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Why Cardiff Wont Get a Congestion Charge Zone

Cardiff Council have announced (again) that they are considering introducing a congestion charge zone in the capital of Wales. Personally, I don’t think this will happen, and here’s why.

The Size

Despite being a European Capital City, Cardiff is small. With a population of around 470,000 people, it doesn’t even make it into the Top 10 largest cities in the UK. Languishing in 15th place. When it comes to area size, it’s even lower. A lowly 18th, with an area of 100sq km. This does make it a lot more densely populated than most cities however. With nearly 4,400 people per sq km, only London and Brighton & Hove have a large population, and are more densely populated. It’s a small city.

Currently, London is the only city in the UK, that has a congestion charge zone. Covering 21 sq km, it accounts for less than 2% of its total area. If a similar sort of scale was used in Cardiff, the congestion charge zone would be less than 2 sq km. Such a small one would be largely redundant. For a congestion charge zone to be implemented in Cardiff, it would need to cover such a large proportion of the city, the council may as well make all of Cardiff a congestion zone.

congestion

Like all cities, and most towns, Cardiff suffers with congestion. Especially at rush hour times. In truth though, with the odd exception, it is only during rush hour that Cardiff suffers with congestion. There is also significant traffic on Saturday afternoons, as shoppers head into the city centre, particularly in the build up to Christmas. Events in the Principality Stadium also increase traffic.

The actual number of roads regularly affected by congestion is also small. Typically the worst affected Roads are;

Fitzalan Place
Newport Rd*
Dumfries Place*
Stutgarter Strasse*
Boulevaud De Nantes*
Castle Street*
Adam St
Bute Terrace
Bute St
Cathedral Rd
Park Place
Western Avenue
Station Terrace
Lower Cathedral Rd
Clare Rd

To a lesser extent
Leckwith Rd
Llandaff Rd
Cardiff Rd

Not a large list. With the exception of Park Place, Cathedral Road, Lower Cathedral Road, and Clare Rd, and Western Avenue, these roads form a circular route around the city centre. Any introduction of a Congestion Zone in Cardiff, would almost certainly be limited to these roads, as by and large the rest of the city does not suffer from regularly extreme congestion. By regularly extreme, I mean daily bumper to bumper traffic that adds significant amounts of time to travelling time.

In the picture below, the red lines denote the roads that are typically heavily congested during rush hour. The orange lines indicate roads that are typically heavily congested during rush hour, but not as much as the red ones. The yellow circle denotes, what I believe a likely congestion zone would cover. As you can see, whilst most of the worst roads are covered, the area is tiny, limited to just the city centre. If a congestion charge zone was to be big enough to cover most of the typically worst roads, it would have to cover half of Cardiff. Which is pointless, especially when, with the exception of rush hour, these roads (including the red ones) are moving freely. Even if heavy with traffic.

. Proposed Cardiff Congestion Zone

In other words, there is not enough roads that are significantly affected by congestion on a regular enough basis, to warrant a congestion charge zone. Additionally, the roads that have an asterik next to them, have had pop up cycle lanes introduced to them in the last few years, which reduces road capacity, which in themselves contribute to congestion.

Were a congestion charge zone brought it, it wouldn’t remove cars from the roads, or reduce congestion, it would just move them. Congestion may be moved from the city centre, but it would only be moved to other parts of the city. Someone just has to look at traffic around the city when Castle Street was closed, or during a full city centre road closure during the rugby. A congestion zone in Cardiff, wont solve anything, it will just move a problem some where else

Cost

London’s congestion charge zone is £15.00. There is simply no way Cardiff could charge anywhere near that. It would be ruinous to businesses, and those of us who HAVE to go into the city centre on a regular basis. £15 a day, would be £75 a week for a commuter, and £105 a week per vehicle for businesses who need to go in there every day. When we take clients to London, we add the congestion charge on to the journey fee, so it is payable by the client. Just as we do with Airport drop off fee’s, and any parking charges we incur as a result of a booking. As we do not go into the City Centre every day, we would have to add a Cardiff Congestion Charge on to any bookings too or from the City Centre, just in case it is the only one that day, and we were unable to spread the cost across numerous bookings. In some cases, this could nearly double the fee the client is paying.

This however, is not the first time a congestion charge for Cardiff has been mentioned. Previously, charges have been suggested to be £1 or £2. Despite moans and groans, people would accept it and pay it. There would be little to no reduction in traffic, and as such the congestion charge would fail in its objective of reducing traffic. Charges would have to be at least £5.00 per day to make most motorists leave the car at home, but this would soon add up for business, adding hundreds of pounds a year to already high vehicle running costs.

We’ve been here before

As I just mentioned, the introduction of a congestion charge for Cardiff has been mentioned before. Such an idea or suggestion pops up every few years. Usually following the same pattern. The council announces it is considering it to reduce pollution and increase air quality, and to hit targets. The general public moan and comment on it being a bad idea for a variety of reason. A few months down the line, the council announces it has no plans to introduce a congestion charge in the near future. I can see absolutely no reason why this pattern wont happen continue. I wait for the council to announce “no congestion charge” in August / September. Then I will look forward to “Cardiff Council considering Congestion Charge” in 2026.

Why only London?

London introduced its Congestion Charge Zone 20 years ago. Two decades later, and it remains the only one in the UK. Despite other cities, such as Manchester and Birmingham having considered it in the past, no one else has introduced one. Why? I would suggest this is because the one in London hasn’t made any difference. Anyone who has ever been to London will know that congestion is still very prevalent. The charge brought into reduce congestion, and improve air quality has basically done neither. If the congestion charge actually had any affect on anything, then surely the likes of Manchester and Birmingham would have introduced their own one. The fact they haven’t, speaks for its self in my opinion.

clean air zone

Clean Air Zones have been introduced in cities across the UK. Once again London led the way with its Low Emission Zone (LEZ) which was introduced in 2008. Initially, London’s LEZ was to be a modified congestion zone. With cleaner, lower emitting vehicles, becoming exempt. Instead the LEZ covered a larger area, and the worst polluting vehicles had to pay twice to go into the centre of London. The LEZ and the Congestion Charge Zone. Initially just larger lorries, over time it came to include all lorries, coaches and minibuses. In 2017, came the “T-Charge” which in 2019 became the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). The ULEZ has stricter emissions than the LEZ, and includes all categories of vehicles, just as the congestion charge zone does. However, unlike the congestion charge zone, the ULEZ charge does not apply to all vehicles, with many vehicles exempt. Any car that has the newest, cleanest EURO VI engine is exempt from ULEZ. Whilst this has not had any noticeable effect on traffic in London, it has improved Air Quality, as the vehicles in the centre of London, and by and large a lot cleaner, and emitting a lot less harmful pollutants. Cars that don’t have EURO VI engines, can still go into the ULEZ, they just have to pay through the nose to do so. £12.50 in addition to the £15.00 congestion charge zone. If you are driving a EURO V engine car and want to drive to Piccadilly Circus, be prepared to give Transport for London (TfL) £27.50. Want to take a Lorry or Coach into London, that isn’t compliant? Be prepared to pay £300. Needless to say where the Congestion Charge failed, LEZ and ULEZ have been a resounding success. Research shows that there has been nearly a 50% reduction in levels of nitrogen dioxide in central London since ULEZ was introduced. Later this year, it is being expanded to cover all of London.

Armed with this information, and the results and improvements in Air Quality in London, many cities across the UK have introduced Clean Air Zones. Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Portsmouth, Sheffield & Tyneside, all already have Clean Air Zones (CAZ). Manchester currently has one under review. Who has to pay, and how much they have to pay vary from CAZ to CAZ, so there is no “one size fits all” approach. What they do all have in common though, is exemptions. If your vehicle is has a EURO VI engine, it is almost certainly exempt from the charge.

It is a well known fact that Cardiff is currently exceeding legal limits of pollution on a number of roads, particularly Castle Street. It is this need to get levels of pollution down, that has given rise to talk of a Congestion Charge Zone. However, as I have explained above, Cardiff is simply too small for an effective and reasonable Congestion Zone, and they dont work in terms of reducing traffic and pollution anyway. What does work, as date from TfL shows, LEZ, ULEZ & CAZ’s DO work to reduce pollution levels.

Maybe not in this particular re-birth of “Congestion Charge for Cardiff” but soon, instead of a Congestion zone, I expect Cardiff to introduce a Clean Air Zone. A sizeable one at that. I would not be at all surprised if the boundary for a Cardiff CAZ to be;

Western Avenue / Eastern Avenue / A48 forming a northern boundary
Southern Way / Rover Way and into Cardiff Docks forming an Eastern Boundary
Cardiff Road – Llandaff Road – Leckwith Road – A4232 to Bute Tunnels forming Western & Southern Boundary

Charge – £5.00 a day, with Zero Emission Vehicles & EURO VI engines exempt

I could be totally wrong of course, and we could all be soon getting charged £10.00 a day to drive into Cardiff. Nothing would really surprise me with Cardiff Council. Time will tell

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