Magazine article Public Finance

Plead Yes to the Charge

Magazine article Public Finance

Plead Yes to the Charge

Article excerpt

After months of heated debate, the residents of Greater Manchester will vote on one of the most ambitious and radical urban road-pricing schemes ever. Both 'Yes' and 'No' camps have attempted to reach out to the 25% of undecided voters on the Transport Innovation Fund proposals. By December 11, Manchester's electorate will decide whether to accept congestion charging in return for a ?3bn investment in public transport.

In many ways, the timing could not be worse. As the effects of the credit crunch feed through into the real economy, and newspaper headlines herald the arrival of a serious recession, voters from Wigan to Stockport are feeling the pinch. And in an area where over 60% of people still commute to work by car, some Manchester residents and businesses worry that congestion charging will be a further blow to the health of the local economy.

The latest polls show that the vote is on a knife-edge: 51.4% of those surveyed in October and November supported the Tif package, while 48.6% were opposed. Supporters outweigh opponents in only six of Greater Manchester's ten boroughs, and the referendum must pass in at least seven council areas for the Tif programme to go ahead.

So there's no celebrating in the Yes camp just yet - and the outcome could easily go either way. Indeed, the deepening recession and voters' fears of a hit in the pocket could swing the referendum result against the charge.

All things considered, a yes vote is a vote for the long-term economic vitality of Greater Manchester. It makes economic sense - it will deliver business growth, greater inclusion and unprecedented public transport investment.

Congestion imposes a hidden cost on Greater Manchester's businesses: the targeted congestion charge scheme will make deliveries and commutes faster, helping local markets to become more efficient. And there is evidence to suggest that, together with better public transport, the scheme will support the creation of thousands of new jobs across Greater Manchester over the mediumto-long term.

Up to 30% of Greater Manchester households have no access to a car, including thousands of working people on low incomes. The scheme will help link more people to jobs by drastically improving bus services and integrating ticketing systems. For the small number of low-income drivers who have no choice but to drive into town during charging hours, the proposed 20% discount makes the scheme more inclusive than London's. And most Manchester drivers - regardless of income - will rarely pay the charge at all, thanks to its peak-time, one-way design. …

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