charge was finally introduced in 2011 by Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone's successor.