The Great Manchester Con Charge
Greater Manchester is now threatened with unfair and extortionate congestion charging
In Spring 2007, the 10 local authorities within Greater Manchester announced that they were going to put forward a bid to introduce a congestion charging scheme in the area. Some areas, particularly Stockport, Trafford and Bolton, had been sceptical about this, but the government had made it clear that they would not fund extensions to the Metrolink tram system and other public transport improvements, and these projects would have to be paid for by congestion charge revenue. This was in effect blackmail.
How it will work
The proposed system differs significantly from that implemented in London. Instead of the charge covering a whole area, there will be two cordons enclosing an outer zone and an inner zone. The outer cordon will roughly correspond to the route of the M60; it appears that the inner one will be along the line of A6010 "middle ring road", and not around the existing Manchester and Salford Inner Ring Road. Between 7 and 9.30 am, drivers will be charged £2 to cross the outer cordon, £1 to cross the inner one. Outbound travel between 4 and 6.30 pm wil be £1 to cross each cordon. Travel entirely within each zone will not incur a cost at any time.
Movements will be tracked by tags installed in vehicles, for which users will be required to pay a deposit. Bills will then be sent to users – presumably there is an expectation that most users will set up a direct debit facility. Alternative arrangements will be made for occasional users or those who do not wish to be monitored by a tag, although it has not been made clear exactly how this will be done. It has also been stated that this will cost more than the tag system, introducing a further level of complexity into the scheme. The payment structure would be yet further complicated by suggestions that the rates will vary dependent on the emissions of the vehicle.
Clearly this scheme is focused primarily on commuters, and many shoppers will be exempt so long as they make sure they're out of the area by 4 o'clock in the afternoon. However, for a commuter the cost could easily be £1150 a year, or £1700 before tax and national insurance, which would be a huge chunk out of many people's income.
It has been stated that motorcyclists will not be exempt from the charge, although it has not been made clear whether they will pay a reduced charge. As motorcyles do not make any contribution to congestion this makes it clear that the primary objective is revenue raising, and describing it as a congestion relieving measure is disingenuous. Encouraging a switch from cars to motorcycles would be one of the best ways of reducing congestion.
Given that the scheme will cover a much larger area than that in London, and have four time shoulders rather than two, the potential for people to inadvertenly fall foul of it will be much greater. In London, the revenue of fines is greater than that from bona fide charge payers, and that is likely to be equalled or even exceeded in Manchester. Inevitably this will give people a further incentive to drive untraceable vehicles to avoid the charge.
Is it really needed?
Compared with many other cities, Manchester is not especially congested anyway, and already has one of the country's best systems of radial public transport routes outside London. Indeed some of the worst congestion is experienced on routes such as the M67, A34, M56 and M61 approaching the M60 from outside the ring. Some of the measures that would be funded from the revenue, particularly the installation of bus lanes, would have the effect of increasing congestion anyway, and so far from easing congestion the project could end up exacerbating it. Continuous bus lanes are to be created from Leigh and Bolton into Central Manchester, in many locations taking road space previously available to all vehicles.
An obvious objection to the scheme is that motorists will be heavily taxed to fund public transport improvements that will provide little or no benefit to most of them. It is robbing Peter to pay Paul. The total amount of taxation raised from road users already covers national and local government spending on all types of transport six times over, so it seems grossly unreasonable to levy further specific taxes. If a charge was placed on public transport users to fund new road construction there would be an outcry.
Many commuters, especially those heading to workplaces in the outer zone, will have no realistic public transport alternative, and will have to pay around £700 a year (over £1000 before tax and national insurance) to make the same journeys they did before. Inevitably the attractions of jobs outside the zone will increase and employers may experience difficulties in recruiting staff. Since outward commuting will not be taxed it will greatly increase the attractiveness of peripheral towns as business locations.
Concerns have also been expressed that the charge would have an adverse effect on retail businesses, particularly those in the outer zone. The Federation of Small Businesses has received many reports of members within the London CC zone losing trade, especially those on the periphery of the zone. The cost of the charge will remove a significant amount of money from the pockets of Greater Manchester residents which will have a generally negative effect on the economy of the region.
Make Your Voice Heard
An on-line petition has been created on the Prime Minister's website calling for the proposed charge to be scrapped. If you agree, please sign it here or click on the banner below.
There is a detailed page about the scheme on the website of the National Alliance Against Tolls.
Also, a local campaigning group has been set up, MART - Manchester Against Road Tolls, who also have their own petition.