Congestion Charge – Major Policy Shift, or False Claim?



The pro-congestion charge has made what appears to be a false and misleading statement through their Google advertising.

In fairness to the public, they should either

1)    Make a full admission and apology to the mistake on the front page of their website, and immediate withdrawal of the offending statement.

2)    Admit that this is major policy change in that congestion charging will only be introduced if they go at least £1bn, or 50% overspent on their published plans.


The Offending Statement


When I Google “Congestion Charge Revenues” within the search box I get



Sponsored Links:

Find out the FactsCongestion charge? Not until £3bn is invested in public transport


This is also found through and, probably, any other UK website that has a Google search box.




There are two ways of considering this

a)    That this is a false statement.

b)    That this is a true statement, and a major policy change.


This is a false statement as


1. The total package is £2.8bn, not £3bn.

2. This includes £313m for the congestion charge scheme. This is not investment in public transport, but a means of both funding the investments AND of winning customers for the new public transport services. That only leaves £2.5bn for investment in public transport.

3. The package includes a large amount of contingency. It is only if they go overspent that they will reach the amount.

4. On the website it says “Up to £3 billion spent on public transport improvements – at least 80% in place before congestion introduced”


This is true only if the authourites plan to make payment before the contractors finish the work, they will not have spent the budget. Normal practice is to only make final payment once work has been fully completed and inspected. Often on building work, a retention is kept back to make sure any faults in the construction that become evident when the facilty is operational are rectified. If this is true, then the audit commission should be got involved, as it would be an imprudent application of public funds.


Major Policy Change


The statement “Congestion charge? Not until £3bn is invested in public transport” is true if


1)    There is a major change in policy. To me this implies we will only get the congestion charge if investment goes so massively overspent that it eats up the not only the contingency, but at least £1bn or 50% more than planned.(1) However, such a massive policy change would need to call on at least £900m of extra government funding, so would have to be re-submitted to tif.

2)    The investment in public transport also includes all UK government expenditure(2) on transport. Then they can introduce the expenditure straight away. However, for the statement to remain meaningful it would both be misleading and render the statement “Up to £3 billion spent on public transport improvements – at least 80% in place before congestion introduced” untrue and that should be withdrawn with full admission.



Note (1)

The tif package – figures
Total package 2,800
Less Contingency -500   Estimate
Less Congestion package -300   Rounded down
Claimed Net Package 2,000
% overspend to get to £3bn 50%
80% of the package 1,600  

Note (2)


Whilst Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown established the convention that any UK government expenditure is investment. I therefore follow the convention so as not to create confusion amongst the political classes.

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