Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Manchester Congestion Charge - which way to vote?

Today I got my Manchester Congestion Charge ballot paper through the door. Now I face the dilemma of which way to vote. Let's face it, Democracy = Compromise, there's never a black and white answer. Here's the tension I find myself in: On the one hand I absolutely hate traffic jams, they're so high on my list of things I hate that when I once found myself on stage with David Cameron in front of a huge crowd and TV audience and he asked me "What would you change if you were Prime Minister?" I responded, "I'd get a gadget in my car to turn traffic lights from red to green." Seriously, I did. He was expecting a profound statement about social policy, I was thinking of the glory of the open road (I did come up with a proper response shortly afterwards). Then on the other hand I hate injustice, and I consider the T.I.F. proposals to be fundamentally unjust at the core. No investment in roads, but all the cash drivers pay goes to subsidise other people's travel (I generalise), that's just wrong.
So it's a dilemma, whichever way I vote I'll be compromising on some level. I do of course have my own ideas about how to sort things out, based on my own deeply considered opinion about what's wrong. Clogged arteries. That's the problem. Like an old heart Manchester's vehicle routes in and out are just too narrow. The A6 coming in from Stockport is useless, those ramshackle old shops through Levenshulme and Longsight need bulldozing to make room. Then we need to get some of those elevated roads, they're proper cool, look at any great city around the world, Skyways they call them in the states, we need lots of them, fpr starters all the way from Cheetham Hill to Victoria Station, swooshing in like a Reticulated Python. Then we need to fly in a whole load of those traffic cops from Madrid, have you seen them in action? Nothing stands still when they're on the case. Combine this with a properly funded Oyster card system like London and a bunch of cameras zapping the idiots who block all the city centre box junctions and you're sorted!
But back to the ballot. Sadly I don't have the option to vote on my own proposals, I have to vote on theirs. It's gonna cost me money that's for sure, about £20 a month based on my typical movements. Will I feel the benefit of reduced jams? Probably not. The only people likely to benefit at all are those who travel by train or those who've been waiting for the Metrolink coming past their house for years. I'm not in either of those categories. The question really is, What are the implications of a No vote? Will the city centre die a slow painful death? Probably not. It's knackered either way, after all who would want to site a business there if all the staff and customers have to pay for the privalege of trucking in? Maybe it will be good for the flagging city centre property market though? People currently driving in from the suburbs might decide to relocate. Or they might just get another job. One thing's certain, a No vote would be a huge embarrassment for the city, we'll be the butt of all the jokes. And if there's anything I dislike more than traffic jams it's embarrassment. Maybe for that reason alone I should vote Yes?

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little said...

Wow, you have considered this dilemma long and hard.

What's the implication for the poorest in Manchester? Won't the congestion charge mean investment in local transport for them? Surely if the vote favours those who most need it, that's what makes it just?

Anyway, where will the congestion charge apply? Won't people who live in it get free access?

Matt Wilson said...

Mmmm, the complexities do go on and on and on. There's been a lot of talk about how this will impact those working in the city centre in retail, the service sectors and lower end office staff. Anyone commuting in by car from outside the M60 could be hit to the tune of £30 a week. Why can't they catch a bus or train then? Well many of them have to drop kids at nursery or school on the way, and others just don't live on a decent route because outer council estates aren't well catered for in that respect. The likely outcome is that once the congestion charge comes in all you'll see on the arterial routes in and out of the city will be Mercs and Beamers because everyone else will be priced off the road.