After London’s congestion charges, the City of Oxford is now asking non-electric vehicles to pay 10 pounds to access its historic medieval center. The decision is part of a pilot program to create a zero-emission zone and make the city cleaner, healthier and less congested.
Unsurprisingly, the charge is facing some resistance. The restricted area currently covers several of the city’s main shopping streets and some Oxford University colleges, but the plan is to expand it to around 2 miles across to almost all the city center, thus impacting workers commuting in from surrounding districts and potentially reshaping the economics of the whole city.e
Oxford is being watched as a test case for the applicability of congestion charges beyond major urban centers. But are these measures really helpful in reducing car use, mitigating traffic, and improving sustainability and air quality?
A new study carried out at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies in Sweden and published in Case Studies on Transport Policy, examined about 800 peer-reviewed reports and real experiences in Europe, and ranked congestion charges as the most effective way to reduce car use in cities.
According to the research, the introduction of congestion charges reduced car traffic by up to 33%, while other measures proved to be less impactful. For instance, limited traffic zones cut the transit of non-resident vehicles by 20% during the restricted hours; offering discounted or free public transport passes to workers and students made car commuters drop by up to 37%.
Parking-related measures were also scrutinized. Making parking more difficult by removing parking spaces and replacing them with walkable lanes and bike tracks was found to reduce car usage by up to 19% (that was the best result achieved in Oslo, Norway). Workplace parking charges – with workers asked to pay when parking outside their offices – led to a 20-25% reduction in employee car commutes and the corresponding shift towards public transport.
The smarter management of parking facilities may not directly contribute to getting cars out of cities, but it is undoubtedly effective in improving urban mobility and mitigating traffic. Independent studies proved that about 30% of overall road congestion is due to parking search: Smart Parking solutions allow Cities to improve drivers experience by reducing idle itineraries looking for a free spot, and related fuel consumption, air pollution, time waste and stress.