Manchester rejects Conjestion Charge

At 12am today we found out the results of the referendum on the £2.8bn package. With 53% of the electorate voting in the postal ballot, 78.8% voted against the proposal. This is the comment just posted on Iain Dale’s Diary,

 

It is worth taking a look at what this means for government policy generally.

Greater Manchester Transport paid £10m to put the package together, along with £3m spent on publicity. A majority of local politicians were strongly in favour, with most of the rest sitting on the fence.

The package was a good example of how the government views policy. It seems to have been devised to justify a particular favoured viewpoint, so was going to be biased from the outset.

 

Criticisms are

1)  A forecast of increasing growth in Manchester, with many of the new jobs in the city centre.

2) An overestimation of the effectiveness of a congestion charge in moving people onto public transport.

3) A failure to look at the total costs and benefits of the move, including the time taken in travelling, or the interests of commuters from outside the borough.

4) Figures pulled out of the air, such as “30,000 jobs will be lost” or “only 10% of people in Greater Manchester will pay the charge”

5) The use of threats – it is all or nothing. I wait to see if the government really carries out that threat, or just waits a period and introduces the Metrolink – the big ticket item – piecemeal.

6) Failure to publicise the budgeted 5.5% annual increase in congestion charge revenues to 2041, or that it would continue long after the £1.2bn loan

 

We should look to the local politicians to recognize that they have gone way out of line with popular opinion, and learn from this.

 

My own view is, as a (slightly manic) Beancounter, is that we should have independent, scrutiny of policy proposals, to see if they are of net benefit to society. Maybe the revised proposals should go through this filter.

 

I should be pleased, but instead am saddened. The government has expended a huge effort on a policy that is not only flawed, but completely out of line with what people think. Local politicians who have strongly backed this scheme should reflect, and admit that they got the mood wrong. It is unlikely to much affect the outcome of the local elections, as most politicians backed the proposals to some greater or lesser extent, and few wholeheartedly opposed the package.

 

POSTED TO Iain Dale’s Diary on the same subject.

Depairing Liberal said a few hours ago.

 

“That’s right Iain, far better for everyone to sit in ever-growing traffic jams for longer and longer every night. The last thing we need in our cities is considerably improved public transport, cleaner air and healthier people.”

It is true that congestion charging supplies a solution in the short-term. The Manchester scheme relied on the congestion charge (average £3 a day) to reduce peak time traffic flows by 15-20%. With reduced traffic flows the traffic would speed up. Peak time traffic was estimated to speed up by 30% for cars and 12% for buses. The problem is that in London & Stockholm, peak-time traffic did decrease by this amount initially, but 2 years later it was back to the levels it was before the conjestion charge was introduced. As I explained on my blog, people adjust their expenditure to afford the more desirable option. In Manchester, this is travelling by car. In a wealthy country most people can adjust their expenditure to afford the £650 (average charge) to £1200 per year (maximum charge) by renewing their car less often, or by driving a cheaper vehicle (currently we do no have the cheapest vehicles possible – they do not sell. So there is plenty of room to go down market.) The public transport option is to spend much longer travelling, with the longest journey times in the worst weather (as fair-weather public transport users jump in their cars when it rains, or it is cold, as occasionally happens in Manchester) and much of the extra time spent waiting or walking.

But in Manchester, part of the solution was to implement some bus lanes on dual carriageways, such as the A34 (Kingsway). If a significant reduction was not achieved by the congestion charge, some congestion will get worse not better.

On the environmental impact, the worst pollution was caused by buses. Central Manchester around the bus terminus (Piccadilly Gardens) is the 2nd worst place in Britain for carcinogenic pollution. The best way to spend a few hundreds of millions would be to fit the dirty old buses with some sort of filters, or replace them with new ones.

The whole package was dotted with useful ideas, but in totality the costs far outweighed the benefits. It was a complex package where the authors did not consider the question “Does society as a whole benefit from this proposal?”

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