Green light after road toll
Clare Smith predicted that remembering to pay the
charge would be a
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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
Ms Smith said she does not use buses because
they are inconvenient for her journeys.
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."
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."
Scotland’s other cities are planning to follow Edinburgh’s
lead, and are focusing on other traffic reduction measures and
public transport improvements instead.
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
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
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
EDINBURGH: TWO CORDONS
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.
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
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
Edinburgh sees 150,000 drivers each day,
with that figure forecast to double or triple over the next 20