A Congestion Charging Zone was established in London in February 2003 with the aim of reducing the levels of traffic and pollution in the centre of the city. A network of dedicated cameras automatically read and record the registration plate of every vehicle entering the zone. The charge, as of 2011, is £10 if paid on the same day or £12 if paid within 24 hours. Profits from the scheme are used to improve London's transport infrastructure. With a little forward planning, it is easy to avoid the charge, even if your destination is within the zone.
Change your route or the time of your travel. The congestion charge applies only between the hours of 07:00 and 18:00 within defined on a map issued by Transport for London. So long as you do not enter the zone during these times, you will not be subjected to the charge. It is also free to enter the zone at any time during weekends and public holidays. If you are using a satellite navigation system, it should warn you if your destination is within the charging zone.
Use public transport. London has an extensive tube and bus network making it easy to leave your car behind and still reach your destination. If you want to take your vehicle as close as possible, there are many car parks located just outside the charging zone. Street signs warn that you are approaching the zone when you are several miles away and the zone itself is extremely well marked so you are highly unlikely to drive into it without realising you have done so.
Purchase a motorcycle or scooter as both are exempt from the charge. Two wheeled vehicles can also be parked in designated bays within the zone for a fee of £1 per day. Bicycles are also exempt.
Change or convert your vehicle to an alternative fuel source such as LPG or purchase a fully electric vehicle. Any car that produces CO2 emissions of less than 100g per kilometre is entitled to an exemption from the charge. Hybrid vehicles producing the required level of emissions are also exempt. This level may be reduced to 80g/km during 2012.
Travel by taxi. Both Black taxis and private hire mini cabs that are registered with the Public Carriage Office are exempt from the charge meaning the fee will not be added to your fare. Travelling by taxi also removes the need to find a parking space.
Check you have claimed any exemptions you may be entitled to. Residents living within the zone are entitled to a 90 per cent discount on the charge. Disabled drivers who are members of the Blue Badge scheme do not have to pay the charge.
Some internet sites offer to sell information on supposedly secret routes that allow you to drive right through the charging zone without being spotted by cameras. These are best avoided. Though some routes may exist, roadworks or traffic accidents could lead to unexpected detours, which will then result in a charge.
If you hire a car within the zone, the charge is automatically applied to your first days rental. You may need to pay for another day depending on when you return the vehicle.
If you stray into the zone, there is no way to find out if your number plate has been recorded by the systems cameras. You will only know if you get a letter through the post advising you of a penalty. This is presently £60 but rises to £120 if not paid within 14 days.