Did you know that Oxford Street has the worst air pollution in all of Europe? It’s choked with cars, buses and trucks at every hour of every day, except perhaps Christmas Day, so it isn’t surprising. In fact the area around Oxford Street, commonly known as the West End, has similar problems. As the busiest city in the UK and probably in Europe, London truly is the Big Smoke – and while it no longer has the legendary “pea-souper” fogs that once plagued it hundreds of years ago, it’s still desperate to find ways to fix its air quality for a more enjoyable and healthier London experience.
The Congestion Charge is London’s attempt to cut down on pollution and reduce traffic jams at the same time. It only applies to drivers, so if you’re riding a bus, tube or bike you don’t need to worry about it. London was the first major city in the world to introduce a congestion tax, and it simply means that during peak traffic hours, drivers must pay a fee to drive in central London. The idea is that the tax will simultaneously earn money for the city to spend on cleaning up air quality and reduce pollution and traffic by discouraging drivers from passing through busy areas.
Congestion charges in London apply between 7am and 6pm, Monday to Friday; they don’t apply on weekends or public holidays and travel is also free after 6pm until 7am. Drivers who plan ahead can save money by paying £11.50 in advance or registering for Autopay which cuts the charge down to £10.50. If you haven’t paid in advance, you have until midnight on the following day after your journey to pay your fee of £14.
If you’re staying in central London and renting a car to get around, West End hotels London will be your best bet to save money and stick to your budget during your stay. Keeping accommodation costs low will help to recoup the costs of daily congestion charges. An extra tip for travellers who are looking for London West End stay package which will also help to lower the cost of daily expenses as you get around the city – but keep in mind that by far the easiest way to get around central London is by using public transport. London is one of the best-connected cities in the world, especially in the centre. In fact many locations in the West End, such as Leicester Square and Covent Garden, are very close together and locals know that it’s easier to take a five-minute walk than to get on the tub only to disembark one stop later.
The London congestion charge applies to St. James’s, Waterloo, Borough, the City of London, Clerkenwell, Covent Garden, Fitzrovia, Charing Cross, London Bridge, Holborn, Finsbury, Bloomsbury, Soho, Mayfair, Westminster, and parts of Marylebone, Lambeth and Southwark – the last two are south of the River Thames, along with Waterloo.
Motorbikes, mopeds and electric or hybrid vehicles are becoming more popular within central London, since they are exempt from the tax or eligible for a discount. Residents living within central London also quality for a 90% discount, but sadly this doesn’t apply to people staying in hotels.
A car can be very useful for visiting the outskirts of London, or taking day trips to famous places like Stonehenge. English roads are well cared for and easy to navigate for the most part, and it can be very handy to have your own vehicle to transport baggage and move at your own pace. But when in London, parking fees and congestion charges may have you wondering whether your car is really necessary. For a holiday that’s friendly to both your budget and the environment, try a car-less trip; you might find it a pleasant surprise.