Driving in London

As it would be expected from a city of over 8 million people that receives more than 30 million visitors per year, the London road network is often under tremendous strain. Despite the extensive network of public transportation, many Londoners still choose to drive a private vehicle to get around the city.

According to reports, as of 2012 there were more than 2.6 million privately owned cars registered to London residents. In addition, local drivers in London have to share the roads with more than 23,000 licensed taxis and with large numbers of commuters who drive daily into the city from surrounding areas.

Driving in London: Current and Future Trends

London has low levels of car ownership when compared to the rest of the United Kingdom. In 2011, as many as 70% per cent of households in London did not own a car, as opposed to 25 per cent of households in the rest of the country. The London Transport Data website reports that in 2011 there were only 0.76 cars per household in the British capital.

As car ownership in London declines, other trends emerge. For example, peer to peer rental cars schemes like Easy Car Club. This initiative allows drivers who do not own a car to rent one from a neighbour on an hourly or daily basis. The scheme is convenient for those who do not have a car and also for vehicle owners whose car does not get used get much use.

Another noteworthy trend concerns new drivers in London. The average age at which Londoners learn to drive has been steadily increasing over the past decade, with less than 30 per cent of Londoners aged between 17 and 20 owning a license. This might be a consequence of the ever-increasing fuel prices, taxes, and the general economic situation. Nowadays, fewer young people in London consider having a car a necessity.

Electric cars might develop into another important trend in the future. The Mayor of London has an initiative in place to make driving in London greener. There are approximately 800 electric car charging stations around the city and more are planned. However, currently there are only 2,400 electric vehicles on the roads of London, which barely make up for 0.1 per cent of the total number of cars. One of the future trends that we may see developing in London over the next few years is the appearance of electric car hire schemes, similar to those that are already in place in other European capitals, like Paris.

Driving in London: Practical Information

London is notorious for its congestion charge, currently set at £11.50 per day for every car that enters the specifically designated areas in central London. Drivers must note that the congestion charge also applies in areas of South London, such as Lambeth, Waterloo, Southwark, and Bermondsey. Congestion charges are not applicable on weekends or on weekdays after 6pm.

However, it is worth mentioning that the current congestion charge could end up being replaced by a new road pricing scheme, as it has been suggested by the Green Party in London. Under this scheme, drivers in London would pay according to the distance covered, at a rate of 40p per mile.

Another point that must be considered by those who plan to drive in London is the existence of the so-called "red routes", a network of 360 miles of roads where stopping restrictions are in place. Since red routes carry approximately 30 per cent of the total traffic in the city, it is very likely that at some point or another drivers will have to use one of these roads. Drivers can download a map of London's red routes from the Transport for London website.

Parking restrictions are in place on most London roads and drivers are advised to check carefully for signs. In only one year, traffic wardens in London issued more than £5 million in fines, with the boroughs of Westminster and Islington having the highest rates of penalty charges in the whole country.