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UK: London Congestion Charge Downsizing Possible
London, England mayor announces plan to ask the public to decide whether to scale back the congestion charge.

Boris JohnsonLondon Mayor Boris Johnson announced yesterday that, for the first time ever, he would give residents the chance to roll back the city's congestion tax. In 2003, Johnson predecessor Ken Livingstone decided to charge motorists £8 (US $16) to enter the downtown area during working hours. Just four years later, Livingstone extended the charging area westward to encompass the boroughs of Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster. Johnson promised to give the public a say in the matter during his successful campaign for office.

"The previous mayor made the decision to introduce the western extension in the face of overwhelming opposition," Johnson explained in a statement. "Unlike my predecessor, I am going into this with an open mind and this will be a genuine consultation. It is high time that politicians listened to the people whom they represent."

Johnson is not proposing an up or down referendum. Rather, he will provide an open forum where any proposal on the topic can be heard. Johnson wants to hear from those who live in or near the congestion charging zone as well as affected businesses in the area.

"[Stakeholders can] tell me whether they want to see it removed, improved or if they are simply unmoved," Johnson said.

He will also distribute questionnaires and collect responses on the Transport for London website.

"Londoners can be assured that, whether they stand for or against, this time their opinions will be respected and we will abide by the results," Johnson said.

Many in the city would like to see the entire tax abolished, as studies have shown that it has failed to reduce pollution and has increased congestion. In October 2007, just six months before his six-point defeat at the ballot box, Livingstone signed a contract making elimination of his pet project extremely difficult. IBM has the right to collect the congestion tax until the year 2014, unless the city exercises a buyout clause that would cost taxpayers millions.