Since London became the first world city to introduce a congestion charge in 2003, drivers visiting the city center must pay a fee when they enter certain zones. Zones where the congestion charge applies are indicated by signs sporting a letter “C” in a red circle. Drivers can either pay before entering the zone, or within the short deadline after the day of travel.
The congestion charge applies only on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and excludes Bank Holidays, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Drivers of most vehicles, including rental cars, are required to pay the charge, with fines for those who don’t. Some vehicles are exempt, however, including motorbikes, mopeds and bikes, vans with nine or more seats, and cars carrying a disabled driver’s badge. Drivers only have to pay once for the day, no matter many times they drive in and out. For visitors renting a car, the rental agency will typically process the payment in advance.
Drivers can pay up to 90 days in advance, on the day of travel or up to midnight following the traveling day, meaning that if they travel on a Friday, they have until midnight Monday to pay. Drivers can register an account with Transport for London and either pay via the authority’s website or call center, whose opening hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, closed on Sundays. Drivers with an account can also pay by SMS or by Congestion Charge Auto Pay, through which payments are collected monthly by direct debit. For most visitors, however, or those who travel on the spur of the moment, one of the easiest ways to pay without setting up an account is at shops or gas stations which display the “C” or PayPoint logo. Many major car parks also have self-service machines where drivers can pay.