Is 'lane rental' the way to solve congestion in London?


After persuasion from Boris Johnson, the government is considering plans to charge utility companies to dig up roads during the rush hour

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There's no doubt that the amount of road works in London needs sorting out as congestion continues to rise.

It now looks extremely likely that if you want to dig up some roads in London, then from next year you'll have to pay.

It's called "lane rental" and the Mayor of London has for a long time been trying to persuade the Department of Transport to introduce it.

Now it looks like he has got his way.

The big issue though is that the scheme is unproven - and it's actually already been trialled in a slightly different guise in Camden in 2002. Then it was deemed to have had little effect.

Above is my TV piece about the arguments on the new scheme.

Capital's clogged streets

So what's changed?

Certainly congestion is rising in central London. There are also those that think this will be Boris Johnson's answer during the mayoral election to accusations he's not dealt with the capital's clogged streets.

Likewise, some think this could be a political counterweight to Ken Livingstone's Congestion Charging Zone. But will lane rental work?

This scheme aims to incentivise new technologies like trench-plating and night working.

But not all roads are covered by it - only the busiest.

Congestion Areas Management Transport for London's Congestion Management diagram

Here's a map of which roads will come under the scheme. According to Transport for London (TfL):

  • Band 1 (Orange) lane rental base charge would be set to £800 per day for all planned works. These would apply 07:00 to 10:00 and 15:30 to 19:00 Monday to Friday, and 12:00 to 18:00 during the weekend
  • In bands 2 (Red) and 3 pinch points (Black dots), lane rental base charge would be set to £2,500 per day. These would apply 07:00 to 22:00 Monday to Friday, and 12:00 to 18:00 during the weekend

At the moment the local boroughs and TfL don't have to be included (although TfL says it will be).

The utility companies want everyone to be subject to the same regulation.

New costs

Of course, night working will incur overtime for companies and it won't be possible in some residential areas.

The scheme itself is creating extra costs through another level of bureaucracy.

All of which means someone is going to have to pay unless companies radically alter their working practices.

The utility companies bluntly admit they'll pass on the extra costs to the bill payer.

So our journey times might get slightly shorter in central London but water bills will increase.

The real test will be if this scheme can reduce congestion. Or is a more radical approach needed? Perhaps Ken Livingstone's idea to introduce a £25 congestion charge for 4x4s?

Let me know your thoughts.

Tom Edwards Article written by Tom Edwards Tom Edwards Transport correspondent, London

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  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    It shouldn't necessarily mean higher utility bills, the utility companies just need to improve the way they work. This system will allow councils to penalise the companies who fail to plan ahead then allow their work to overrun or dig up the same stretch of road over and over. Clearly the softly-softly approach doesn't have any effect with these companies, now it's time to use the big stick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The Camden scheme had little impact on utility roadworks because the major utilities deliberately didn't abide by it. The Council took several of them to court and won but most of the legal issues weren't resolved until after the 12 month trial. The utility companies then nobbled the numerous parliamentarians on their boards who claimed lane rental didn't work. Not what you call "open government"!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I hope the Olympics Committee will pay the full price for the roads they are taking out of the use of Londoners.



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