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Road Pricing Travels North

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The Government looks set to announce that it will give the go-ahead for a two-ring scheme of Congestion Charging to be implemented in Manchester.

Despite significant local opposition, the Government intends to announce the plans against the backdrop of a proposed £1.2bn investment in local transport infrastructure.

Interestingly the iteration of the scheme which the Government suggests, requiring cars to be tagged, is the one rejected by Ken Livingstone when the London CC was established - it was, however, implemented by the few other cities around the world which also utilise congestion charging.

The Times states that both Cambridge and Bristol are potential next stops for this scheme, both again receiving a bribe grant from the Government's Transport Innovation Fund.

The Manchester scheme differs from the London congestion charge by only charging drivers travelling with the main flow of traffic into the city between 7am and 9.30am and those travelling out between 4pm and 6.30pm. London’s £8 charge applies to any vehicle that moves inside the zone between 7am and 6pm, regardless of the direction of travel.

The Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority (GMPTA) claims that its scheme will be much fairer because it will target roads only when they are busiest. People driving out of Manchester in the morning or into the city after 9.30am will pay nothing.

The charge will be introduced in 2013 and will be preceded by £3 billion-worth of improvements to public transport, including extensions to the city’s tram network, extra trains and buses and more bus lanes.

These moves will be closely watched by Boris Johnson and his transport team. The new administration won't take kindly to a better administered and thought-out scheme operating elsewhere in the UK whilst they are locked into expensive contracts which they had no hand in the negotiation of.

That said, the residents, workers and commuters in Manchester will also have to take the Government's plans with a pinch of salt. As we examined back in February, the Congestion Charge has not been an unfettered success, despite the then Administration's fervent claims. Taken in tandem with the Government's habit of double, or even triple-counting, investment in the past, anyone who this scheme affects should be rightly sceptical. They are right to call for a referendum on the issue.

Ken Livingstone introduced the Congestion Charge to London with the mandate of a strong election victory behind him. The Manchester scheme looks to sail past without such a mandate. The Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) proposed the scheme and after a period of public consultation will then vote on whether to go ahead. That is a huge democratic deficit.

With both sides of this debate highly energised, we will follow any moves closely and report back on them here.

13/06/08 UPDATE: The Economist carries an excellent article on the implications of this scheme.