Tomorrow the seven West Midlands councils involved in the transport and congestion debate are expected to conclude that the plan to introduce unpopular charges on motorists in the area is flawed, and therefore banish the spectre of road pricing. At least for the time being (Birmingham Post).
The conditions laid out, it is claimed, cannot be met. Namely:
- any schemes must improve and not detract from the regions competitiveness. Highly unlikely considering the impact this project was likely to have on motorists and businesses, and therefore profits and jobs.
- appropriate transport alternatives must be significantly funded and coming on stream to provide choice. Well a scheme that was unlikely to fund itself was never going to fund improvement to local transport to boot! And as the councils seem to have concluded, introducing road pricing before any significant changes in public transport had been implemented – no matter where these funds come - from was only going to create a lose-lose scenario for residents and visitors. The transport funding package that central government was attempting to use as a bargaining tool is now being surrendered regardless, though it is likely to be subsidised by business in the form of supplementary business rates, thus leaving this ever-pressed sector to help finance some pretty controversial proposals…
- revenues from road pricing must be reinvested in transport in the West Midlands. See above. The issue of where to divert revenue was unlikely to rear its head for a good long while considering the costs of running this scheme.
- any regional road pricing schemes must fit into national policy. With other threatened areas running for cover when faced with these proposals, the chance of agreement on a unified policy – especially when traffic and transport problems in different areas appear to differ considerably – could prove to be long-winded and potentially fruitless.
At the end of the day, the main stumbling block for these plans isn’t outlined above. Nor, strangely, was it even one of the conditions to be satisfied in the first place. Public approval.
No-one wanted this scheme. Peter Roberts has a petition with 1.8million signatures to prove it. Businesses didn’t want it, ordinary residents didn’t want it, workers didn’t want it, even some environmentalists will protest that this isn’t the appropriate way to combat traffic emissions.
So who did want it? Well it seems central government were rather keen on the idea, so well done to the seven West Midlands councils for standing their ground, listening to their public and refusing to shoulder the responsibility for this hated scheme. No doubt they were well aware of the potential repercussions at the ballot box for those who chimed in favour of it, but there’s no shame in being led by public opinion if you’re a politician.
The problem of congestion remains (albeit often self-inflicted by councils) and does still need to be addressed, but now the West Midlands can move on to looking at more sensible solutions that don’t seek to penalise the ordinary motorist.