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Transportation

A Test for Congestion Charges in Smaller Cities

Oxford is the first the U.K. city to charge cars that aren’t fully electric by establishing zero-emission zone in its historic medieval center.

A sign for the Zero Emission Zone pilot in Oxford, which began on Feb. 28, bringing with it a whole new set of charges for many petrol, diesel and hybrid cars. 

A sign for the Zero Emission Zone pilot in Oxford, which began on Feb. 28, bringing with it a whole new set of charges for many petrol, diesel and hybrid cars. 

Photographer: Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images

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A new congestion charge in the historic heart of Oxford in England is signaling that smaller cities may become the next battleground in the war on cars.

For the past month, the municipality has been charging 10 pounds ($13.10) for any non-electric vehicle driving through the narrow medieval streets of the city center as part of a pilot program to create a zero-emission zone. The aim is to make central Oxford substantially cleaner, healthier and less congested. But with a metro area population of about 150,000 and about half of workers commuting in from surrounding districts, the charge already faces resistance, and is likely to become a test case for the applicability of congestion pricing beyond major urban centers.