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The Scotsman
Mon 3 Mar 2003
Edinburgh driver Clare Smith predicted that remembering to pay the charge would be a ‘nightmare’.
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Green light after road toll success

ALASTAIR DALTON TRANSPORT CORRESPONDENT

IF CAR-LOVING commuters had counted on congestion charge chaos in London to sound the death knell for Edinburgh’s own plans, they will have had a rude awakening over the past two weeks.

Predicted gridlock around the charging zone, mass non-payment protests and technological meltdown failed to materialise after 17 February, with traffic in central London down by up to 25 per cent.

Significantly, there was no noticeable increase after the end of the schools’ half-term break, while only 6 per cent of drivers inside the cordon have not paid the £5 daily charge.

Edinburgh City Council, which is planning to introduce its own scheme in three years’ time, will have breathed a sigh of relief at London’s apparent initial success.

However, the ruling Labour group had already promised it would abandon its plans if the London experiment proved a disaster, confident that this was unlikely to happen.

Political commentators believe that if the London scheme continues to run smoothly, it will take the heat off Labour in the Edinburgh council elections in May.

The city’s congestion charging plans were expected to be a central issue as Labour councillors struggle to maintain power, but the opposition groups are now left with much depleted ammunition to fire at them. Labour can also point to the promised local referendum that will give residents a final say on its plans, which will only affect drivers coming into Edinburgh. In London, all vehicles inside the single cordon are liable for the charge.

However, the London experience is unlikely to affect the timing of Edinburgh’s plans. Despite reports, Edinburgh will not be accelerating its own scheme, which has been years in the gestation, because of the more lengthy approval process in Scotland. In addition, London taking the plunge first will not necessarily make it plain sailing for Edinburgh, which still has some tricky details to resolve.

Following public consultation last year, Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE), the city council’s arms-length company spearheading the project, recommended a two-cordon, £2-a-day charging scheme. The charges would operate from 7am to 6:30pm on weekdays on the inner cordon, around the city centre, but only at peak hours on the outer cordon, just inside the city bypass. Drivers would only be charged once.

However, city councillors, mindful of the split public reaction to the plans, ordered them to be revised. TIE was asked to reconsider the location of the outer cordon because it would mean city council area residents living outside the cordon, such as in South Queensferry, having to pay to drive into Edinburgh.

Discounts for residents and taxis, and increasing public transport improvements before charging starts, will also be considered.

A revised scheme is due to be published this autumn, with a public inquiry expected to be triggered by the likely objections. The referendum would follow, probably late next year or early in 2005, but detailed approval is also required from the Scottish Executive, which issued approval in principle in December.

The referendum could also cause a headache, because it will be restricted to Edinburgh residents, despite last year’s consultation covering the nine local authorities in the South East Scotland Transport Partnership (SESTRAN).

There is disquiet among some SESTRAN members at their exclusion from the poll, since many of their residents are potential charge-payers. West Lothian Council is planning its own referendum, while others have rejected one.

Edinburgh is planning to use the same camera technology as in London because the government has yet to agree a standard for the vehicle smart cards used in other cities, such as Oslo, where charges are automatically debited. Edinburgh is already testing cameras, in Queensferry Road near Dean Bridge and at Home Street in Tollcross, which have been recording the number plates of some 200 drivers taking part in a pilot study. They are required to pay the £2 charge by phone or in shops, with the amount deducted from their participation fee of about £100 if they do not pay by midnight.

Clare Smith, who drives from Comely Bank, just outside the proposed inner charging cordon, to her office near Princes Street, said a simpler payment system and better public transport will be required for charging to win the support of motorists.

Ms Smith, 27, a director of Empire, an events firm, uses her car for work several days a week. She predicted that remembering to pay the charge would be a nightmare. "On some days I am so busy I don't have a chance to buy a sandwich, let alone pay a toll. The last thing on my mind would be a fiddly £2 charge," she said. "If I only pay when I use my car, it could be difficult to arrange in advance, such as by direct debit."

Ms Smith said she does not use buses because they are inconvenient for her journeys.

Professor David Bayliss, a transport consultant who masterminded the forerunner of the London charging scheme for the then Tory-controlled Greater London Council in the 1970s, said things boded well for Edinburgh.

Prof Bayliss, who is giving a lecture on transport at the Royal Society of Edinburgh today, said: "The fact that the technology is working in London is reassuring, and should give encouragement to the Edinburgh scheme. In all previous schemes, public attitudes have become significantly more positive after implementation when people see the advantages."

Andrew Burns, the city council’s executive member for transport, said charging could only be introduced faster if there were no objections and no public inquiry, but he added: "I’m living in the real world."

He said: "I am encouraged by what is happening in London, but it is far too early to make a definite judgment. However, there is no prospect of starting charging in Edinburgh until June 2006. That timescale has always been there, and we are not rushing it."

None of Scotland’s other cities are planning to follow Edinburgh’s lead, and are focusing on other traffic reduction measures and public transport improvements instead.

Glasgow City Council believes charging tolls would increase congestion on the M8 - which cannot be tolled as it is a trunk road . The council is developing new bus lanes and city centre traffic restrictions instead.

In 2001 councillors in Aberdeen unanimously rejected charging. A spokeswoman said: "Tolls are simply not an option."

Instead, Aberdeen plans to cut traffic by 20 per cent by 2011 with other measures, such as bus improvements, while ministers have just approved a western bypass.

Dundee, Inverness and Stirling also have no plans for congestion charging, since they have much lesser traffic problems. Bus and rail improvements are being developed, with more vehicle-free streets in Inverness.

EDINBURGH: TWO CORDONS

LEADERS in Edinburgh are watching the congestion charge experiment in London with interest in light of plans to operate a similar scheme in the city.

But while the essence of two schemes is the same, there are some subtle differences between what is already operational in the south and that proposed by the Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE) body.

The London scheme has just one city centre toll cordon area, while the proposals for the Edinburgh would see two cordons set up around the city.

Drivers coming into Edinburgh through either an inner cordon or an outer cordon would be charged £2 under the ‘inbound cordon scheme’.

However, London is operating an area licence scheme, meaning that all vehicles within the toll cordon zone are subject to a £5 per day charge.

London drivers are charged from 7am-6:30pm on weekdays only, while the proposals for Edinburgh would see charges in force on weekdays from 7am-6.:30pm for the inner cordon but from 7-10am and 4-6:30pm for the outer cordon.

On the day London’s congestion charge came into force, figures showed 200,000 vehicles per day were driving into the city centre.

Edinburgh sees 150,000 drivers each day, with that figure forecast to double or triple over the next 20 years.



Government debate on road tolls signalled (30-May-03)
Plans for road tolls to bypass Glasgow (10-May-03)
RAC welcomes tolled motorway as a 'fair, high-quality alternative' (07-May-03)
£3 car charge on toll motorway (07-May-03)
New fears over city road tolls technology (06-May-03)
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Department for Transport
Edinburgh City Council Transport Initiatives
Transform Scotland
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