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Stop the congestion charging scheme

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Tuesday 6 August 2002 9.54pm

"you seem to be saying that the current situation is self regulating, those prepared to sit jams, drive and those not prepared to, don't. If that is true why not leave it to sort itself out?"

Yes, that is one option - to do nothing. You could call it the "Bangkok solution". It has "worked" in London in a rough-and-ready way in the past, and still will in some smaller cities, but beyond a certain level of demand it's a recipe for more or less permanent gridlock, as in Bangkok. It is of course socially inequitable in all sorts of ways, as well as being an environmental disaster. From society's point of view it's an extremely inefficient use of public resources. From the point of view of any individual insisting on being part of the gridlock, you could describe it as a way of saying "if I can't have free and untrammelled use of this resource, at least I can help to make sure that nobody else can either". The biggest losers are perhaps bus users, who (in the absence of severely enforced bus lanes in more or less every street) are going to be stuck in traffic jams not of their own making, and local residents, whose air will become even more polluted.

"There is more money contributed in various taxes by most road users than is spent on the road infrastructure, no non road user contributes to the road infrastructure."

If you include all the real external costs in the calculation, motorists pay nothing like the full costs. The road infrastructure itself of course comes out of the general taxation, paid for by everybody whether they are road users or not, just as the schools are paid for by everybody whether they have kids or not, and the hospitals by everybody whether they are ill or not. Fair enough, that kind of communal (really "socialist", but the word has gone out of fashion) society is clearly what people throughout Europe want, in sharp contrast to the situation in America. But there are many indirect costs too - environmental costs (pollution, despoiling of the urban heritage), accidents (cost to society of deaths and injuries), costs to the economy of congestion and delay, etc. etc. The road tax that motorists have to pay to keep a car on the road doesn't cover most of this, from the figures I've seen.

"do you suggest that all those hundreds of thousands who like to live in Kent, Sussex, Surrey Berkshire etc should find work there and not in London."

No, many jobs are always likely to be more concentrated in urban centres, but I do suggest that some of them might have thought twice before moving so far out from London if London is where they want to work. I wonder if the media, the political class and the popular culture haven't, over many decades, rather overplayed this peculiarly English fantasy about living in the countryside, and seriously understated the benefits, pleasures and joys, as well as the economic advantages, of city living - benefits which you only get when the population density reaches a certain critical mass, and which we enjoy par excellence in SE1, but which do not sit easily with the idea of everybody demanding the "right" to drive around in private cars.

Obviously Tom I'm not getting at you here because you are doing the precise opposite, living in the city and working a long way out, but I think that is fairly unusual.

Sorry if I seem a bit smug about all this but I got rid of my car 18 years ago after realising that I was a 100% city boy and that the thing was more of a liability than an asset. It was the best decision I ever took. I still revel in the sense of freedom I get from NOT owning a motorcar!

Wednesday 7 August 2002 8.44am
No problem, I never thought you were getting at me...

On the point about road users and taxation, I think you'll find that all the taxes that road users pay, road tax, fuel taxetc is more than is spent on roads( and that includes police, and other services users, to answer a point in one of the other replies). That was one of the points made by the fuel tax protesters a short time ago and why they were so up in arms about it. We shouldn't be naive eneough to believe that the high fuel tax is all about reducing demand, it's an easy tax to establish, alter and collect - governments love this type if tax. You are right there are other costs involved here including pollution etc but charging the relatively small number of people who drive into London each day a few quid is not going to have a microscopic impact on those. To be fair that has never been high up the political reasons for doing it either, so it really doesn't fit in this debate.
If I may I would return to some of my previous points. Charging is probably inevitable! My concern is three fold:

The promised improvements in the overall transport system has not materialised. In fact if you listen to the random comments elicted from the travelling public in the media, its getting worse.Therefore how do people change?

It is already admitted that with the current situation that the trains are reaching saturatiion so the regulator wants to deal with that by charging more for peak time travel (?) That will only drive people back on the roads and make the whole thing silly.

and finally, I think Londoners will get a raw deal from this. We are all already paying for cheap buses through local taxes levied by the GLA, and probably soon will be paying for cheap tubes. Yet this is to encourage those who tarvel INTO London to use public transport. So, we will be paying dearly for those people who, as you say, have want to live the 'english fantasy'. I guess we shall see...
Saturday 10 August 2002 9.50pm

"The promised improvements in the overall transport system has not materialised. In fact if you listen to the random comments elicted from the travelling public in the media, its getting worse.Therefore how do people change?"

For the mainline rail network in the country as a whole, it's obviously true that many things have got worse in the last few years, mostly as a result of the crackpot restructuring imposed by the Major govt against the advice of absolutely everybody who knows anything at all about transport.

However, in London specifically, you cannot possibly claim that public transport has not improved. Look at the Jubilee Line extension, a completely new east-west route across our own SE1 area. My two local lines, Bakerloo and Northern, are both noticeably less unreliable than they were 10 years ago and on the Northern line we at last have an entire fleet of completely new trains. Ditto the Central Line (remember what a nightmare that could be in the 1980s?) and the Waterloo & City. Then there is the Docklands Light Railway and its new extension under the river to Greenwich and Lewisham. Also there are regular through trains between Clapham Junction and Watford Junction that never existed before, providing a wide range of useful connections at both ends. The North London Line (once scheduled for closure!) now runs every 15 minutes thoughout the day. The Piccadilly runs at a frequency all day long that would have been unimaginable when I first came to London in the early 1970s.

The buses are visibly improving as well, and should get even better if Ken Livingstone does what he is promising to do about better enforcement of bus lanes. Also they are cheaper (65p single journey of any length with the new Saver ticket - or 2 pounds day pass covering the the whole of London).

I'm not saying everything is wonderful but we should give credit where it's due.
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