Jul 26th

Transport for London and the Congestion Charge

By Mary B

Transport for London and the Congestion Charge

Did you know you could pay the Congestion Charge without even needing to – and Transport for London will not allow you a refund.


On Friday (the day is important) I drove to London. I used my satnav to direct me to an address in North East London. My route should not have taken me anywhere near the Congestion Charge area.


However, as so often is the case, the satnav had a fit. My satnav is actually my mobile phone running Google Maps, which I, mostly, find excellent. We lost the GPS signal as we drove through the Blackwall Tunnell. I should have just driven straight north on the A12 but as a slave to my satnav I followed directions which seemed rather strange after GPS was re-established. I saw signs to the Isle of Dogs and seemed to be heading towards Tower Bridge – now that’s just not right, I knew that much. I ended up driving through all sorts of tiny back streets and was really, completely lost. I kept seeing signs for the Congestion Charge and I knew I didn’t want to get into that…….at one point I thought I had turned right just before it started, but I couldn’t be sure.


Eventually I navigated myself out of this mess and found my destination. The day went off successfully and by the time I came home the traffic was so bad that Google Maps took me way off east to the M25 and over the Dartford Bridge.

I was busy on Saturday and so it wasn’t until the early evening that I knew I had to pay my Dart Charge. This charge must be paid by the day after using the Dartford Crossing or a penalty is issued. I then spent considerable time trying to determine whether or not I had entered the Congestion Charge area. As I didn’t fully know where I had driven it was impossible to tell. It was also too late to ask for help from the Transport for London office which by this time was closed.

My decision was to play safe and pay the £14 for Friday and then on Monday ask the nice people at TfL whether I had actually gone into the Congestion Zone or not – and if not, well, I’m sure I would get a refund, after all, they can’t charge for something that didn’t happen – can they……..

So on Monday morning I duly called the Transport for London office – and waited for around 15 minutes before getting through to someone. The lady on the other end of the line told me they had no facility to tell whether or not I had driven into the Congestion Charge zone. I would just have to wait and see if I received a Penalty Charge Notice. I told her that it was for that very reason I had decided to pay. “Oh well” she said, in a rather smug voice, “Well, if you’ve paid then that’s your decision and there is no refund available.” Apparently, if I waited 48 hours I could find out if I had driven into the Congestion Zone. I explained to her that I thought the system was very faulty if it took payment from people whose cars had not been into the Congestion Zone. She confirmed that the system had been the same since it was set up in 2003 although they were working on a ‘live system’ because at the moment there is this delay.

I decided this sort of approach was just not acceptable. I told her I was making a complaint and I would like to speak to her manager. After another long wait I was told that her manager was not available and would only tell me the same as she had told me. That might be the case, I agreed, but I wanted to escalate this issue and I therefore wanted to speak to someone with higher authority. She assured me her manager would phone me back. Two days later I am still waiting for that call.

I decided to try Transport for London again today (Wednesday). I called and got straight through to a charming man called Jo. I explained my situation and he was sympathetic. He took some time to explain the tools that are available on their website to check whether you have entered the zone or not. I explained to him that it was difficult to use the tools when you don’t know where you have driven. TfL are quick enough to issue their PCNs (Penalty Charge Notices) but obviously not prepared to help those who get lost or confused.

He gave me the number of the Enforcement Operatives but I knew what would happen when I spoke to them. Sure enough, they are only prepared to confirm that you have driven into the zone and that you will be receiving a PCN for £130. Apparently no one is able to tell me if my car did not go into the Congestion Charge Zone. This is outrageous and totally unacceptable, given the technology that TfL employ. It seems to me they are all too quick to take our money and not so interested in accuracy or fairness.

It is true that if you pay your PCN within 14 days you get a 50% discount, but, as I explained, £65 is a lot to pay out of a state pension……

So, am I mad to expend any more energy on this?

I feel it is an outrageous situation and that the system is biased against those of us who live outside London and don’t know our way around. Also, I find that as you get older it also gets more difficult to take in all the signs when you are lost and panicking……  I believe the signage relating to the Congestion Charge is also less clear than it used to be. There used to be big C’s on the road so you knew exactly when you had driven over into the zone. They don’t appear to exist any longer.

I don’t suppose TfL will be very sympathetic but as pensioners, most of us cannot afford to pay penalty charges of £65 too often, and it bugs me that I might well have paid my £14 for no reason at all, and no one is prepared to help me establish the truth.




Jul 9th

Curio Bay New Zealand and the Hoiho Penguin

By Sandy H

Curio Bay is a coastal embayment in the Southland district of New Zealand

best known as the site of a petrified forest some 180 million years old


Luck was on my side, the tide was out and I had the chance to explore the bay and the petrified stumps and logs that scatter the bay.

It was an incredible feeling touching something that is 180 million years old.....

The bay was deserted,  and I was standing gazing up above at a beautiful rainbow all was quiet and peaceful.

Suddenly some young lads began calling to me,  they were up above me on the cliff top,

"excuse me excuse me"  they called....


I turned and there right beside me not five metres away stood the most magnificent

Hoiho,  A yellow eyed male penguin.

He was standing so close to me on the rocks I think I could have reached out to touch him.  But new better than to do that.

I had no idea he was there,  I stood very still and quiet so as not to frighten him.

He shuffled his body and turned his back to me.

These were very pecious minutes and I knew I had to move slowly but quickly out of his way.

My last look at this beautiful bird and slowly I moved....

He began calling to his mate,  she came waddling across the rocks towards him.

I moved again,  eventually she waddled up to him and away they went, across the rocks into the safety of their hideaway.



The Hoiho Penguin


Several hoiho or yellow eyed penguins nest in the area around Curio Bay/Waikawa

They are one of the rarest penguins in the world with an estimated total population in New Zealand of between 6000 and 7000

The population has declined because of the clearance of coastal forest in which penguins nest.

They are also affected by introduced preditors, such as stoats, ferrets and dogs.

Which may disturb their nests.

Eggs are laid in September/October and both parents incubate and help rear chicks.

Birds usually leave the nest for the sea early morning, returning late afternoon/early evening.

The Hoiho is an endangered and unique species: a living symbol of the Caitlins.

Distinguished by its distinct yellow eyes and headband, the hoiho is a shy loner and a forest dweller.

Its Maori name imitates its shrill call and translates to 'the noise shouter'


These penguins have excellent eye sight and hearing and are easily frightened.


I feel very fortunate to have seen one so close and hopefully unintentionally did not frighten him too much.



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