London is known for its “schemes”, which in their mind translates to “bargain”–But in this sense of the word it is more like the American definition of scam–an attempt to swindle 😉 The London congestion charge is a fee charged to enter central London with your car between the hours of 7:00am and 6:00pm (Monday-Friday only). The charge aims to reduce congestion, and to raise investment funds for London’s transport system. The standard charge is £10 for each day a car travels within the zone. For conversion purposes, this translates to about $15 each drive into central London. (a weekly charge to someone who commuted by car into the city would therefore be $75) with a penalty of between £60 and £187 levied for non-payment. ($90 and $280).
(The below paragraph is directly related to the above paragraph 🙂 )
I was talking to our Australian/British friends the other night over a gin and tonic, explaining the benefits (to us) of the Embassy having a working U.S. post office, which by the way we have received mail in a record three-four days from the east coast! (Thank you Sue Sue and GoGo and The New Orleans Brennecke cousins for the mail and packages so far!) Of course, laughing bellowed throughout the house when I told them we had to be sensitive to the amount of boxes being sent at one time, as Ray is currently the only courier we have at the moment to hand-deliver mail via the infamous “Hopper bus” he takes home from work. I continued by saying that once we get our car, it will be easier to pick up the packages becasue I can drive down and meet Ray outside the embassy to load up from any internet shopping sprees. Our friend Simon quickly replied that it could get quite expensive to drive into the congestion zone too often. It was then that I said these famous last words, “We don’t have to pay the congestion zone…It’s free for Diplomats.”
The next day, Simon’s wife Kate, forwards me an email that Simon sent with a link to that days BBC news. The email was entitled, “This is Why they think the Congestion Charge is Free.”
Needless to say, I laughed and laughed, until my stomach hurt. Read the link below, and you’ll see why, in light of the previous evening’s discussion, we got a charge out of the article!!!!
As you have probably already figured out, being a Diplomat definitely has it’s perks. For example, Ray just brought home a “uniformed services identification and privilege card” which allows us to shop at any military commissary here in Europe. In fact, the large black print on the front of the card boldly states “OVERSEAS ONLY”. Now, to the average American, this may not be such a “perk”, but you see, when you are paying $15.00 a pound for chicken at the local market…(hey, that’s no perk), then you too, would be jumping on the commissary bandwagon. One thing that is quite peculiar is, that with this “privilege card”, we also receive a supplemental U.S. forces ration card for coffee solubles. Call me crazy, but I double checked on Wikipedia, and it plainly states, “In the UK, 1954 was the year when all food rationing officially ended. Meat and cheese were the last things that were rationed. In the US, rationing stopped in 1946.” Ok, so maybe one of the privilege perks as a Diplomat is that we are “privy” to rationing?! I can handle that, as long as my congestion charge remains “Free”.