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UK: London Congestion Tax Extension Eliminated
London Mayor Boris Johnson eliminates congestion charge in Western Extension Zone.

Mayor Boris JohnsonLondon Mayor Boris Johnson finally fulfilled his campaign promise to cut 230,000 residents out of the area where the UK capital's congestion tax is imposed. The last £8 (US $12.40) toll imposed on motorists driving through the boroughs of Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster during business hours was collected Friday at 6pm. These areas were part of the so-called Western Extension Zone added by former Mayor Ken Livingstone, just before voters threw him out of office in 2008.

"The long desired eradication of the western extension is my Christmas present to the people who live, work and shop in west London," Johnson said in a statement. "My predecessor willfully ignored their objections, I promised a fresh consultation and I am a man of my word."

The pledge to roll back the extension was a key campaign issue for Johnson who later surveyed 28,000 in the affected area and found that 62 percent of residents and 86 percent of businesses wanted the zone eliminated. Only 19 percent indicated support for preserving the extension unchanged. Although Livingstone insisted that the congestion charge was intended solely to reduce traffic levels downtown, Transport for London data show it failed to achieve this goal. Documented journey times inside the charging zone in 2007 were the same as in 2002, before the tax was collected, according to a 2008 report. Another, independent study found no reduction in pollution within zone. After accounting for £131 million (US $215 million) in overhead, however, the complicated system did provide transit officials with £137 million (US $225 million) in revenue, which came primarily from late payment penalty tickets. Those fines go away with the introduction, for the first time, of an automated system that deducts toll charges from a credit card account.

"Our new Autopay system means motorists need never be clobbered by fines and, with the introduction of a revamped environmental discount, this is undoubtedly the year we have made the congestion charge far fairer," Johnson said.

The news is not all good for the city's motorists. Beginning January 4, the tax will rise to £10 (US $15.50) to shore up Transport for London's mass transit budget.

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