How do I Avoid the Congestion Charge?
If you are visiting London and thinking of driving or hiring a car it is worth finding out about London’s congestion charge, especially if you are planning on venturing into central London. Chances are that, if you are driving and not visiting a relative in some obscure suburb, you’ll end up having to pay the London congestion charge.
In this handy guide, we’ll not only take you through what the congestion charge is and how much it will cost you, but also how to avoid paying it altogether!
*Last updated 14th Aug 19
What is the Congestion Charge?
The congestion charge, also known as the CC, is essentially a fee you need to pay for driving in certain parts / zones of the city. The idea behind the congestion charge is three-fold; to help reduce the flow of traffic in these areas, to reduce overall carbon emissions in the city and (unofficially of course) to make money for the council. London was the first major city in the world to introduce a congestion charge. Since then, other cities around the world have adhered to the scheme, including Milan, Stockholm and Singapore to name only a few.
Unlike other countries, though, there are no tolls or checkpoints to pay the charge as you enter the congestion zone, but there is an army of cameras that read registration numbers and photograph vehicles as they travel inside the zone and especially across the boundaries. It quite literally pays to make sure you’re 100% clued up on these charges before you even think about pointing your vehicle towards the bright lights of London, so take note!
How Much does the congestion charge cost?
The charge is £11.50 per day if you pay in advance or by the stroke of midnight on the day you’re travelling. £14 if you pay by midnight the following day. It’s worth noting that if you are travelling on a Friday, you have until midnight on Monday to pay. You only need to pay the charge once a day, even if you travel in and out of the zone several times in the same day; and you only have to pay if your car is physically inside the congestion charge zone during the chargeable times.
If you travel to London regularly, you can also sign up to pay the charge monthly through the CC Auto Play scheme (CCAP). The scheme catalogues all the days you traveled inside the CC zone and then bills the registered card £10.50 per day at the end of the month. You will have to register in advance for the scheme and a registration fee of £10 per year per vehicle applies.
What happens if I don’t pay?
If the charge is not paid by the end of the following day, you will automatically receive a £160 Penalty Charge Notice, also known as a PCN. You have 28 days to pay the PCN, but if you pay within 14 days the fine is reduced to £80. If the penalty is not paid within the original deadline of 28 days, the charge goes up to £240. However, if you feel you have been wrongfully penalised you can challenge your PCN by making a representation either online or in writing. But remember! While there are no checkpoints or tolls in the congestion charge zone, a network of cameras keeps a constant vigil, checking which vehicles enter and leave the dedicated zone, so they will know you have been even if it feels like nobody saw you!
When and Where does it apply?
The congestion charge applies between the hours of 7am and 6pm from Monday to Friday, excluding bank holidays and the Christmas and New Year period between 25th of December and the 1st of January. It applies in all areas signposted with a large white “C” in a red circle. At entrance and exit boundary points the “C” can be seen on signposts as well as painted on the floor.
Areas inside the congestion charge zone include: Barbican, Bloomsbury, Borough, Charing Cross, City of London, Clerkenwell, Covent Garden, Euston, Finsbury, Green Park, Holborn, Lambeth, Marylebone, Mayfair, Newington, Soho, Southwark, St James’, St Pancreas, Waterloo and Westminster.
How do I Pay?
You will need to register for a personal account and pay £10 to register each vehicle. Then you will be able to pay:
- Online via the official Transport for London website
- Via text message (you will need to activate the text payment service by calling TfL on the number below)
- Or by phone on 0343 222 2222
You can use all methods above to pay the charge up to 90 days prior to your visit or on the day of travel, but you can only pay by phone or online if paying the day after your visit. If you fail to pay and are issued with a PCN, the notice will include payment instructions.
Are there any Exemptions or Discounts?
If you are a resident of any of the affected areas (listed above), then you are eligible for a 90% discount. Disabled drivers, on the other hand, qualify for a complete 100% exemption, though they will first have to register with Transport for London and pay a £10 charge prior to travelling. If said drivers are already exempt from road tax, registration is not required. Motorbikes, bicycles and mopeds are also exempt from the congestion charge and certain hybrid and electric cars might be eligible for a discount due to their lower emission levels. The same is true for cars with 9 or more seats (so minibuses and buses really).
How do I Avoid the Congestion Charge?
Now that is the million dollar question. The truth is, if you wish to drive in certain areas of London, there is no escaping the congestion charge. In all honesty, if you are driving into central London without a free place to park, parking will cost more than the congestion charge itself. So it’s not just the congestion charge that weights on your pocket if you are driving in London, it’s the parking, the time it takes to get somewhere with the traffic and the potential fines if you don’t do it right. However, there are workarounds if you’re willing to find them. Here we’ve compiled a list of some of the less sneaky ways to avoid forking out for the charge on your next visit to London.
1. Time your visit so that you will only be driving after 6pm on weekdays or at the weekend. Though if you are driving down late on a Friday or at any time on a Saturday you should prepare for incredibly heavy traffic. It’s also generally free to street park in central London in the evenings and weekends as well as bank holidays. So missing the congestion charge hours also means you will save on parking.
2. Download a free parking app, or check the parking notices and drive around to find pay and display bays, as they are the ones that are usually free at particular times.
3. Download the congestion charge zone map from the Transport for London website. This will outline exactly where the zone is so you know which areas to avoid.
4. If you don’t intend to travel ‘to’ London, but only ‘through’ it, the TfL (Transport for London) website also includes a number of routes through London, which purposely avoid the congestion charge zone.
5. Drive smart and keep an eye out! As long as you keep your eyes on the road, the congestion zone is quite clearly signposted. So keep your wits about you and you can drive just outside its boundary without actually going in, even if you don’t have a map or sat nav. Many modern sat navs (especially British built ones) will also include an option that allows you to navigate around the zone.
6. Drive a lower emission car that is exempt from the charge. Though we understand buying a new car just to save yourself a tenner is a little counterintuitive, think of the good you’ll be doing the environment and the amount you’ll potentially save in fuel costs!
7. If you are licensed to ride a motorbike or can drive a moped, it might be worth checking if you can hire one, as they are exempt from the charge and usually free to park any hour of the day. You can also hire a bicycle easily in Central London with the Santander Cycles scheme. Once you register, they are easy to find and use. But please stay safe! City cycling is never easy and London is one of the busiest cities in the world.
8. If you’re visiting for the day, consider parking outside the zone and getting the tube or bus the rest of the way. You haven’t truly experienced London until you’ve experienced the tube anyway, so in theory, you’re killing two birds with one stone!
9. If doing the above, check the underground zones for where to park. In terms of public transport, London is divided into rings moving outwards from the city centre. A Day Travelcard will cost the same price from zones/rings 1 to 4. If you are staying on zone 3 you are looking at a 30 – 45 mins Tube ride to Central London, but car parking will be cheaper and easier to find the further out you park from the city centre. Free parking apps will also use your GPS location to guide you to the cheapest parking around you, so you might even find free parking.
10. If following #8, make sure you park in a place with no time limit and where you are definitely allowed to park, as the parking wardens in London are annoyingly efficient and don’t miss a beat.
For more useful information check out Your most frequently asked questions on London answered.
Citybase Apartments have a great selection of accommodation in London, both in and out of the congestion charge zone.