This week I will have to vote on whether Manchester should introduce a congestion charge.
I haven’t quite made up my mind yet. The ‘no’ campaign, funded by small business but with the backing of some cross party politicians, tells me the charge will be a disaster. Businesses will have to put up prices, the city council – and the tax payer – could end up saddled with millions of pounds of debt and millions of us could have to pay over £1,000 a year to drive in the city.
Friends of the Earth want me to vote yes. They say it is a one-off chance to reduce congestion, carbon emissions and improve public transport.
I want better public transport. I don’t want business to suffer. I don’t want debt. But I want congestion and carbon emissions reduced.
So which way do I vote?
Peter Roberts, chairman of the Driver’s Alliance believes the Government is intent on introducing congestion schemes all across the country. If the Manchester scheme is approved, he believes, congestion charges will be rolled out throughout Britain.
Driving from Cheshire to a traffic choked Stoke-on-Trent this morning, which was virtually ground to a standstill by the overnight snow, I couldn’t help wonder about the benefits. Every day I get through the M6 fairly smoothly, then come to an abrupt halt when I hit the A500. Tunstall in particular is an absolute nightmare. Nearby Crewe, my home town, is just as bad. Although I don’t often drive through Manchester, I have hit worst traffic in Stoke and Crewe than I have ever been stuck in, in the big city.
So if a congestion charge is right for Manchester, is it for Stoke-on-Trent? Despite an adequate bus service, public transport is poor. Unlike in Manchester, there is no metro and trains are sporadic. Crewe grew up around the railways, but for day to day journeys, you really need a car.
If I vote ‘yes’ am I also voting ‘yes’ for congestion charges in Stoke-on-Trent? At least if it is introduced, Manchester had a decent tram network. There are alternatives to the car. That’s not the case in Stoke-on-Trent or Crewe. Sure you can get the bus, but if you plan on leaving your own little neighbourhood for more than a weekly shop, you really need a car.
The problem is, once congestion charges are introduced, there’s nothing to stop the city council moving the goalposts, making more people elligible to pay. As it stands, you will not be charged for using the M60 ringroad around the city, but that could change.
So, much as I want to go for better public transport and a reduction in carbon emissions, just like Friends of the Earth tell me, I think I’m going to have to, reluctantly, vote ‘no’.