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Is the Manchester Congestion Charge a Worth Paying for?

Aug 16, 2008
Until the unveiling of the proposed Manchester congestion charging scheme in 2007, motorists and public transport users alike agreed that something must be done about Manchester's public transportation system. With a proposed 3 billion investment in the system, one would think Manchester residents would be singing the praises of the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority's (GMPTA) plans, but the congestion charging element of the proposal, which is expected to generate around 180 million of revenue each year to repay the 3 billion investment, has caused a deep divide between those in favour, and those not.

Those in favour of the scheme cite the huge public transport investment and potential saving of 30,000 jobs (which Manchester City Council's leader, Sir Richard Leese, claims would be lost if the hidden tax of congestion is sustained much longer) as the primary benefits of the scheme, along with the advantages of shorter, reliable travelling times, a cleaner, healthier environment for all, and a reduction in road traffic accidents.

Those against the scheme, many of whom are passionately fighting the proposals, such as the National Alliance Against Tolls, Manchester Against Road Tolls, STOP! The Charge, and the Forum of Private Businesses (FPB), are continuing to sign up thousands of Manchester residents to petitions. Their main arguments are that motorists are already paying billions in road tax, VAT, council tax, insurance and other charges that makes its way into the local Governments coffers, and it is this money that should be used to improve the public transport system, not additional taxes generated through road tolls.

What both parties do still agree on is that Manchester's public transport system is in need of investment. The congestion charging scheme is the only practical solution to this problem and few, if any, decent alternatives have been suggested by the various opposing groups.

The opposition also argue that much city-centre business would be lost, with many people opting to spend their money with local businesses instead. Firstly, this would surely be a very positive development for many small, local business owners - exactly the type of businesses that are being pressured by the larger city-centre brands. Secondly, however, this argument fails to address one of the biggest benefits of the congestion charging scheme - behavioural change.

If the public transport system becomes many times more efficient and practical, as is proposed, then it may in fact be much easier, cheaper and quicker for residents to venture into the city centre. Residents of north-east and south Manchester for example, who do not currently benefit from the Metrolink tram service, have to endure a lengthy car or bus journey through majorly congested routes such as Oxford Road to make their way into the city centre. A relaxed and reliable Metrolink service to these areas would in fact bring more business into the centre, rendering the argument of Manchester becoming a 'ghost town' somewhat lacking.

Improved public transport could result in a significant shift in the behaviour of thousands of residents. If the need for using a car is reduced, then the congestion charge may be a non-issue for many people who can instead opt to use the greatly improved public transport. With fuel costs expected to continue rising, it is likely the public transport option will also prove cheaper, as well as being faster and more environmentally friendly. For those Manchester residents that absolutely must drive to and from the centre each day, this will be little consolation and we can all expect this fierce debate to continue up until the vote that will take place between the ten district councils following the end of the consultation period in October 2008. Seven of the ten councils must vote in favour of the scheme for it to go ahead.
About the Author
To have your say about the scheme, visit the official Manchester congestion charging website at GMPTA's Future Transport site.
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