Samantha Bond (currently starring with Sean Bean in Macbeth at the West End's Albery Theatre) and the Smithfield market traders, her partners in protest, have abandoned their legal challenge to London mayor Ken Livingstone's traffic congestion charge, which came into effect last week.

Bond teamed up last month with the so-called "Smithfield martyrs" to oppose the £5 daily toll for driving into central London. They say it discriminates against low-paid workers - including the traders as well as restaurant and theatre staff and others who often work unsociable hours - and that it was initiated without proper consultation (See News, 8 Jan 2003).

The group, backed by solicitors Class Law, held a public meeting on 20 February 2003 to air their grievances and raise funds for a legal battle. When the congestion charging scheme came into force last Monday, 17 February 2003, Bond and the traders marched on Livingstone's offices and said they would refused to pay the toll.

However, Class Law says the case has been abandoned as only a tenth of the money necessary to take it to court was collected. In addition, many of the protesters have succumbed to paying the toll in the face of mounting penalties and the eventual possibility of having their cars compounded.

The solicitors say that Livingstone's Transport for London intend to review the situation with a view to making the congestion rate cheaper for low-paid workers, a promise which Bond has hailed as a victory. Speaking in the Times, the actress said: "This is what we have been asking for all along. We have been against the charge in principle, but the way it was introduced bore down indiscriminately on the lower paid. It is entirely right that Mr Livingstone now wants to address the problems they have in paying the full charge."

Bullishly, Livingstone says he is not surprised by the campaign's collapse as "they never had a legal case" and that the consideration of low-paid workers would be part of a wider review that had always been planned. In its first week, the congestion charging scheme has run relatively smoothly and has seen a dramatic decrease in traffic.

However, the scheme still has its critics and many believe that, longer term, it may have a negative impact on London's economy, including that of the West End.

- by Terri Paddock