Moving around London (part 5): driving

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Driving around London
Today we’ll be talking about a different way of moving around London: cars. Driving in London can be a very stressful experience or a relaxing one, it all depends on the route you take and the time of the day! Previously we’ve written about four popular forms of public transport: the tube, the train, the bus and the tram.  

First some interesting trivia

Almost from the beginning cars were considered dangerous, so a law was passed limiting speed and number of cars on the streets. In 1896 after car fans started pressuring the government the law was changed and the speed limit was raise to 14mph. This changed the future of cars forever and it is now celebrated every year with the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run during the first Sunday of November. Driving licences started appearing on 1903, but the driving test didn’t start until 1935 when there were already 1.4 million cars on the roads. It wasn’t until 1996 that the theory test was introduced.  

The London Charges

There are of course no tickets or fares needed for driving (other than the regular car expenses), but there are some charges that could apply to you. There are 3 possible charges for driving in London:
  • Low Emission Zone (LEZ) compliance: this one is for large and some commercial vehicles, it doesn’t apply to all of those but make sure you check here. The charges can be up to £200. If you’ve rented a minibus or coach it’s up to you to make sure the charge is paid if needed, it’s not the company’s responsibility.
  • Congestion Charge: this is a charge that applies to most vehicles that enter central London between 7 am and 6 pm Monday to Friday. It’s £11.50 per day, but can be £10.50 if you register for automatic payment. Here you can find a map of the affected areas, and here you can check if you can apply for a discount or if you are exempt from paying the charge (many new cars are).
  • T-charge (Emissions Surcharge): this is the latest charge to have been put in place, it operates during the same times, days and locations as the Congestion Charge. It usually only affects older vehicles, but it’s always worth a check (you can do it here). It costs £10 per day and that’s on top of the Congestion charge but most of the same discount and exemptions apply. From April 2019 there will be an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) that will be in place 24/7, you can read more about it here.
There are also generally charges for parking. These vary according to the location and the day and time. Look for signs near your parking space to see if they apply. If you have to pay there will be ticket machines near, you can pay using coins or using your phone with a text message. Some modern machines accept contact less (card or mobile phone) payments.  

Top 5 tips for driving

  • Check the parking near your destination. Sometimes you can find cheaper or free options if you are willing to walk one or two minutes. Some sites will also give an idea of how much you’ll have to pay if there’s no free parking around.
  • Check road signs. Many roads are old and have specific rules, such as speed limits or being one-way. Make sure you keep an eye on the road signs to avoid an accident or a fine. In Central London there are many road that are bus-only.
  • Consider joining a car club. Car clubs are a way of having access to a car when you need one without having to actually own a car. Most times their prices cover basics like insurance and petrol, as well as TFL charges. You can book them starting at 1 hour, and extend if needed. zipcar is the largest car club currently operating in London .
  • Check TFL’s website for status updates before you leave. Sometimes roads become blocked or closed due to accidents, traffic or other problems.
  • Most of London has a 30mph (about 48 km/h) speed, but many areas have a lower speed limit of 20 mph (32 km/h) especially near schools and hospitals.
To know more about is always better to learn the English language with Way Language school using the Callan method. And one extra tip: If you can, use public transport! Trips take usually the same time or less (especially in zones 2 and 1) and you’ll be able to read a book or practise some English.