Commons Gate

Taxes and charges on road users (HC 103-iii)

Transport Committee 28 Jan 2009

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Evidence given by:
2.45 Transport for London: Michele Dix, Managing Director Planning, Greater London Authority Kulveer Ranger, Director for Transport Policy, Mayoral Team
The SPARKS Programme
Nick Lester, Chair of the SPARKS Network & Corporate Director of Services at London Councils
3.30 Local Government Association
Councillor Shona Johnstone, Regeneration Transport Board Nottingham City Council
Jason Gooding, Project Manager Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council
Councillor John Walsh OBE, Leader of the Conservative Group
4.15 Highways Agency
Graham Dalton, Chief Executive
Ginny Clarke, Director of Network Services & Chief Highway Engineer.

Q267 Mr. David Clelland: Just on that, are you also saying that the level of congestion in London is now acceptable or would you like to reduce it further, and if you want to reduce congestion further how does that fit in with the Mayorís objective to make congestion charging fairer, which presumably a lot of people would think would mean less expensive?

Mr Ranger: I think what we are looking at is a policy which worked at its implementation and then the benefits of it were gradually eroded through the applications of other policies. I think we do want to see less congestion in Central London and we want to really continue the trend of modal shift onto public transport. In the context of that, we want to have policies which actually are complementary to the Congestion Charge, rather than compete with it. So if there is capacity on the road network that is freed up, if we start to immediately remove that capacity and apply it to other areas, taking away road space or putting in more bus lanes, then we are removing that benefit that people are actually paying for. So if we make the space, we must work out what is the best way of using it. That is not a case of saying, "We want to see more vehicles coming in because there is space." So we see the Congestion Charge as a fundamental part of a series of policies which includes smoothing traffic flow, so having this, as Boris has put it, a "holy war on holey streets." There are a million holes dug in Londonís roads every year by various companies who are trying to improve the infrastructure, the drains, et cetera, but we need better co-ordination of that so that the benefits of the Charge can be felt by people on the road network. We want to ensure that the buses can run at a level that they are not impacted by those things. We want to have a permit scheme so that if people abuse the way they are providing infrastructure and improving the road network they can be fined at a significant level so that they may not want to do that again. We need to look at the policies which can be implemented to complement the Congestion Charge, not take away its benefits.

Q268 Mr. David Clelland: Does that mean that the Congestion Charge will be at the same level, be lowered or be increased? What is your view on that, the level of charging at the moment?

Mr Ranger: We are keen to retain the level of charging there is at the moment, but we want to make it fairer.

Q269 Mr. David Clelland: What does that mean?

Mr Ranger: I think it is fair to say it is probably accepted that the Charge itself and the implementation of it was a pretty blunt policy, the technology and the approach. We want to make it a bit more sophisticated so people do not feel like they are being penalised, for example if they go one minute past the time of having not paid they immediately get a Penalty Charge Notice. Now, one of the things we are looking to bring in is a means of account billing so that people can say, "Well, Iím going to use this. I need to travel by car and so Iíll have it set up so that I can pay it automatically," and not just, "Oh, Iíve gone over by five minutes and suddenly Iím feeling like Iím being victimised or penalised for having driven in when I needed to do it." So there is a certain sense of fairness that needs to be brought into how the Charge is applied, but also there needs to be a benefit being perceived by people who are paying for this Charge. There is no point in people saying, "Well, weíre going to pay, but weíre paying for the same level of congestion and traffic that we had previously without it." There is the argument that if you took it away, if you had not had it for this period of time, you would probably have more traffic. So there is still a value to having the Charge. We are not making that case. What we do want to see, though, is that people feel the benefit of what they are paying for.

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Q292 Mr. David Clelland: I am just a bit concerned that Nick Lester seems to be having quite an easy time! What doe the London boroughs think of the Congestion Charge? How would they like to see it developed or what changes would they like to see?

Mr Lester: I think there is a number of views on the Congestion Charge scheme varying from borough to borough. Clearly the boroughs of West London had strong views on the western extension, which they expressed at the time. At the occasion of introduction of the scheme in 2003 the majority of boroughs were supportive. Again, some of the boroughs had problems in detail. I think all of the boroughs are convinced about the need to improve issues such as fairness, which Kulveer Ranger mentioned, the way in which the scheme operates more efficiently for all sorts of reasons and to make the maximum benefit for the opportunities it releases for managing traffic more effectively.

Q293 Mr. David Clelland: Are any of the boroughs perhaps thinking about having their own congestion measures because presumably the congestion problem in Central London can also be a problem in some of the boroughs themselves? Have they any plans to introduce congestion charges or other measures to reduce congestion in their own areas?

Mr Lester: There is a variety of ways in which people are looking at measures to reduce congestion. There have been some discussions and some thoughts about specific charges in one or two places. Greenwich has been mentioned, Heathrow Airport has been mentioned. None of those have got to the stage of a formal decision to go forward as yet and I know that the authorities in those places, with TFL, are looking carefully at all of the options to see what is most acceptable and most effective to deal with particular traffic problems in those areas. I know that one of the issues which was raised in the context of the Low Emission Zone is the restriction which existed in the legislation, for perfectly good reasons, of having only one charging authority on any one stretch of road. The existence of the Low Emission Zone means that TFL is the charging authority for every road or almost every road in London and so of necessity any borough which had a proposal to introduce congestion charging in any area would need to work very closely with TFL to have a scheme which was acceptable both locally and London-wide.

Q294 Mr. David Clelland: Give the measurement of opinion on the western extension and given the referendum in Manchester, do you think that any future proposals for congestion charging would have to be accompanied by a referendum or some measure of public opinion?

Mr Lester: I would have thought it was impossible to introduce any form of charging scheme without having a very clear view of public opinion, and indeed that was the case in 2000 when at the first mayoral election for London Mayor Livingstone stood on a clear platform of introducing a congestion charge. He chose not to have a referendum but presumably (although I am putting words into his mouth, which I am very hesitant indeed in doing) he could have advanced the argument that the Election which elected him meant that a referendum was not necessary.

Ms Dix: The public opinion vote at that time was very positive as well, particularly because of the hypothecation.

Q295 Mr. David Clelland: Is your perception that public opinion continues to support the current Congestion Charge?

Ms Dix: The Central London congestion charging scheme has support; it was the western extension which was in question.

Q296 Mr. David Clelland: So in his quest for fairness, if the Mayor of London decided to have a referendum on whether he should continue with the Congestion Charge in Central London, you are confident he would win it?

Ms Dix: No, because I think referenda do not necessarily attract the same sorts of views as if you undertook a consultation.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

The full transcript may be read here.

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