Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

£3 billion sweetner lies at heart of Manchester congestion charge plan

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Manchester looks like becoming the second city in Britain to introduce congestion charging, though there are some significant differences.

The deal has been cleverly designed by Government to ensure that local politicians of all parties must risk their political necks by approving it. Seven of the ten local authorities in Manchester have to vote in favour of the deal for it to go ahead. Once they have accepted it, they will not then be able to claim that it was forced upon them.

It may sound like the councils are being bribed into charging drivers up to £5 a day, but they will be wary of making this accusation themselves because he who accepts a bribe is just as guilty as he who offers it.

The Manchester charging scheme — masterminded by Lewis Atter, a director of KPMG accountants and former head of the Treasury’s transport team — will be a bolder experiment that the London congestion charge, because a much greater proportion of the city’s citizens will have to pay. About 20 per cent of drivers will cross one or both of the two charging cordons each day; in London, fewer than 5 per cent of drivers pay the £8 congestion charge.

Unlike the London scheme, which was rushed in during Ken Livingstone’s first term as mayor, Manchester will have five years to get used to the idea. The city will also see public transport steadily improving over that time because virtually all the £3billion will be invested before charging begins in 2013.

Lewis Atter is not a name once heard you easily forget, but as a young recruit to the Department of Transport (as it was then) back in the mid eighties, this young man really impressed me. I was an Economic Adviser in Economics Local Transport and he was supposedly working for me. He was clearly very bright and needed no managing at all. In fact the best thing I did was to let him get on with it and show us what he was capable of. I am pleased to note that my assessment of him then has been shown to be correct. And he has porbably made much more than I have in the intervening period!

It is of course very unusual to see the public transport system improved by such a huge increment – and obviously is essential if congestion charging is going to work. It stands in stark contrast to the way we are tackling similar issues here. No congestion charges are planned, but two major river crossings are going to be tolled. Then, some time in the far distant future, transit might be improved.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 9, 2008 at 1:03 pm

One Response

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  1. For congestion charging to work, one needs a very good public transport system (not buses) as an alternative transit mode. Manchester’s MetroLink light rail system is expanding and will be key if the congestion charging scheme is successful.

    Malcolm J.

    June 9, 2008 at 10:50 pm

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