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David Franklin

Congestion Charge gridlock solution?

Businessman DAVID FRANKLIN who lives south of the river in the congestion charge area has been monitoring the preparations. Here he suggests that not only does the scheme go beyond the manifesto but traffic levels are already falling.

No-one can dispute that there is serious congestion in certain parts of London at different times of the day. Before his election in May 2000, Ken Livingstone stated that his "…overall aim will be to reduce traffic across London by 15% by 2010".

In the autumn of 2000, Transport for London (TfL) figures showed that the number of private cars entering London between 07.00am and 10.00am averaged 137,000 on weekdays. A year later volume dropped by 11% down to 122,000 and in 2002, the daily volume fell a further 16% down to 103,000. During the same period, congestion increased bringing the average speeds down to 9mph which indicates that the cause of congestion is not due to private car volume density.

Taxi drivers, the Met, motoring organisations and the long suffering gridlocked drivers can testify that roadworks, the rephasing of traffic lights, the removal of bus lay-bys and enlarging of roundabouts are the main causes of congestion. Every South London motorist can testify that at the Elephant and Castle, Kennington Cross, the Oval and Vauxhall, car journeys have become nightmare hour long journeys.

Artificially reducing the width of Kennington Road, a major artery into and out of London, from four lanes to two, is not an example of reducing congestion by economic principles which is a totally bogus argument. The road has now reverted back to four lanes and even before the introduction of the congestion charge, traffic is again flowing freely.

Ken Livingtone's election manifesto also promised that he would "consult widely about the best possible congestion charge scheme to discourage unnecessary CAR journeys in a small zone in Central London". The 667,877 Londoners (13.2% of the electorate) who voted for him were not told that there would be a £5 daily tax on vehicles carrying goods to and from shops in the CC zone, on BT vans and postmen collecting and delivering letters in the zone. Royal Mail has estimated that the additional cost on their vehicles in the zone will be between £1-2m p.a. and to think that the CC will make them operate more efficiently and reduce charges is living in Postman Pat cloud cuckooland.

The "proof" that the burden of the congestion charge is lowest at the bottom of income distribution was based on a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) but is of historical interest since it uses the 1991 London Area Transport Study to estimate the distribution of charging liabilities. It adds that "because the 1991 data are the most recent available, no account can be taken of any changes in travel patters that may have taken place since then". Since 1991, the number of cars in Britain rose from 22.776m to 27.7m in 2002 and to misuse data from one of the most eminent of institutions is a spin too far.

The effect on low paid shift workers in the NHS and other public service workers who might not have public transport services at their disposal will be a huge drain on their net income. Post Office sorters travelling from outside the zone to be at work at 6am in the zone will lose £25 of their net weekly earnings which represents 12% of the disposable income. This is a stark fact of the effect of the CC on the poorest in society which no amount of class warrior rhetoric can disguise.

In fact, it is strange that "Red Ken" is hurting the poor whilst the fat cat in the back of a chauffeur driven limousine will have the CC paid for by his company as suggested by Ken in the national press.

It is a sad fact of London Underground life that parts of the tube network are already bursting at the seams and cannot cope now which anyone using Victoria or Oxford Circus Stations. Using old data and words such as "vociferous minority", "few losers" and "bogus arguments" are meaningless without producing concrete figures and does not help the problem. Either put up the evidence or shut up.

There is no "quick fix" to solve the problem but as TfL evidence figures show, traffic volume has already fallen below his 2010 target and if the roadworks were brought under central non-political control, this would present a logical start to solving the problem.

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