Getting Around - Driving in London - Congestion Charge & Parking
(See also public transport)
Driving in London has a certain stigma attached to it (especially for those who have never tried it). London is one of the busiest cities in the world and, naturally, traffic can be horrendous but don't let that put you off. As long as you're well prepared and able to stay relatively calm you'll be fine. The first and most important thing to know is where you're going and how to get there. If you've done a bit of homework you'll find yourself less likely to be going round in circles for the afternoon. A good street atlas or A-Z is essential. There are so many good ones available that it's probably best to pop into a bookshop and compare a few to see which covers the areas you need and is easiest to read. You can also get detailed routes with instructions to print out from the AA and RAC at www.theaa.com and www.rac.co.uk respectively.
Other than knowing where you're going it's also worth knowing a couple of other things, firstly about Congestion Charging.
By far the biggest change to driving habits in the capital in recent times has been the introduction of congestion charging. Congestion charging came into effect on February 17th 2003 and is intended not only to decrease traffic on the city's roads but also to encourage people onto and increase funding for public transport. Basically how it works is to charge vehicles for entering central London.
The charge applies from 7am to 6pm Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays) and the cost for one day is £8 if you pay before midnight on the day of travel. You can also pay the following day at an increased cost of £10 (this effectively means next charging day so, if you travel on a Friday you have until midnight on the Monday to pay the next day fee). Methods of payment include shops and garages, telephone and online payment and even payment by SMS text message.
There are plenty of warning signs on the roads around the zone plus several on motorways and A roads coming into London so (in theory) you should be well aware of where the boundaries are. In practice it helps to be aware before you travel if you may need to enter the zone. Several pocket maps are available showing the exact boundaries of the zone (both A-Z and the AA publish maps such as these and they are readily available in petrol stations and bookshops around London). If you're heading into London but won't be entering the Congestion Charging Zone it's also important to bear in mind the fact that roads such as the North and South Circular Roads (A406 and A205) are often busier as a result of traffic avoiding central London.
If you drive a motorbike or scooter you should be exempt from the charge. Also, anyone driving an electrically powered car is exempt!
For more information on the Congestion Charge and how to pay either log on to the official website www.cclondon.com or call Transport for London on 0845 900 1234.
WHEN YOU'RE LOST IN LONDON
If you find yourself lost on the London roads (which you invariably will, even with the help of a map!) there is a fantastic service run by London taxi drivers called www.theknowledge.com which will give you directions over the phone from wherever you are. "The knowledge" is what a taxi driver must have to qualify to drive a black cab ("Hackney Carriage") - the ability to drive someone to any street in London purely from memory! They really are human A-Zs! The number to call is 0906 265 6565 (although remember it’s illegal to use your mobile whilst actually driving!).
After the Congestion Charge, the second most hotly-debated issue concerning driving in London is parking. Parking in and around London can be difficult and expensive. Restrictions apply in the centre of the city from 8.30 to 18.30 Monday to Friday and 8.30 to 13.30 on Saturdays. Meters and car parks are expensive and it's not even possible to guarantee you'll find anywhere to park at all. Further out in the more residential areas parking conditions vary wildly. In busy areas you may even need to buy a permit to park outside your own house. It's even got to the stage now where private parking spaces have been known to sell in London for the price of a flat in other parts of the country. That said, many areas are still reasonably good for parking so it's always best to have a look when you go to view a property to see if there's space you can park in outside or maybe in a nearby side street (also check if you'll need a permit). It's always worth contacting the local Borough Council to ask about on-street parking in the area you are looking to move to.
Other useful contacts for parking in central London :
NCP (National Car Parks)
0870 606 7050
0800 243 348