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10,000 jump congestion fee

London, Feb. 18: London mayor Ken Livingstone admitted today that an astonishing 10,000 drivers had either refused or failed to pay the £5 fee for driving into central London by the cut-off time of midnight today — and would, therefore, be receiving a demand for a fine of £80.

Livingstone warned: “We are not going to allow a few free-loaders to ride on the back of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Londoners.”

Senior staff from Mastek, the Indian software company brought in to do some of the key work in the London congestion charge project, refused to talk to the press today. The reluctance was in tune with the perception that the initial results from the first day’s operation yesterday were not encouraging.

According to the scheme, between 7 am and 6.30 pm from Monday to Friday, motorists in the congestion zone will pay a fee of £5 a day. If a driver pays after 10 pm but before midnight, the charge is doubled to £10. If drivers fail to pay by midnight, they will receive a £80 fine through the post.

Large areas of central London saw light traffic yesterday, indicating either that the congestion charge was working beautifully or, as seemed more likely, Livingstone was destroying the economy of London by ushering in the silence of the graves.

Other streets outside the congestion areas were clogged with traffic but it was hard to tell whether this was the normal state of affairs or whether traffic had been squeezed out of central London into surrounding areas.

One fact about Mastek was made clear yesterday by Rowland Barran, the public relations executive hired by Mastek to speak on the company’s behalf. He said that the software and programming for London had been developed by 15 companies, of which Mastek was one. This, he added, corrected some reports which had wrongly given the impression that Mastek was top dog.

“We don’t want to grab all the glory,” said Barran. “We don’t want to upset the other partners by suggesting we are the only ones involved.”

Analysts will point out that if the congestion charge ends in chaos, there may not be too much glory to grab.

Barran added that Mastek (UK), a company with headquarters in Mumbai, had operated in Britain for 10 years, and now had offices in Bristol and Edinburgh.

It was well known to Capita, the servicing company which was masterminding the overall operation of the congestion charge. A spokesman told The Telegraph: “Capita is the operational engine for Transport for London, which designed the IT solutions. Mastek is one of 15 companies that were involved as subcontractors. Mastek did the coding work for the computer programming — that is, designed the codes — for manual typing in of the programme. We regard Mastek as a good partner.”

In the huge urban surveillance scheme, 800 cameras at 400 points in and around a 21-sq.km chunk of the city centre monitor the licence plates of the 2,50,000 motorists who drive in the area every day. The Automobile Association said that “reduced traffic in central London could impact on the capital’s economy.”

Freight companies oppose the charge. Some representatives said the arrangements for delivery firms to pay were chaotic.

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