Friday, December 12, 2008

Yes! (Or rather, No!)

I'd been meaning to post about the referendum on a Congestion Charge for Manchester. (Or more accurately, a congestion charge for Greater Manchester as the proposed zone includes 13 metropolitan boroughs.)

This morning as I lay in bed, knowing the result was decided as yesterdays ballot return deadline passed, I reprimanded myself for not posting about it before. Heck, I could have even set up a whole new site about it! What if the result was the wrong one when if it weren't for my laziness I could have swung the few vital votes?

I needn't have worried. The result was a resounding "No".

When I first heard of the proposed congestion charge I was entirely open to the idea. But as time went on and I saw what improvements were on offer as a result of the charge, it became clear to me that it wasn't a good deal.

Let me give you some illustrations.

The charge is designed to ease congestion caused by commuter traffic heading in and out of Manchester. To do this, an outer and inner zone were defined. Traffic passing into those zones in the morning "rush hour" would be charged, as would traffic passing out in the evening "rush hour".

So if, like our family, you live half a mile inside the outer boundary (mostly defined by the M60 motorway), you would be charged for taking your child to nursery half a mile outside the boundary as you return from dropping him off. It's only a short local journey but it is charged the same as if we've commuted 40 miles in a company car. Thankfully Oliver's nursery is now on this side of the boundary, but his old one wasn't so it's a real example.

Many years ago I moved to Stockport so that I wasn't commuting 80 miles a day to and from work. Ever since I have used my bike quite often to commute the much reduced 6 mile round trip to/from the office. (I did today as it happens.) I kept a record for a while and found that in recent years my best efforts saw me commuting by bike between 30% and 50% of the time over the year.

But we still have two cars as the demands of combining work and family life make it feel almost a necessity. We've discussed before the possibility of getting rid of one of the cars. It would need me to increase the number of times I commute by bike and let Hayley give me a lift much of the rest of the time. It's far from ideal but perhaps just about feasible.

But the congestions charge would have made that an impossibility. I work half a mile outside the outer boundary so on returning from dropping me at work Hayley would be charged.

"What about public transport", I hear you ask? Well, the cost of the journey to work is about 11 times the cost in petrol. Having to use two buses, it would also take at least 3 times as long. Quicker to walk in fact.

"What about the promised improvements in exchange for the charge?" Well, the Metrolink (tram) system wouldn't be extended to Stockport. (it was promised and then cut several years ago.) There would be no new bus routes, only more frequent services on some routes. Oh and they would refurbish the bus station. Whoop-ee-doo!

The final nail in the charge's coffin for me was the totally one-sided reporting of it - pulled up by the regulator at least once - and the patronising premise that the proposal was the only option and the only chance of getting some money to improve public transport. Poppycock!

The sad truth is that the two-ring scheme is far too clumsy an instrument with which to fairly levy a travel tax on those doing the most damage. Having made a green decision nearly two decades ago to reduce my carbon footprint, to live and work in the same community, to think global and act local, I'm not exactly jumping at the chance to pay the same as someone who drives 100 miles a day from their country pile.

It's an opportunity missed, without doubt. I hope that in years to come a fairer system can be devised. I mean we already live in a world where every other car has Sat Nav, its driver almost certainly has a mobile phone and the roads are watched by an army of cameras. Can it really be that hard to figure something out?

You can read about the congestion charge voting here (where there are also links to other relevant sites).


Dan said...

hat was interesting. I'd seen the posters on my way through manchester now and again, but not known much about the actual debate.

I think i might have come down on the no side too, despite my green leanings.

Anonymous said...

I don't doubt you can guess that I completely and totally disagree with you but i'll save the rants for when I see you. :)

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