By Max Clarke

Final charging day in Western Extension is Christmas Eve and from January drivers need never be fined again when the Congestion Charge Auto Pay is introduced.
The scheme will be suspended from 25 December untill 3 January inclusive, and the daily charge is to increase to £10 from 4 January.

It is now just under 48 hours until a major change is made to London’s congestion charge with the removal of its western extension.

Introduced in early 2007 following the sucesses of the initial CC Zone, the Western extension is to be removed after a public consultation on its future that was promised by the Mayor in his election manifesto, which saw 62 per cent of respondents back its removal.

The last charging day in the Western Extension will be Christmas Eve (ends 6pm) before the Charge is suspended as normal over the festive period. From 4 January next year the Congestion Charging zone will revert back to substantially its original boundaries.

A number of other significant changes to Congestion Charging will come into effect on 4 January. Congestion Charge Auto Pay accounts will be introduced that will mean drivers need never be fined again for forgetting to pay the charge. These include the introduction of a new greener vehicle discount that aims to encourage a switch to cleaner and greener cars.

On 4 January the congestion charge will also increase from £8 to £9 if paid using Auto Pay; or £10 if paid in advance (or on the day) using conventional means and £12 if paid the next charging day. The increase is to ensure that the charge remains an effective mechanism to control congestion.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: "The long desired eradication of the western extension is my Christmas present to the people who live, work and shop in west London. My predecessor wilfully ignored their objections, I promised a fresh consultation and I am a man of my word. Our new Autopay system means motorists need never be clobbered by fines and, with the introduction of a revamped environmental discount, this is undoubtedly the year we have made the congestion charge far fairer.”

Motorists can pre-register for a CC Auto Pay account at ready for 4 January 2011 when CC Auto Pay launches. To register, you need a credit or debit card and will have to pay a £10 registration charge for each vehicle on the account. When a vehicle is registered for CC Auto Pay drivers need never worry about being fined again for forgetting to pay the charge as the correct charge will be automatically deducted from their debit or credit card for the days they travel within the zone.

A Greener Vehicle Discount (GVD) will also be introduced from 4 January 2011 to encourage a switch to less polluting and more CO2 efficient cars. The GVD will replace the current Alternative Fuel Discount which has been outpaced by technological developments. The Electric Vehicle Discount will also be extended to include plug-in hybrids as well as pure electric vehicles.