I’m not a believer in congestion charging, not through some Clarksonesq desire to have speed and powah in our city centres, nor through some malcontent desire to screw authority – no, no. I just don’t think it works. When it was introduced in 2003 it worked for about a month after which congestion slowly crept back to just where it was before; some might argue even that it’s worse now than it was then. Every attempt to curb this failure, whether it be draconian spy cars, above inflation price increases, heavy handed debt recovery firms or unwarranted extensions to the central zone have all failed, miserably.
Which brings me neatly to my point. Presently the Greater London Authority is locked in a series of expensive legal battles with embassies from some of the world’s largest economies: America, Russia and others aren’t paying the Congestion Charge and in the process they’re racking up hundreds of thousands of pounds of fines and the GLA is allegedly losing hundreds of thousands of pounds in revenue because diplomatic cars are dodging the zone charge.
The embassies claim that they’re immune from Congestion Charging, it is after all an environmental and infrastructure tax – which under international agreements they’re exempt from paying. Except that the GLA are claiming it’s a service charge and not a tax: which raises an interesting point for anyone that pays the charge. Can you ask for a refund if you encounter congestion during the day? Clearly if it’s a service being provided then it should have some form of service level agreement? And if it’s a service, then that means that we’re customers – so surely if the service fails to meet the customers expectations then we, as empowered customers – and just look at the number of trading rules that customers can call upon in for protection – should be able to ask for a refund? Sue for breach of contract, or bring the GLA kicking and screaming in front of trading standards for failing to advertising the service honestly?
Think about it – they can’t change their tune now: they’ve wasted too much of our money trying to recoup money from foreign governments claiming it’s a service charge, so let’s start treating it as such.