Manchester UK popular vote rejects congestion charge & shift to public transport

December 15, 2008
By Peter Samuel

Central area congestion charging took a serious blow with a decisive rejection of a package of congestion charging and extravagent new public transit in a popular vote in Manchester, Britain's second metro area. Just over half of 2m eligible voters have voted in eight Manchester area constituencies and the proposals went down to defeat in all eight, with the overall margin 79% against, 21% in favor.

Local governments, transit agencies, and the central government supported the schemes. Business was divided. Those supporting it most strongly were associated with the Labour Party, the party long in power in Britain and in Manchester.

Conservatives used the issue to make a populist appeal, characterizing the scheme as a manipulative attempt to get people out of their cars and keep the roads clear for the rich (see opposition banners nearby).

The proposal involved two charge cordons:

- an outer cordon just inside the M60 belt motorway with charges of 2pd ($3 @pd=$1.50) weekdays inbound 7am to 9.30am and the same charges outbound 4pm to 6.30pm

- an inner cordon around the central business district with a charge of 1pd ($1.50) during the same hours for the movements

- capped total daily charges of 5pd ($7.50) to limit the cost to business vehicles crossing the cordons several times during a day

- various discounts for low income people and special vehicle classes

The cordon charges were expected to raise about $270m/yr (180m pds/yr).

The scheme was strongly supported by the central UK government with a huge "Transport Innovation Fund" grant of $2,200m (1441m pds) for new buses and light rail (called 'tram') lines going to the area if they voted for the package.

This was intended to help win support for the congestion charge but it may have had the opposite effect - being seen as an effort to buy local votes and giving weight to suspicions the plan was anti-motorist and anti-car.

The press in Britain has heralded the vote as the end of all road pricing moves.

COMMENT: That may be too sweeping a judgment. Manchester certainly bodes ill for similar packages of road charges to support mode shift and subsidize transit expansion. To gain political support road charges have to be designed to provide net benefits to motorists and to improve car travel by enhancing roads

So long as they are seen as environmentalist manipulation to force people out of their cars or tax them to fund loss-making trains, then these proposals will continue to fail politically. The dead hand of the nanny-greens will kill road charging every time with that unsalable combo.

In Norway, Sweden, Singapore and the US with HOT lanes and varaible pricing, there's support from motorists because the projects are associated with improvements of roads and faster driving. Singapore has the most comprehensive road pricing and traffic management of any city in the world. It has wide public support because it makes car travel faster and is associated with an ambitious urban road construction program.

TOLLROADSnews 2008-12-14


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