Today, when only adland's Ferrari-driving stars bring their cars to town and the majority of its workforce entrusts its fate to the vagaries of public transport, the charge is seen as just another means of upping the ante for the dubious privilege of working in the capital.
But if there aren't many reasons to be cheerful about the charge, levied for the first time on Monday, it has at least sparked a little creative inspiration.
Not least for a cdp-travissully team returning to the agency in the back of a cab when a congestion charge poster loomed into view.
By the time they got back they'd already sketched what turned out to be the final print execution for Hamlet cigars before the tobacco ad ban came into force last week.
The swansong ad dropped the famous "Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet" line into a mock version of a congestion charge ad. "The charge has been imposed and there's nothing anybody can do about it," Simon North, the cdp-travissully managing director, says. "It's a perfect Hamlet situation."
At TBWA/London, the agency assigned the congestion charge campaign by Transport for London, Andrew McGuinness, the chief executive, stops short of calling it a "brief from hell" but does acknowledge it as "one of the most complex communication tasks we've ever had to implement".
Against a background of widespread opposition to the charge, TBWA's work has deliberately tried not to fuel the debate.
"It's like a throwback to the kind of public information advertising you don't see anymore" McGuinness adds. "The only parallel is the campaign publicising the last big phone code changes."
But McGuinness believes the campaign has succeeded - public awareness levels before the charge arrived were claimed to have hit 98 per cent, while 80 per cent of drivers are said to be able to name at least one payment method, all testified to by its smooth introduction on Monday.
Most agencies within the zone are advising staff that payments incurred while on clients' business will be reimbursed. The few staff that drive in daily to work will have to pay out of their own pockets.
At Publicis' offices, just 200 yards inside the zone, Grant Duncan, the joint chief executive, says: "If a car needs to be loaded with art bags for a big presentation we would pay." M&C Saatchi will operate a similar policy.
Mary Budd, the IPA's employment affairs advisor, believes the dual effect of the congestion charge and ongoing problems on the Tube will increase pressures on agencies to offer more flexible working hours. "The majority of agency people who drive to work are very senior and have parking spaces so I don't think the congestion charge will be a disincentive," she comments.
Chris Pinnington, the Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper chief executive, won't be weaned from his wheels. "Parking in central London costs £30 a day," he explains. "A £5 congestion charge isn't going to make a significant difference to the cost of my journey."