Congestion hurts the capital's economy. The chronic levels of congestion we were seeing before the charge started to cost London's businesses and residents somewhere between £2m and £4m every week. Every 17 minutes stuck in traffic costs the average London wage earner around £5.
Figures like that are powerful arguments for congestion charging, particularly for those running their own businesses. In fact the £5 for every 17 minutes figure came from one of the most respected, authoritative voices of business in the capital, London First, which, along with other major business organisations like the CBI, believes that tackling London's congestion must be a number one priority.
So far the introduction of the congestion charge scheme has gone smoothly and we estimate traffic levels have been cut by around 20% in central London. Nevertheless I have said consistently that there will be some teething problems and it will be the summer before we can really judge the success of the scheme.
I have introduced congestion charging because I want London's businesses to succeed. Like every other business-focused person in this city, I want to see the capital thriving, to see its businesses able to move people and goods about freely, easily and efficiently, at the smallest possible cost to both those businesses and their customers.
I know that some business people believe their trade will suffer. I have to say, I believe the opposite. You have to ask yourself, if through this scheme we make central London a better, more attractive, less congested and more pleasant environment, people will prefer to visit it and buy their goods there. The alternative is worsening congestion, worsening pollution, more accidents and less and less space for pedestrians and public transport. The evidence of similar schemes around the world supports my point, for example in Singapore and Trondheim.
There should be no doubt ­ the reduction in traffic will have an impact. Just think of London in August. Have you noticed how much easier it is getting around town? Roads are that bit emptier, journeys quicker and more reliable, and traffic jams less common.
Thanks to the school summer holidays, when people are also away, there is a reduction in traffic levels in London of 10%-15% ­ exactly the reduction we expect from congestion charging.
The point of charging is not to create vehicle-free roads. It is to ensure that essential journeys ­ such as those delivering goods to shops ­ can be made more quickly and efficiently, with reliable journey times. It is based on the simply market principle that if the demand for a good exceeds a fixed supply then the price will rise. In the case of central London roads, the supply is fixed by the impossibility of any major road-building programme through the heart of the city, while the demand created by more and more cars is resulting in ever worsening congestion. Congestion charging cuts that Gordian knot.
Every penny of the £130m which the scheme is expected to raise each year has by law to be ploughed back into improving transport in London ­ not only public transport, but transport generally, including road maintenance and road improvement.
So far the scheme has proved remarkably effective and it will be reinforced by a sophisticated new Traffic Control Centre providing real time traffic monitoring and a clamp on the proliferation of road works which affect so many journeys for car users and pedestrians alike. My commitment to Londoners, and to London's food and drink retailers and manufacturers, is that I will never shirk the task of making the hard choices needed to get our city moving.