Reporters on the Job

MONDAY MORNING BLUES: When reporter Mark Rice-Oxley went to observe the impact of a new anticongestion tax in central London (page 7), he was a little surprised. The tax, aimed at offering some balm to a historic area the mayor argues has been scarred by continual traffic jams, had gotten a lot of bad press. But at prime commuting time on a cold winter morning, protesters were few. In fact, only about 20 to 25 hardy and antifee demonstrators were standing at Kennington Cross in the congestion zone, which is about eight square miles in size.

"I was expecting to see 200 people or more. But it was extremely low-key and almost humdrum," Mark notes.

Part of the problem was bad timing. Two days earlier, London had witnessed the biggest demonstrations in its history - but about peace, not traffic.

"Not only were not many drivers paying attention to this demonstration, but here were these people, trying to follow up after a huge demonstration," Mark says. "They had the difficulty of getting their point across - and they had competition from Saturday's outpouring. They were upstaged totally."

The determined band of demonstrators did not all speak with one voice, however. Sure, there were those arguing that they need their cars for work and so don't have alternatives. Others said it was a tax on the elderly who live in the area and keep their car there. But at least one guy was willing to take a stand for giving the streets a break.

"There was this lone guy standing on other side of the road with a placard that read, 'Give "C" [the symbol of the congestion measure] a Chance.' He said that he was a driver, but also a parent and a cyclist, and that he believed it was time motorists should face up to their responsibility and pay."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy World editor

Cultural snapshot
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