Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Manchester says no to congestion charging
December 12, 2008 6:21 AM   Subscribe

Not that this is a surprise, but the planned congestion charging/public transport scheme in Manchester has been rejected. Perhaps those in favor of the charging should have spent less on their web sites; like the no-campaign people did. You know, with more primary colours and exclamation marks. Instead, they should have spent their money on shark costumes.

Apologies non Northern West English people - this is an issue much talked about in the North West here, and though its no surprise, it is still a shame.
posted by 13twelve (37 comments total)

 
Manchester says yes to congestion.
posted by pracowity at 6:24 AM on December 12, 2008


unless you really have a affordable and reliable alternative to taking a car, 'congestion' pricing just ends up being a flat tax. build the public transportation first, then come back with the tax proposal.

i think everyone proposing these kinds of schemes should be forced to go without a car for a month outside of London or Manhattan for a month before they are allowed anywhere near government.
posted by geos at 6:33 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Manhattan one went nowhere as well.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:34 AM on December 12, 2008


Geos one of the key points to the congestion charge proposals here was that they would do 80% of the public transport upgrades before the congestion charging itself was to start.

Though I must admit a mistrust of our government and councils as to whether they would stick to that as exactly as outlined, or indeed, just not bother with the upgrades and instead pump loads of money into the local BMW dealerships.
posted by 13twelve at 6:48 AM on December 12, 2008


I'm mostly "green"; we take transit (even though it sucks), I bike and walk frequently, we use our car as frugally as possible. Nonetheless, I believe congestion charges are a poor approach.

First, it's a lazy, easy "green" out for city officials; they lob the responsibility for reducing congestion directly into the lap of the driver. The government doesn't have to do anything except collect some more yummy tax, and they don't have to first commit to provide adequate public transport, bike lanes, etc, and they avoid making the hard decisions that lay the groundwork for a more efficient long-term transportation strategy.

Second, it's a sin tax, and like any sin tax it's more addicting for the government than the "sin" it's supposed to penalise. Once they get used to it, there's a disincentive to meaningfully reduce urban motor traffic, because that would reduce income from the tax.

Since western governments are currently so keen to piss haemorrhage away public money these days, you'd think they could maybe allocate like 1% of the spewed trillions towards public works and green transit infrastructure, rather than doubling down in the 3-card monte game of the financial markets...
posted by Artful Codger at 7:16 AM on December 12, 2008


So we can expect to hear no bitching from Mancunians when the current unpleasantness subsides and oil shoots up to $200 a barrel, right?

Though on preview I tend to agree with Artful Codger. I'm pretty ambivalent about the East River Bridge tolls that are being batted about now here in New York for example. And only partially because I really enjoy being the fastest move thing on the Williamsburg Bridge.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 7:25 AM on December 12, 2008


unless you really have a affordable and reliable alternative to taking a car, 'congestion' pricing just ends up being a flat tax.

Only if every trip people make is necessary and there is no scheduling flexibility. Generally, that is not the case.

Congestion charges are designed to discourage unnecessary trips, especially trips that are unnecessarily taken during busy hours. They hope that you'll share rides, combine errands, switch to other forms of transportation when possible, travel during slow hours if possible, or just stay home if you didn't need to be driving. If the government then puts the money into improving alternatives to driving (buses, trains, bikes, etc.), the effect should be magnified.
posted by pracowity at 7:35 AM on December 12, 2008


> Congestion charges are designed to discourage unnecessary trips

Yeah we get that part, except that often there's inadequate alternatives and no scheduling flexibility, so the commute is still necessary for a majority of commuting drivers. So they're fish in a barrel; they have to pay the tax. The wealthy, who do have more flexibility, just treat it as another write-off or simply as a luxury tax.

Also, trust me, rush-hour congestion is by itself a strong disincentive; I know very few people who would continue to endure it if there was an adequate alternative.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:49 AM on December 12, 2008


This is a disaster, and pure selfish idiocy by the campaigners against.

Not a bang, nor a whimper, but with scare-mongering websites backed by the motoring lobby, so it ends.
posted by imperium at 7:52 AM on December 12, 2008


Oooh, this was a tricky one. I support congestion charging (yes vote), I oppose the government surveillance necessary to collect it (no vote), and I think referenda are un-British cop-outs by the politicians (don't vote).

Note that, because the Conservative government in the 1980s hated Labour councils, Manchester can't control its own bus services, so there is chaos. The fundamentals of the railway system are also managed centrally by OfRail, so they don't reflect local concerns. Finally, there is no overarching Manchester authority like the Mayor for London: this proposal was a combination of various councils. So (1) the system is a mess and (2) there was considerable scepticism on the plan producing anything of value.

Lots seems to have been spent recently on new bus stops and moving the pavements around and new train stations: the actual services are as unreliable and the staff as rude as ever. Of course, they have to deal with the general public, which would drive pleasant and polite people away very quickly. Ah well.
posted by alasdair at 8:15 AM on December 12, 2008


Essentially, UK congestion charging schemes just clear the roads for rich people; that's something that needs to be dealt with before they'll get get popular support.
posted by mandal at 8:16 AM on December 12, 2008


Heads buried in sand, I think most people see their contribution to climate change as negligble and fail to act collectively. Longer term the higher oil prices and living costs that could be around the corner will cause people to consider the distance between home and work much more carefully than has been the case over the last thirty years in many western countries. We are likely to see a return to living and working in the same place, hopefully eliminating the commute for many.
posted by The Grocer at 8:31 AM on December 12, 2008


Yeah we get that part, except that often there's inadequate alternatives and no scheduling flexibility, so the commute is still necessary for a majority of commuting drivers.

If you move out to where there are no buses or trains because you assume you'll just jump into the car to get anywhere, then of course you'll have no buses or trains to fall back on when driving becomes too expensive and you'll be too far out from things to walk or bicycle.

Congestion charges work best in the long term. They encourage people to make sensible housing and employment decisions. They encourage businesses to choose locations that don't force employees and customers to drive and to schedule employment so employees aren't forced to join the daily rush hour.

You choose your alternatives. Unnecessarily long commutes are for people who don't value their time.
posted by pracowity at 8:43 AM on December 12, 2008


I refer you to my Twitter stream. (Which is not something one often says in polite company.)

As an ex-Londoner (where I voted Yes as well), I was down with this whole plan. Not enough people in Manchester would listen to me as I ranted at them in pubs the city over: London buses used to be RUBBISH. They used to be beated up, unreliable and generally unpleasant. A year before the CC started, (maybe a touch more) they got suddenly and dramatically better. This actually happened. I was there. And it was one of those rare occasions where you could demonstrably point to the cause: They spent more money and took less shit.

That's what Manchester needs to do. FUCK these people and their NO votes. Grind up their Audi's and make new buses out of them. Smash the system!

Thatcher out!

Clearly, I'm still angry about this.
posted by Jofus at 8:43 AM on December 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


It's pretty pathetic. 'Manchester votes YES! for road accidents, wasted fuel, congestion, more pollution'.

When I was a kid, Manchester was the first public transport system that was privatised, courtesy Thatcher. Before those days, I'd pay around 10p to make a bus journey anywhere around the city. I moved away from Manchester not soon after that, as a student.

When I'm back, the transport infrastucture is appaling. The price of a journey has gone up ridiculous levels; a 20 minute return journey on public transport costs upwards of £5.00 now. Thatcher introduced privatisation with the claims of 'reduced prices, comptetition, free markets rule!'. After decades of that, we're left with a vicious circle of people not using buses because they're too expensive, and too many cars on the roads, leading to slower bus services. There are also the ridiculous situations where a return ticked sold by one operator are not honoured by another.

Compared to London, where local (or is it national?) government controls the privatised transport companies. Fast, regular buses at £1 for any journey (courtesy oyster). Simplified, standardised and automated all-day discount tickets applied; caps imposed on the maximum revenue collected from a passenger each day.

The ridiculous thing is this: the congestion charges in Manchester only apply at rush hours (morning and evenings). Daytime traffic is free. There are simple ways to avoid being liable for it:
1 - Use public transport to get to and from work. (Unless you need to transport large amounts of equipment or materials, or operate a cab, this is simple indulgence).
2 - Drive to work later, come home later; or drive in earlier, come home earlier.
3 - Stop driving the kids to school.
3 - Get a bike.

Yet it seems the local population is happy with their status quo of private spaces and i'm-alright-jack attitudes. For one of the UK's historic hotbeds of socialism, it's a small-minded and self-centred perspective.
posted by davemee at 9:12 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


UK congestion charging schemes just clear the roads for rich people

And people on the bus.
posted by grouse at 9:48 AM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yeah, don't get me wrong. I don't want people not to drive. I just want more buses. More regular buses. Buses like cathedrals. Buses with mighty hammond organs within them that play selections of light opera on the way to work and gentle hymns on the way home. Buses that bestride the world like collosii. Buses that bob up and down as they move like houses in early cartoons.

Failing all of that, I'd like to be able to get the 5 miles to work and back in consistently less than an hour.

I just want to get the bus to work and the bus home and not feel like I'm making a political decision.
posted by Jofus at 9:58 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Use public transport to get to and from work. (Unless you need to transport large amounts of equipment or materials, or operate a cab, this is simple indulgence).

Hey, my wife just got back from work in Manchester on the train, topically enough!

She left this morning for the 7.35am. She arrived back twenty minutes later, it having been cancelled, again, so she had to get a taxi in.

On the way back her train was late and one of the ticket staff that stand threateningly in Piccadilly Station and shout at commuters called her a slag. (She had a ticket, of course.)
She gets a free parking space in town, but she's always commuted by train. Now, I do believe she's going to take up that indulgence of driving in in future, you know. Can't think why.

Look, you can't run commuter public transport without amazingly high levels of convenience and reliability. It might be okay for students and the unemployed and people who don't have any choice, but no-one else with a car will use public transport in Manchester until it gets much much better or the car gets much much worse or expensive.
posted by alasdair at 10:11 AM on December 12, 2008


no-one else with a car will use public transport in Manchester until it gets much much better or the car gets much much worse or expensive.

Those are precisely the two things that a well-designed congestion charging system does.

That doesn't mean that I am saying that the Manchester system was well-designed; in fact I doubt it would improve things as much as the London system did, given that TfL has much more control over the bus system there.
posted by grouse at 10:47 AM on December 12, 2008


On the way back her train was late and one of the ticket staff that stand threateningly in Piccadilly Station and shout at commuters called her a slag.

Not very pleasant, but how does that compare to the stress and abuse people get while driving to and from work? At least bus drivers usually aren't racing each other, exchanging gunfire with the guy in the other lane, eating meals, drinking coffee, looking at themselves in the mirror, fixing their makeup, smoking cigarettes, and masturbating. All at once. As they steer with their knees.

no-one else with a car will use public transport in Manchester until it gets much much better or the car gets much much worse or expensive.

And public transport in Manchester won't get much better until more people use it, which is why the thing has to be forced.
posted by pracowity at 11:06 AM on December 12, 2008


Alasdair - did she get his name? I will personally end him.

It might be okay for students and the unemployed and people who don't have any choice, but no-one else with a car will use public transport in Manchester until it gets much much better or the car gets much much worse or expensive.


And that's the thing. You live up here and you appear not to know the facts. The gist of it was: a few billion investment in the infrastructure over a few years would give the improvement in public transport - after which the charge would be introduced. *

Please don't tell me you knew that and still voted no. Sparks will fly out of my ears.

*true there's some wishy-washyness to the details - and the tram link is just a pointless money pit IMO - but surely we can all rally round the fact that "billions", "investment" and "public transport" are good words to hear in the same sentence.
posted by Jofus at 11:11 AM on December 12, 2008


Unless the sentence is "Billions of investment in public transport will not be going to Manchester because the people of that great city have once again demonstrated their inability to FUCKING SORT IT OUT."
posted by Jofus at 11:20 AM on December 12, 2008


I just think tolls and charging is inevitable. Just now we don't know the terms of it. And I'm fairly certain it won't be as favourable.

It would have been nice to have more trains and more trams and an oyster card. Shame that.

Edinburgh also rejected a congestion charge too.
posted by 13twelve at 1:01 PM on December 12, 2008


most people see their contribution to climate change as negligble

The congestion charge is arguably useful to alleviate some traffic congestion, so I hear, although its effect on that seems a bit hard to quantify exactly. It is not at all a sensible way to do anything about climate change. For that, it is infinitely preferable to have a simple carbon tax.
posted by sfenders at 1:59 PM on December 12, 2008


Alas, she was literally running for the train to get home so we could go out to the meeting of the local political party I've joined to try to improve things. I was going door-to-door recently delivering leaflets for them. Don't get me wrong, I think of myself as progressive, and I loathe the motorcar and what it has done, and its not a sustainable model for society and urban living: but if you personally travel on public transport you must recognise how grim it is, and blaming people who make rational individual choices isn't going to work.

And without central Manchester control of the transport system why should anyone believe that the GMPTE can fix it? Where did the $225 million spent last year go?

But, for what it's worth, I would have voted yes. Except I don't like the surveillance stuff necessary to enforce the charge, and I have philosophical objections to referenda and postal voting, so I spoilt my ballot paper. Sorry. Otherwise I vote religiously!

I'm for one of two options that'll really work:

1 Reinstate the fuel escalator introduced by the Tories in the 1990s (oh the irony) at an aggressive pitch. Every year, driving costs more. People will gradually make rational decisions to live near work, drive less, drive slower...

2 Have a sniper randomly pick off 1 in a million commuters in a car. The fear will reduce traffic usage, so actuarially you're ahead. except more congestion reduces injury because of slower speeds.

1 is politically impossible and 2 is unethical (but fun!) I believe what we'll do is turn to individual computer-controlled electric vehicles that will allow for enormously high traffic density and flows while pricing poor users off the road. So basically a big TCP/IP network with small cars. I don't think this is the optimal solution for society and the environment (getting rid of cars entirely) but I think it's where we'll find ourselves in thirty years.
posted by alasdair at 3:21 PM on December 12, 2008


I've been watching this vote with interest from the other side of the Pennines, as Leeds was supposed to be next in line if the vote went in favour. I don't think it's shark suits and scaremongering that killed the congestion charge. It's the state of public transport. Manchester by public transport is not for the faint of heart. Aside from the state of the commuter trains, it's also a bit of a nightmare to get anywhere from Manchester on the train. Leeds-London is 2-2.5 hrs. Manchester-London is 3.5 hrs, though Manchester is almost an hour south of Leeds. I don't know what rail gods decided to smite Manchester in particular, but damn.

Really, though, people voted against the state of public transport than anything else. Trains and buses are so shambolic that people don't see any real alternative to cars. I have a friend who works in Manchester, commuting in from the Derbyshire side. She had a long string of expensive problems with her car, so she tried taking the train in to work on Princess Street. What should have been a 30 minute commute, per the timetables, would fairly regularly take her well over an hour. Train delays, trains that pull up outside the station and just sit there for a long while for no particular reason, trains that broke down and sat on the rails until repaired, vandalism on the line stopping the trains, replacement bus services, etc, etc, etc.

Thing is, it isn't just Manchester that's like this... Leeds is exactly the same way. Yes, commuting in a car is frustrating, but at least in a car you have an illusion of control. You don't have someone else's crying, sticky toddler crushed up against you, wiping snot on your suit as you wait. You can take a shortcut if traffic is bad in a particular stretch. You don't have malfunctioning ticket barriers waiting for you when you finally do unpack yourself from the train... and go off to get a bus that may or may not show up... or might slam its doors in your face and race off. My own commute from Wakefield to Leeds should be about 20 minutes on the train... in some parallel universe, that is. In the 3 1/2 years I've been making that commute, I can count on one hand the number of times it has actually taken 20 minutes.

Rail passes are expensive as well. I can't speak to what a pass currently is for Greater Manchester, but for a 3-zone pass from West Yorkshire Metro (cheapest you can buy), it's currently £82/month. It used to be £53/month, but it's gone up twice in the past year and is due to go up again very soon. Compare that to the average cost of £100/month for a parking space in Leeds city centre. When my pass hits £100/month, which it should do in about 6 months, the math starts working more and more in favour of me getting a car and being done with the whole mess. Wasn't part of the plan bringing in more of the silly ftr bus system from York? Doesn't really inspire confidence.

Manchester's a commuter town, though. I don't know anyone who actually lives there. I know plenty of people who work there, though. Aside from Canal Street, it seems a really empty place on a weekend. All those people who currently live in Slaithwaite and commute in to Manchester can easily just look for a job in Leeds or Liverpool if they found the congestion charge offputting.
posted by Grrlscout at 2:08 AM on December 13, 2008



As an ex-Londoner (where I voted Yes as well)

I didn't realise there was a vote in London!

Manchester isn't a commuter town - there's just very very few jobs in the towns surrounding it. I used to commute from Blackburn in the car and it would take two hours - one to drive from Blackburn to Cheetham Hill, another to get from Cheetham Hill into Deansgate. That's abotu an hour of being stuck in a traffic jam, next to cars with single motorists. If the congestion charge would encourage carpooling, that would solve so many problems.

The public transport in South Manchester is pretty damned good - the problem is that Stagecoach have a stranglehold on it, which means that not only is it very expensive and you're funding someone who wanted to keep homophobic legislation in operation, your weekly pass won't work if you want to go north of the city. The north, being the poorest part, gets the worst deal in terms of public transport - they wanted to extend the tram to Didsbury - the Hampstead of Manchester - where the north didn't get a look-in. I really hope Manchester get a system like London, where the buses are owned by separate companies but under one umbrella, and the Oyster card works on all of them.
posted by mippy at 5:40 AM on December 13, 2008


Also, people in London don't tend to drive unless it's necessary - my housemate has a car and uses it to get to the supermarket, but not to get to work. I can't drive so living in a city where people have public transport and expect to use it instead of it being presented as an option for when the car breaks down makes such a difference.
posted by mippy at 5:42 AM on December 13, 2008


Fascinating! Am I right in seeing this issue as a bit of a litmus test? We now have a way to discriminate between the more social-welfare and more environmental kinds of lefties. For example, the fact that, to me, this whole proposal just sounds like yet another way to charge the poor to give the rich more privileges might mean I'm more the social welfare type.

I'm in favor of carbon taxes, and I'm even in favor of expensive gas. But charging people more money to drive at congested times? The people who have a choice of schedule and mode of transit are not likely to be the people who can afford the tax. If you want to decongest things, tie the fee to a person's income. That could be more effective, because then you'll motivate the rich people with flexible schedules to get out of the way.

In any case, I hope these issues don't come up too often, as the last thing the world's left needs is more reasons to split into sub-factions and hate each other.
posted by Xezlec at 8:43 AM on December 13, 2008


For example, the fact that, to me, this whole proposal just sounds like yet another way to charge the poor to give the rich more privileges might mean I'm more the social welfare type.

To me it just seems like you are more concerned about those people who are rich enough to own and fuel a car in England (which is pretty expensive) rather than those who are truly poor.
posted by grouse at 8:59 AM on December 13, 2008


Agreed, mippy - having a choice between excellent public transport and a car does change things. I'm concerned about the people who don't have an option but to come in to work during regular business hours. Receptionists, for example - they need to be at work by 8 or 9. Which means rush hour commuting and paying a congestion charge. I could see a more switched on employer offering to pay the congestion charge for employees in that position, in the same way they comp or subsidise rail or bus passes for employees. I can only see that happening when there's full employment, though...

I haven't heard anything about the public transport in the southern part of Manchester, but trust me, it's dire for folks coming in from areas north/east of the city.
posted by Grrlscout at 10:23 AM on December 13, 2008


mippy, there are two reasons for extending the tram through Didsbury rather than North Manchester: existing train line and an existing commuter community. So implementation is cheap and usage is high. This is why Metrolink - connecting wealthy Altrincham to the centre of town - was a success, but why Sheffield's tram system - connecting poor areas full of people with no reason to get on the tram - was not. Trams are high-density commuter systems.
posted by alasdair at 11:38 AM on December 13, 2008


To me it just seems like you are more concerned about those people who are rich enough to own and fuel a car in England (which is pretty expensive) rather than those who are truly poor.

Oh, does it? How would charging this fee actually help people who don't even own a car?

Also, I was not aware that only the rich owned cars in England. That isn't the case where I'm from.
posted by Xezlec at 12:35 PM on December 13, 2008


Trams are high-density commuter systems.

That'll be why I always went bankrupt in Sim City, then.

Xezlec, I don't own a car, can't drive one and AFAIK would be medically exempt if I held a licence (as I don't need to check this I never have). If still in Manchester, and if the charge affected only the city centre, I'd be voting yes.
posted by mippy at 3:38 PM on December 13, 2008


I liked Switzerland being an isolated mountain fortress in the middle of Europe. It's disappointing to see that culture fade into Europe as well. One more step in the homogenization of the world. It's less interesting for it.
posted by tenmuses at 6:59 AM on December 14, 2008


74% of all households have at least one car in 2001. So no, not just the rich, or there wouldn't be so much congestion and more people would have voted to tax car drivers.
posted by alasdair at 11:12 AM on December 15, 2008


There's a difference between being rich and being richer than the truly poor. According to the statistics you link, of the poorest 10 percent of British households, only 26 percent have a car, and of the next 10 percent only 39 percent. Which doesn't take into account the fact that this might be even lower in a big urban area, where a car would be a less essential way to spend those scarce pounds.

So again, I think it's wrong to cast this as robbing the poor to make life better for the rich. The poor, traveling on public transport that would have been improved by the billions of pounds of investment that came with this measure, would have been better off with it.
posted by grouse at 11:46 AM on December 15, 2008


« Older A plate of beans....  |  "Schengen means" there will be... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments