National Alliance Against Tolls - Edinburgh "Con" from Paul Smith

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This is an article, by Paul Smith of  Safe Speed road safety campaign

Edinburgh faces a vote on congestion charging. Will you vote for a charge to enter the country's capital city? I certainly wouldn't. The congestion charging advocates have not thought it through properly - their threat of gridlock is false.

Why do we worry about congestion? It causes delay and if it's too bad we won't be able to travel because it will take too long. It really is this simple - we have to avoid gridlock because we can't afford to sit in our cars for hours on end.

The powers that be tell us that if we don't act there will be "gridlock", but strangely they never show any examples of all the other gridlocked cities elsewhere. Why is this? The truth is that there aren't any. Not anywhere in the world, and there's a very simple explanation. Time is valuable. If a journey takes too long, we don't go at all or we seek an alternative. In other words if congestion rises then we avoid it. Conversely, if congestion falls then we are more likely to have time to travel.

Suppose it took you 4 hours to drive to work, and another 4 hours to drive home again. What would you do? Change your job? Travel by a different means? Move house? One thing is for sure - you wouldn't sit in traffic for 8 hours every day. You would find an alternative. An extreme example, perhaps, but most journey decisions start with the question: "Do I have time?" If congestion increases then more and more potential travellers don't have time to travel.

If they don't have time then they don't travel, and that tends to reduce the degree of congestion. So more congestion leads to less traffic which leads to less congestion, and less congestion leads to more traffic which leads to more congestion. It's a self-balancing, self-limiting, self-regulating seesaw. When kept free of interference the road network maintains a reasonable balance between delay and throughput by virtue of normal human behaviour.

Business use of the roads is even more sensitive. Time is money for every business. If too much time is being wasted, it's very much in the nature of business to seek a solution. Many businesses have already done so - they have located onto industrial estates with good road connections.

That's why there aren't any gridlocked cities. There never will be. People simply won't choose to sit in gridlock. Of course there might be a breakdown or a crash that causes exceptional traffic for a while. But no congestion charge could address that problem.

If a congestion charge is introduced, those with least cash will be discouraged from travelling. The roads will have less traffic and flow more efficiently, but this won't last long because other people with more money will take full advantage of the improved conditions. If it takes less time to travel then road users who were previously time constrained will again choose to travel.

* Official figures show no national increase in traffic per mile of urban A roads since 1996 ( Road Traffic Statistics for 2003- Table 2.1b on page 14 ) despite a 10% increase in traffic overall ( RCGB 2002 - Table 3 ).

* If we look at Inner London, we find a 15% decrease in miles travelled per person by car between 1989/90 and 1999/2000. ( Transport Statistics for London 2001 - Table 4b ), during which period national roads traffic grew by 14%.( RCGB 2002 - Table 3 ).

* Morning peak travel by car into central London declined by a third from 1991 up to the year before the congestion charge was introduced in 2003. ( London Travel Report 2004 - Table 1.5.1 ).

They claim that nationally congestion costs 20 billion per year. Now that's a congestion charge if ever there was one. Why isn't it working? Or is that what it takes to really regulate congestion?


London congestion charging started on 17th Feb 2003.

London has suffered a significant increase in particulate air pollutants since the congestion charge:- London Travel Report 2004 - Table 8.1 on page 57.

Transport for London claim a substantial success for their congestion charge with a 33% reduction in private cars. But there has also been a 20% increase in taxis, a 25% increase in buses and a 12% increase in motorcyclists. ( London Travel Report 2004 - bottom of Page 46).

When we questioned 10 London taxi drivers in Summer 2004, 9 of them insisted that the congestion charge had made absolutely no difference to Central London traffic. With the extra taxis and extra buses staying in the zone for much longer than private cars, it is entirely plausible that TfL's figures are correct and that congestion is unchanged.

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