27 February 2003 | Robin Parker
The controversial congestion charge for London traffic could add £160 million a year to supply chain costs for the capital's businesses, the Freight Trade Association (FTA) has warned.
It wants the 30,000 commercial vehicles that bring goods to central London to be exempt from the £5 charge for driving into the city between 7am and 6.30pm on weekdays.
Deliveries are already restricted by a lorry ban between 9pm and 7am, which is under review.
Mayor Ken Livingstone introduced the congestion charge last week to cut traffic in the capital by up to 15 per cent and to encourage commuters to use more public transport.
Traffic fell by nearly a quarter on the first day, although 10,000 drivers reportedly failed to pay.
But freight was hit by a technical hitch that prevented 800 firms with fleets of 25 vehicles or more from paying on time.
Transport for London (TfL) has allowed registered fleets to estimate the number of vehicles they are sending into the congestion zone and to pay retrospectively next month.
Geoff Dossetter, the FTA's external affairs director, said firms were dealing with huge amounts of red tape in joining the scheme.
They faced extra long-term supply chain costs with little or no operational benefits, he said, particularly as most deliveries could not go by public transport.
"Little care seems to have been taken in accounting for the logistical problems of bringing goods into the capital," he said.
Dossetter admitted the FTA's campaign would face continued objections from the mayor.
"When we gave evidence to the transport select committee in December last year, Mr Livingstone responded that if he kept commercial vehicles exempt, 'wily' Londoners would buy a truck to avoid the charge."
A TfL spokesman said the mayor was waiting to see how well the charge worked before reviewing it.