Azara Blog: Cambridge congestion charge propaganda

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Date published: 2009/10/08

The Cambridge News says:

If it happens, it will not be before 2017 - but Cambridge's proposed congestion charge is still a major bone of contention.
As the News has reported, Cambridgeshire County Council's cabinet has backed a bid for £500 million from the Government's Transport Innovation Fund, to pay for better public transport services. As a first stage, the council plans to ask for early confirmation of £25 million in Government funding for Chesterton railway station, which would begin to be built in 2012 - three years earlier than planned.

At the end of 2010, a full bid for the remainder of the £500 million package is planned.

This will include a 'trigger point' for a congestion charge to be introduced - a move that will need to be agreed by the public, businesses, partner authorities and the Government itself.

The earliest a congestion charge would be introduced is 2017, the county council insists, adding "and only as a last resort if the recordbreaking TIF investment into transport does not help and the agreed trigger is reached".

It's hard to take any of this seriously. So the Chesterton railway station, even if it ever does go ahead, will do very little for Cambridge. What it will do is mean that London commuters start to live on the north side of Cambridge instead of just the south side, so pushing house prices up on the north side and pushing more Cambridge workers further out into the villages. What a great idea for Cambridge.

And there is no way that the so-called congestion charge (which is not a congestion charge but an access charge) will ever be "agreed by the public, businesses, partner authorities and the Government itself" if the "and" in that sentence is taken at face value. So in particular, the public will never agree to this charge, unless the bureaucrats insist (as is usually the case) on not asking the public but instead only asking the usual academic middle class suspects (in particular cyclists, who of course hate drivers and love the idea of a new tax on motoring).

It is even funnier to read of the council talking about this tax as being a matter of "last resort". The Cambridge transport bureaucrats have been salivating for years about this so-called congestion charge. Give them any excuse, or don't even give them an excuse, and they will rush to introduce it. It will certainly give them (and a lot of so-called transport consultants) a job for life.

Unfortunately the article then degenerates into a press release for Centre for Cities, one of the zillions of useless consultancies that plague the nation. This "think tank" would personally financially benefit from congestion charging schemes being introduced into the UK, so surprise, surprise, they are all for it. Well, to be fair, they are also academic middle class, so reflexively hate cars and want to tax them to death.

The press release starts:

Lena Tochtermann, one of the organisation's analysts, said: "Cambridge is one of the fastest-growing and most successful cities in the UK. But a side effect of this success is congestion. Last year, transport consultants Steer Davis Gleave estimated congestion costs Cambridge approximately £70 million - and this could rise to £170 million by 2021. Congestion will get even worse as Cambridge continues to grow in the recovery.

One of the reasons congestion has gotten worse the last ten years is because the transport bureaucrats have purposefully made it worse (just take a look at the disaster they have made of the Newmarket Road and Coldhams Lane area). But it is rather amusing to see the far off recovery being used to allegedly support the case for the congestion tax, because all the justification for the tax in the past was based on rosy, and long since discredited, economic growth forecasts which were made long before the recession took hold or was even forseen. But like all good consultants, you ignore the facts and just claim that they somehow support your case. And Tochtermann does not even mention that there is a huge cost to introducing and running the scheme, and it is not even close to obvious that under any reasonable reckoning there is even a net benefit to Cambridge.

The press release continues with some standard boilerplate propaganda and then:

For a Cambridge scheme to succeed, the county council must make sure the scheme covers the right area and that charges are set at the right level.

What a genius. This is why we need expensive consultants, so that we can fully appreciate the subtlety and complexity of the situation.

The press release continues:

If charging gets the goahead, Cambridgeshire stands to gain a once-in-a generation boost to local transport. A yes to congestion charging could unlock £500 million, which would substantially improve public transport in and around Cambridge, including a new station at Chesterton, an extension of the guided busway to Addenbrooke's and Trumpington, and 180 kilometres of cycling route upgrades. All of these would be in place before a charge would be introduced. £500 million represents a large sum for Cambridgeshire, about 70 times the size of the county's current Local Transport Plan funding.

So let's see. For some reason Cambridge believes the central government will multiply transport funding for the city by a factor of 70, so to a level more appropriate for London. Well that makes sense.

The press release continues:

Whether or not charging is right for Cambridge, with Government debt at 56.6 per cent of GDP, the next government, whatever its political colour, will need to cut back on public spending.

This could realistically mean transport budgets are slashed up to 50 per cent. The funding on offer is a now-or-never opportunity for crucial transport upgrades in the area.

So let's see. Somehow this 500 million is going to appear independent of the fact that the government is in hock to the entire universe and government spending is about to be slashed (especially when the Tories take over). Well that makes sense.

About the only point that Tochtermann makes that is reasonable is:

Even before the current recession, congestion charging has proved extremely unpopular.

What a surprise. The public are not very keen on hundreds of millions of pounds being thrown down a black hole. And the public are not very keen that the ruling elite want to make personal mobility a preserve of the rich.

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