Hail Mayor Boris – saviour of the Congestion Charge

Damian HockneyFormer London Assembly Member Damian Hockney reckons that the announcement about the scrapping of the Western Extension in London helps the Yes campaign in Manchester (results due later this week). Hockney also believes that the Mayor’s move has actually rescued the London scheme, and may even have given a boost to campaigners to introduce it elsewhere. An opponent of the charge as conceived, he explains why the Mayor may have given it the kiss of life, and offers a few interesting insights into the impact of London’s experience on the plans of other cities on the eve of the knife edge vote in Manchester…

Ex-Mayor Livingstone and Oscar Wilde didn’t often come to mind at the same time, but I remember where I was when they did. As you always do at key moments. The poet/playright’s phrase “…each man kills the thing he loves…” sprang into my head when I was sat in the Assembly Chamber the day the Mayor almost casually announced that owners of big and naughty cars would soon have to pay £25 a day Congestion Charge, with no residents’ discount. It was like the lead-up in the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest scoring when you suddenly realised that the bloke singing for Norway might actually score Nul points. You didn’t want it to happen to the poor sap, you didn’t mind the song, and had nothing against Norway (they had the sense to stay out of the old Common Market), but at the same time you were intrigued at the occasion and shamefully willed it on.

Thus it was in February 2008. As an opponent of the C Charge, I nevertheless kind of half wanted the Mayor to announce £1,000 a day, £2,000 a day C Charge, the sacking of Park Lane, burning of Mercs, Jags and Porsches on pyres on the Thames, and summary executions at the border of the C Charge. Because you knew that the consequence for the C Charge of the £25 charge would be so grave anyway that he might just as well do the deed with panache. To complete that Oscar Wilde quote on killing the thing you love…”the coward does it with a kiss, the brave man with a sword”…

And of course the interesting and almost untold story of the years after the 60% price increase of the C Charge in 2005 is an exercise in how the very sound concept of questioning of how we pay for our roads can turn into a cul de sac of modern politics, moralities, taxation and spin. And how after that date, the developments damaged the very essence of the idea upon which such a charge must be built if it is to have credibility – how do we pay for our roads and how fair do the schemes appear?

One of the things which worried me most about the C Charge from the beginning was what I can only describe as an unpleasant aspect of it, the whiff of moralism, the way in which it was almost designed to tell you you were bad and immoral, to cow you into thinking you must allow the politicians even greater access to your wallet. Some years earlier, I had discussed road pricing with free market adviser Sir Alan Walters on a train when I stood for election in 1997. He had worked on the first London road pricing plan in the early 1960s and a lot of what he said seemed very sensible. But the implementation of the C Charge in London appeared to neglect the clean and clear market-led approach in favour of a kind of truculent hostility to classes and groups of people, which ignored some realities about business and movement. This however was balanced in the original zone by a parallel feeling that something had to be done about the traffic and relief that the implementation hadn’t gone pear shaped. Most people did indeed accept the original scheme on that ‘something must be done’ basis, and rationing the roads for the rich or better off is indeed one way of doing it. So until 2005, an opponent of the scheme like myself acknowledges reluctantly that a settled will on the C Charge appeared quite quickly which was warily supportive (with operational reservations).

But it did go wrong in 2005, and it started with the 60% increase in price.

When I went to New York to discuss the London C Charge with a group of representatives in one of the Assemblies there, at the time of their own debate on whether to agree to a Congestion Charge a year or so later, they were amazed to hear about:

  • the 60% increase in price with little consultation
  • the failure to take into account impact on business and the refusal to undertake serious investigation in the light of the significant drop in the number of VAT registered businesses in the C Charge zone (and the big rise in the area just outside) in the first two years of the C Charge.
  • the rigid failure to deal with downturns like the July bombings
  • the charging and fining of emergency vehicles during the bombings
  • the method of fining and excess charging even if you paid late on the same day which so damaged the system in the eyes of occasional users
  • the fact that the profit appeared to depend upon fining, with confusion and fine timings making it doubly difficult for occasional users
  • the decision to extend the zone to areas where there was little settled will about the need for some such a mechanism
  • the sudden plan to penalise certain groups of car drivers by huge extra taxation – ‘brilliantly’ timed to annoy every other advocate of the charge in other cities
  • the failure of transparency over profit or loss of the scheme
  • the failure to really come up with a way of meshing the charge and the growing night time economy

And above all? The failure of London to respond properly to questions about these issues, other than to primly repeat mantras, and dogmas, and to use spin and statistics which were open to very different interpretations. An extraordinary introverted parochial way of handling an issue where London led the way. Whether you liked it or not.

There was no need to put a political spin on anything – all I needed to do was run films of extracts from meetings and hand out the london.gov.uk press releases.

It’s not too much to say that the failures of the first 5 years of the London C Charge (particularly the two years 2005-2007) had a major impact on the ability to deliver elsewhere, including crucially Edinburgh and New York. There was a strange parochial blinkered view of this in the capital, as if London were the only place on earth. But as someone who spoke at meetings in both New York and Edinburgh, I can say that the unpleasant and venal nature of aspects of the charge, allied to ideas about singling out certain drivers and politically attacking them for ownership of certain cars through this mechanism, set back the genuine cause of the need to identify how we pay for road use and created a feeling that it was all simply about screwing money out of motorists. Moneys of course in addition to other taxes. And then taking moral stands through taxation. And if you look at comment in Manchester you will see that London looms large in the background of the argument there as well.

Even mild supporters of the charge, or neutrals, which included most of my acquaintances and friends, began to become hostile (or uneasy) in late 2005. These were people who I could not initially persuade that the introduction of the charge was a mistake and wrong and might lead to invasive morally-led tax burdens.

I showed a group of New York politicians the film of a meeting in which I had appealed to the Mayor and Assembly for C Charge latitude in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. Business at inner London attractions had collapsed (on average about 60% ) and everyone wanted to attract families from the South East back into the tourist fold. These visitors were simply not coming in, because of the bombings and the coincidental 60% rise in C Charge, and they were vital for places like the London Dungeon…South East visitors  were put off by the C Charge (all sorts of aspects of it, not just the £8). There was something really apparent from the film of the meeting – it was the fact that C Charge supporters would not budge because they felt that it would be admitting something if they took such action. From my positive “look, relaxing a tax in tough times proves the system is human and helps to revive trade”, it was turned into “concessions will force us to admit that the charge has an impact on business”.

The New York politicians picked up on this in a way that the media and others did not in the UK. They realised that they were about to unleash something rather unpleasant, with a life of its own, a revenue driven crusade which could be turned against certain groups in society and a fast moving train which it might be difficult to get off. The New York response to the London experience via meetings, huge internet discussions etc, was given almost no coverage in the UK, and neither were the fascinating backroom discussions of Albany politicians, all available through briefings but not taken up by any of the United Kingdom media – almost no coverage was given to the impact of those recent developments in London upon the New York campaign and upon the politicians, developments which were played out to millions of voters and citizens. The only coverage was of Mayor Bloomberg coming to London to find out ‘how it was done’ in media coverage reminiscent of the old Pathe News. Too late Ethel, as the song had it, the people (and opponents) already knew ‘how it was done’, and they feared they were about to be done as well. It is no exaggeration to say that had London behaved even slightly better between 2005 and 2007, New York would have taken easily to the C Charge – specially with the millions of dollars in bribes being offered.

So step forward the new Mayor, and his approach to the C Charge.

Many of those who voted for Boris Johnson did so feeling that he would scrap the Western Extension. Indeed, the consultations on this part of the scheme by both the Mayor and his predecessor show some remarkable similarities, so it is fair to say that the scheme was extended with little popular mandate at a difficult time for yet more taxation. There is no settled will among the voters there to keep it, even for someone like myself who can currently drive around in the whole zone rather than having to pay on entry around Peter Jones in Sloane Square as I used to. People like me will have to go back to paying every time we want to drive through the West End – tinkering by the new Mayor would simply lead to both a backlash and the opportunity to essentially leave it unchanged when it is not really what people want. Politicians making adjustments to unpopular regulations usually do not want to do anything and are indulging in cosmetics for electoral purposes (trying to pretend to both sides of an argument).

And this is the point. Had the previous Mayor remained in place, however genuine and honourable the intentions regarding the C Charge might have been, the zeal would have killed it for Manchester and other places about to decide. If, as I still hope, Manchester says No by a small majority this week, it is nothing to what would have happened if the £25 charge had gone through, and the zealots had refused to even consider changes in light of the current recession. But the knowledge now that it can be altered quite radically, that someone will listen when it (like any tax) hurts and not treat it as some sort of sacred cow…all these things have an impact on perceptions. It might swing it for Manchester.

London was the first major city to have such a scheme, and it was hopelessly inward looking to think that others would not be looking. They looked and we were found seriously wanting. Some looked on appalled, others through hands half covering the eyes as you watch someone about to do the I’m A Celebrity challenge involving snakes, gunk, a tank and your head.

So there’s the difference – the former Mayor tried to kill the thing he loved (albeit unintentionally) but Boris came along and made it look nice and fluffy (well, with fewer teeth and claws). If the result is Yes in Manchester, the city’s more prescient politicians will immediately invite him up to receive an award as Hero of the Campaign, and give him a rousing welcome…

Comments

  1. says

    As a campaigner for a NO vote in Manchester, I would say the scrapping of the London charge is not damaging the NO vote at all.

    Indeed, the comments on the streets are along the lines of:

    “Why should we have a congestion charge when London is scrapping theirs. If it doesn’t work in London with really good public transport, why would it work here?”

    I think it is worth remembering that it is not Boris who scrapped the scheme. He asked people what they wanted and the people of London scrapped it.

    Boris just provided the breath of democracy we need and showed us how a bold political leader should listen to the people.

    We have been ruled for too long by self interested authoritarian groups who believe they know better than the people they are elected to serve.

  2. Rod Hall says

    I agree with Peter Roberts but would add that the writer of the article Damian Hockney does make very good points. Politicians can ignore what people want. Here in Manchester they are making all sorts of claims in favour of the charge which are just not provable and if you feel there is no turning back once they’ve got you you are less likely to support the charge. So the idea that it can be changed might make people more likely to say Yes to it. But I hope not!!

  3. TawkinSenz says

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with Damian on this one.

    The congestion charge is not supposed to be popular, it’s not supposed to be a compromise – it is supposed to actually include the social cost of driving your car in a congested area at congested times.

    What price do you put on it? Do you think £25 per car per day is reasonable for the thousands of cases of Asthma and breathing illnesses caused by vehicle polution? Do you think £25 is reasonable for the reduction in RTA’s the charge brings? Do you think £25 is worth the discolouration and damage caused to wonderful London buildings, and of course the cost of cleaning them all?

    The argument for reducing the charge following the bombings is a bit weak I’m afraid. If the charge had been suspended and there were further attacks – what price have you put on the saving of a life because the ambulance took an extra 10 minutes to get to the incident due to increased congestion?

    The 60% increase may seem a lot on paper, but with an average inflation rate of approximately 2% the cost of everything went up by 10% over those 5 years reducing the real rise to 50%. Until there are scores of Jag’s BMW’s and Rollers parked on the edge of the zone – then the charge is simply not high enough.

    For all the above £25 is extremely reasonable. It’s a shame some people cannot see beyond their own pockets.

    I have been back in London for the last 7 years now. I have NEVER found the urgent need to drive into London (or the western zone) between the hours of 8 and 6 – and I cannot understand why anyone would need to. The lack of charging means that people will return to the ‘I can’t be bothered to walk / get the bus so I’ll drive instead’ attitude. Another great way of (not) turning around the fat and lazy from their bad ways before they bring the health service down in 20 years time.

    Seriously – am I the only person who can see where this is going? Can’t anyone else see past their ‘next trip to the shops’? Has no-one seen footage of the 60’s when the motorways were empty and the streets only had a few cars in them? The expanding car use and ownership isn’t going to stop because people aren’t happy about paying congestion charges. The car drivers have been asked nicely numerous times and have proven that they won’t stop driving until they are forced to – such is their selfish nature.

    I agree with the point about the charge being another way to tax the public. In reality this was never Ken’s intention, but to be fairer, a voucher system should have been in place for those who have a genuine need – and for those that live here on low incomes. That aside, this isn’t a good enough reason to give up on the charge.

    If you want an insight into the future, pop down to that new Westfield centre in your car this weekend. That’s what London will look like all over in 10 years time. Using half a tank of petrol to travel less than 3 miles.

    If the people of Manchester vote No then they will really be condeming their city to a gridlocked future, both economic and physical. I’m hoping that the people of Manchester have a little more vision than Londoners, but I’m not holding my breath – well actually I might have to the next time I visit!

    Don’t believe me? Got to Amsterdam or one of the other virtually car free city centres in Europe. The air is clean, the city is peaceful and you can actually eat outside without feeling you’re eating your food at brands hatch.

    I don’t even have any kids (or intend to have any), so I shouldn’t care if you screw this planet up – those of you with children should be ashamed of yourselves by putting your selfish needs of today before their more pressing needs of the future generations.

  4. Ian says

    The comments above (and, in particular, the comment above) miss an important point. There is a major difference between the London and Manchester schemes. The Manchester scheme is a Trojan Horse for the government’s intention to reintroduce their programme for national road charging by stealth. To this end they have made sure that large numbers of people will not have to pay and have turned the entire might of their spin / false reality creation department (the only department that is working well under Labour) to achieving a yes vote. Once the scheme is in place there is no way that anyone will be allowed to believe that it is anything other than an unqualified success. The technology will have been tested and Labour’s latest mass surveillance system will be rolled out on the back of Manchester’s “success”.

  5. Damian Hockney says

    Tawkin, I assure you the C Charge was designed to make it as popular as possible, and Ian is right on this with regard to Manchester as well. It can only survive if it has popular consent and/or is heavily spun. Surely it was sold as a charge to deal with congestion, not social issues? And that was my point – if the rest of the world sees a hair shirt, venal taxation and something which is almost trying to become wildly unpopular and damaging to certain social groups, how can those who support it ever get it accepted in new places?!! And if you just take the issue of pollution and breathing illnesses – in spite of claims at the outset of the original C Charge, no improvement has taken place in air quality in London…and the same applies to traffic speeds where some claim that speeds have actually worsened. Many say that congestion and air quality has been made worse by bad traffic management because of the C Charge. When politicians tell us they are taxing us for our own good we no longer believe them. At all. And would charging owners of a large variety of family vehicles what is clearly discriminatory taxation have any impact on air quality or congestion? It wouldn’t, and those who planned to introduce it knew it wouldn’t, but it does serve as a lesson to many that they are under moral attack, and if the charge is used openly to attack groups for their behaviour, consent begins to evaporate. You (and indeed I) probably do not need to use a car in the zone. But what you and I need is not what others need. What about someone who lives in Sutton, starts work in a theatre or club in the West End at 6pm/7pm, crossing the C Charge line before the time expiry, finishing work at 2am/4am? Do we expect her/him to either spend a night’s wages on a cab home? Or try to get home on a series of night buses which might be unsafe or very inconvenient with a long walk at the end? It’s not selfishness, it’s often pure practicality, fear of crime and lack of alternatives. It’s only when you drill down into the details of each car entering the zone that you realise the entry points to the zone at 7am are not full of Porsche owning Jeremy Clarkson worshipping yuppies in red braces earning loadsa money and braying on about Red Ken. Or central London townies too lazy to hop on a direct tube line. And to the Manchester posters, good luck, and you make a very interesting point about the fact that the scrapping of the WEZ might actually aid the No side. That might be down to your campaigning…it’s worth also mentioning that the Mayor could easily have ignored the consultation and gone for the ‘tinkering’ option. Ian, you are right of course, and I don’t dispute it. My main point is that (possibly inadvertently) our new Mayor might have made it easier to get such developments past the electorate, which fascinated me as a concept…and if, groan, the Yes side DO win tomorrow, well just remember that some administration will come along and want to do what was going to happen here with huge extra taxation or fines…and then you live to fight another day. And the surveillance aspect is very worrying indeed, but that’s another story…

  6. TawkinSenz says

    Damian,

    Leaving aside the distrust of everything politicians do (where I don’t think anyone will disagree with you there)

    Look at the basics – Is the increase in car usage and ownership sustainable in a country the size of GB with higher concentrations in cities? – the answer has to be NO.

    Even in my lifetime I have seen the average car per family rise from 1 to about 3. The long term trend is more cars and more concentrated usage (because employment is becoming more and more centralised in cities). The lack of spending on public transport compounds this problem further as too many people dis-regard it because it’s not good enough.

    Congestion charging is not a choice, it’s a need. You seem to indicate the reduction needs to be palateable to the people (and I think that’s your political head talking) – which is not going to happen.

    Lets look at the history of that – first we asked drivers nicely, and they continued to drive, then we started to charge drivers – and many of them found ways round it (like fake blue badges, foreign registered cars, cars registered as ambulances and taxis) – the rest campaigned against it and even ensured Boris was elected to remove it.
    What will be the next stage of this process? Police enforcement of the charge? Is that where it will all end – because it seems being nice isn’t really getting us anywhere with those who simply refuse to get out of their cars.

    If making things paletable for the public was the way to do things, then why isn’t income tax voluntary? We all know it’s because there are too many people who could afford it that wouldn’t bother paying. Too many people in society are selfish and are quite happy to inconvenience others in order to prevent their own inconvenience, this attitude happens to be worse in cities as everything is much more compact and intense.

    For every instance of a congestion charge driver who has a genuine need – I can find 5 without one. I travel into London every day on the roads into London, and I don’t think chauffer driven old men with big cigars are people who have a genuine need to drive into London. I would also point out that MOST of the drivers in the zone in charging hours are driving alone – indicating their ultimate selfishness by not even car sharing.

    The ‘family car argument’ often comes up, but I am not like some of the ‘goldfish memory’ people that seem to live in this world, so I actually remember some of the history – and it goes something like this:

    1980 – 1990 – Cuts is education by the Government means education becomes unequal and inconsistent between LEA areas. This is off the back of the publis being quite happy to accept tax cuts in return (not realising the consequences)

    1990’s – The Government comes up with a grand idea, rather than increase spending on schools and rectify the problem, simply allow parents to choose schools other than their local school, driving the bad one ‘out of business’ and the good one’s to thrive (because they foolishly thought schools work like businesses)

    2000’s – Parents are driving all over London to schools miles away clogging the roads and poisoning the atmosphere in the belief that going to a certain school will ensure their child is well educated and successful.

    2003+ – The economic boom ensures that parents buy more and more ‘stuff’ for their children, forcing them to buy bigger and bigger cars to fit it all in. This coupled with the absurd sight I see of 6 years old children being pushed around in buggies (contributing to childhood obesity) because their parents find it easier to ‘transport’ them in this manner – and hey presto the birth of the ‘mother trucker’ brigade.

    I don’t even need to prove this argument – go out during half term and you will see – congestion, all but disappeared.

    Now are you saying that driving your child to school is an example of ‘essential car use’? This is one example of a pattern of car use that has drastically increased. I know (no offence) from your picture that you – like me – probably walked to school – or caught the bus. It was down the road and it was local – as did everyone of my generation.

    Can you see that it’s historic short sighted solutions that helped create this mess, so why would short sighted solutions now get us out of it?

    At some point someone has to bite the bullet and take some tough and unpopular decisions – sadly there are very few politicians with the stomach to do that anymore.

    I suspect Manchester will vote against the charge – because the self interested in Manchester will outweigh the selfless. Maybe that’s why humans will all be gone before the year 3000.

  7. Damian Hockney says

    Tawkin, I think I have probably diverted us from my original point. I’m not really debating whether the charge is right or wrong, just whether in fact the actions of the Mayor in indicating an intention to scrap the WEZ might have actually benefitted the Yes campaign in Manchester. And therefore other moves towards road charging. If the vote is as tight as everyone is telling me there, small things may make a difference – No campaigners are using the scrapping of the extension well in their campaigning (“it proves the thing doesn’t work”), and Yes campaigners are barely mentioning London which is, as they say, interesting. I would simply argue that it is not so much selfishness, but self interest that motivates…and I want to see those ‘chauffeur driven old men with big cigars’ – I have always wondered if the ghost of Lew Grade stalked the early morning roads of London – but then of course he arrived at the office at 5am and left at 8pm (stamp the ghost of his Lordship exempt from C Charge most days except when he goes home early to catch old episodes of Crossroads…)

  8. Damian Hockney says

    I see that Manchester has rejected the C Charge…no doubt as in Ireland, they’ll keep making them re-vote till they get “the right answer”. Clearly the Boris move in London didn’t help the Manchester campaign after all – well, a politician might say that the No vote would have been even larger had he not done it…:)

  9. TawkinSenz says

    Damian,

    You’re right, I was getting off point – but the whole future of congestion charging was on trial today. Having just seen the result for Manchester coming in at 4 to 1 in favour of a NO vote – I feel this demonstrates exactly what I was trying to get across originally.
    Congestion charging isn’t about democratic choice, it’s about enforcing something that has demonstrated it cannot be achieved voluntarilly. I am in no way surprised at the result in Manchester – I mean seriously who is going to vote on the question of ‘would you like to be charged for driving your car in to town’.

    Only the people with forward thinking vision will see the sacrifice made today will prevent a greater sacrifice having to be made later.

    However this is a generation problem and not a mankind problem, because the Victorians were not so short sighted – we’re still using their sewers, tube tunnels and buildings in London as they were built with the future in mind.

    I am certain that if a referrendum was held on the central zone in London, it would be a resounding NO as well. Despite any success it has had, because once again people will only think of themselves.

    Sadly Boris is just the kind of ‘popularist politician’ that will pander to the public and give them what they want.

    It’s becoming clearer to me that the public is actually like a big child. If you allow it to choose it’s own path it will choose one that gets it into trouble. Just like the phrase we’re all familiar with “Yes, you can have those sweets but don’t eat too many or you won’t eat your dinner”.

    Every parent knows when they need to excercise parental control over liberty for the interests of the child. When the Government (or Local authorities) try to do the same the media are ready to pounce with accustations of ‘nanny state’.

    Well if you act with the forethought of a child – then you need a nanny. but hey – who is brave enough to tell the public they are a big spoilt child?

  10. ManchesterLoveItToBits says

    Tawkin,

    Well, it’s finally in your own words: you openly state the public is a child and has to be controlled by parental state. So, please explain: what is the point of a democratic election? Clearly, a “child” would vote for a ineffectual leader who would acquiesce. And an informed public would act as an adult who would weigh up all sides and decide accordingly. And that is what Mature Manchester did.

    It has rejected the driving toll, the toll which — as Greater Manchester Transport admitted — would have no limits: it would not guarantee the 2007 charge-leve would be implemented in 2013 when the toll would commence; it would not guarantee that the boundaries would not be extended; it would not guarantee that the hours would not be extended; it would not guarantee that the days for charging would not be extended. In short, the very roads — which our parents and grandparents paid for out of their tax money — were now wholly to become the property of the government is galling, if not downright immoral. They are OUR roads, and we are already being taxed for them to the tune of 75% on the price of petrol.

    The asthma and other illness notions that have been raised completely without merit, and as an partial bronchial sufferer, I can only say that city life is no better or worse than country life.

    Finally, it remains to be said that Geoff Hoon and the London-centrics are determined to have the citizens of Manchester dance to their merry tunes as the carrot dangled. And what would happen to all the extra tax monies raised? Might they just end up in London as well? Only a child would be that short-sited. And, as you’ve seen by our vote, we are not children.

    Now, we must be getting on with our short-lived, twice-daily congestion problems. We can sort it out ourselves, thank you.

  11. TawkinSenz says

    ManchesterLoveIttoBits,

    I fail to see how the public have ‘weighed up all sides’ of the argument, because the public have ignored the biggest argument which is the cost to future generations and put too much emphasis on the ‘cost to me today’.

    I’m not saying the entire democratic system is in question, but in this case there was no point asking the public as it was clear what the answer would be. It’s a bit like NIMBYism.

    From all the comments regarding this – from people who live in Manchester – it seems that the biggest problem is that the scheme is unclear and no-one actually trusts the Government on those grey areas (like the size and longevity of the charging zone).

    However if there is no longer any trust left in the Government – why are we bothering with it at all? On the one hand you want a democratic voice, but on the other hand people clearly do not trust those in charge of the Democracy – so what’s the point of the democratic vote?

    Regardless of this, the roads your grandparents paid for are still there – you can still use them – and if we keep paying out taxes they might even stay in good condition. However the roads are not ‘owned’ by you and I, they are owned by ALL TAXPAYERS and you and I individually have no rights to excercise over them. The problem is that most people want to use them all at the same time – whilst at other times they are not being used at all.
    You have peak electicity charges at home for an identical problem. If you didn’t, how annoyed would you be when you switched on the TV at 7pm and found it wouldn’t work because electricity was only trickling into your home due to peak time demand. Peak time charging ensures this doesn’t happen – the reason it costs more is because we have to ship extra electric in from France, at an inflated price. I don’t hear uproar about that – is it because it’s commercial and not public run?

    Road pricing is the same, it ensures that people who don’t really need use at that time – stop using it. If people were more unselfish then there would be no need to have road pricing. The problem is, and has been proven through a myriad of efforts, that ultimately people (and I’ve met them) would rather sit in traffic in their car than have to get a bus, train or other method of transport.
    The thing that no motorist ever pays for is the social and environmental damage to society that is caused when they are driving. Your claim regarding the 75% tax is the same one as smokers have when they are on their 5th heart bypass operation on the NHS – “I’ve paid for this with my taxes already” – which is rubbish as the tax collected from a heavy smoker in a lifetime is far less than the cost of a single heart bypass.

    The same is true for motorists. They don’t feel they should have to pay extra for the priviliege of driving, because up until recently no-one could see the damage being caused by motorists. If anything the motorist owes society a huge amount of back pay!

    We have recently (in the last 5 years) started to get an idea of the costs to business of congestion, as well of some of the other hidden costs of motoring. If you want a realistic cost of motoring, to emncompass everything, try 300% tax on petrol and you will be getting closer.

    All putting off congestion charging today is doing, is creating a bigger problem in the future. I don’t know why you don’t think air quality is an issue – if it’s not then why not attach your mouth to an exhaust pipe of a car – you would have to be mad to do so – the dillution of the gases doesn’t eliminate the problem, it just dilutes it.

    Finally, whilst I am sure you do love Manchester to bits – you’re not really showing it by allowing it to become a smog filled dirt hole in years to come. I love London which is why I am fighting to keep the future clean and bright, and not letting a minority of selfish people wreck it for the rest of us.

  12. says

    Tawkin,

    Regardless of the merits or otherwise of congestion charging road pricing or any other policy, the people of this country are not stupid and as in the case with Manchester, can make a reasoned and rational decision.

    Democracy means a system of government based on the principle of majority decision-making. The best form of this is where arguments from both sides are presented and the people decide. This is what happened in Manchester (rather decisively) and with the consultation for the Western Extension.

    You should not blame people for making the wrong decision; you should accept they have examined the issue and decided your approach is faulty. This is something you and those promoting congestion charging should accept and move on.

    You are right to say there is little or no trust left in government or politicians, but this is because they do the things you are advocating and introducing policies which are not wanted by the electorate and are being forced upon us without proper consultation or popular agreement.

    People generally feel powerless because they are ignored by the arrogance of officialdom which claims to know best. Unfortunately, your argument falls into this category with the comment:

    “I fail to see how the public have ‘weighed up all sides’ of the argument, because the public have ignored the biggest argument which is the cost to future generations and put too much emphasis on the ‘cost to me today’.”

    Tens of thousands of people DID weigh up the arguments and rejected your view of the future and your views surrounding congestion charging.

    Does this make them wrong – or you?

    If there is one thing I have learnt in life, it is that when people have been given all the information, they make the right decision.

    It is just a pity we do not have more popular democracy in this country. Maybe it would resurrect some respect for government and politicians instead of leaving people feeling distrust of government and unrepresented.

  13. TawkinSenz says

    Peter,
    The alienation of the voter is just another way of convincing the people we have fairness – when we don’t.

    I agree 100% that given the right information the voters will vote correctly.
    The problem here is they haven’t been given the right information. Too much emphasis is on ‘what it will cost you today in your pocket’ and not enough about the ‘cost tomorrow’. As most people can visualise the present more than the future then this is a powerfull argument.

    Draw a projection for traffic levels in any UK city over the next 30 years and by year 16 we all stop moving. This will of course not only affect commuters but critically emergency services too.

    When people have the true vision of the future in front of them the £5 per day charge seems trivial to say the least.

    Once again the small army of reactionary support has the greatest effect – in the same way that Boris was elected in London based on the minority view to get rid of the congestion charge – trumpeted by the anti-CCharge brigade.

    You will of course want to know how a minority can produce such an effect?
    The answer is because the make up of those people were wealthy, non-working housewives who wanted to maintain their ability to drive Tarquin and Terrence across town to their private school, and who co-incidently have all day to create campaigns and lobby assembly members and write letters etc. where as the rest of us have to go to work and cannot do that.

    Now that’s proper Democracy for you – those who live off the work of others have the time to make Democracy work for them.