Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Manchester says No

Been talking to a few Greater Manchester MPs over the past couple of days - from the Yes and the No camps - about the congestion charge vote and the knock-on implications for other cities bidding for TIF money to invest in public transport. From what I gather, the Yes campaign didn't put its case together very well - most people were left with the impression they'd be paying for something without seeing any benefit themselves.

This was true in some areas. Some boroughs, or parts of boroughs, would have been hit by the charge but weren't getting any public transport improvements, but in other areas, such as Ian McCartney's seat in Wigan it would have made a huge difference to the rail infrastructure, with plans for a new station in a part of his seat that isn't served by rail or buses at the moment, and more. He's now doing his best to push for that investment to go ahead anyway.

Another Labour MP told me that the campaign wasn't localised until the last moment, so some people didn't even realise they wouldn't be affected by the charge. Pensioners were voting against the proposals, even though they didn't drive cars and would have benefitted from the Metrolink extension. Also, it just wasn't the right moment to propose introducing what was seen as a tax by any other name.

Can't see any other city holding a referendum or pushing for a congestion charge now... So where does that leave the funding that was not quite conditional on having a congestion charge, but linked the availability of money for investment in public transport with measures to reduce congestion at peak times, on busy roads? No-one's too sure at the moment.

I think I'm right in saying that only Cambridge and Greater Bristol (sorry, I mean C.U.B.A.) are still actively looking at this... Nottingham is going for workplace parking schemes instead. There's a lot riding on it, for Bristol and the other three authorities.

Incidentally my blogging colleague Andrew Gwynne had a poll on his website, which almost perfectly predicted the results in the two boroughs straddled by his constituency. Also interesting to note that the turnout was higher than in the last two General Elections in his seat.

23 comments:

Bristol Dave said...

I blogged about this a couple of days ago.

I, and many others, would be absolutely livid if Bristol City Council had the utter temerity and bare-faced cheek to introduce a congestion charge, given how woeful our public transport is. They will never, ever be able to justify such a scheme until massive improvements are made to give people a CHOICE before arbitrarily punishing them for choosing the "wrong" (read: only) one. And in my book, a couple of "showcase" bus routes and a half-baked BRT idea don't constitute "massive" improvements.

Bristol may have a rather vocal minority of militant vegan fairtrade cyclists but I think they'd still struggle to garner support for such a scheme from the general public - look at the responses to the poorly-thought-out RPZ, the "in favour" areas they've chosen to trial the scheme at barely scraped 50%.

Manchester couldn't even gain support for such a scheme and frankly after spending 4 years at uni there I can confidently say their public transport infrastructure knocks ours into a cocked hat. And STILL people thought it wasn't justified.

Let's also not forget half the congestion is caused by BCC due to exceptionally poor traffic/roadwork management. Some might say "deliberate" in order to gain public/media support for a congestion charge. (insert Conspiracy Theory music here)

Kerry said...

Maybe that's why Manchester didn't win the vote... because it already has decent public transport? Although from what my colleagues tell me, it's not so good once you get out of the city centre. Wigan's a long way from Deansgate.

I have previously mentioned my views on the logic-defying Temple Way roundabout traffic lights I believe.

Kerry said...

PS Your link doesn't work.

Bristol Dave said...

Oops! must have pasted it twice like a numpty.

Correct link is here.

Shirking From Home said...

Maybe the people of Manchester have just given up believing anything that comes out of central government any more.

Elby the Beserk said...

So, to sum up, Kerry, the people of Manchester are too stupid to understand the benefits of this scheme?

That's a New Labour mantra I keep hearing ... the people don't understand.

Truth is, they understand all to well.

And maybe look closer to home first - public transport in Bristol is a disgrace, grossly expensive and a dreadful service. with a Labour council apparently unable to make First Hijack work on the behalf of Bristol rather than their shareholders

Kerry said...

It seems to me that (a) the scheme was flawed in that it didn't spread the benefit widely enough, (b) it was the wrong time to ask people to stump up extra money before they saw the tangible benefits of doing so and (c) in some cases, yes, people thought they'd have to pay the charge when they didn't live within the zone and never travelled into there by car. That's what I've been told.

And you can hardly have a go at me for not having a go at First!

lucid lucy said...

Maybe the people of Manchester reacted against Geoff Hoon's attempts to blackmail them by voting no. Politicians frequently choose to believe that the 'wrong' vote means they didn't understand the issues. Underestimate voters at your peril.

Kieron said...

premise: to introduce a congestion charge, people have to be convinced that there is enough convenient public transport provided to enable them to do without their cars.

problem: outside of london, there is not such provision. even with £3bn of investment, people could see that public transport would be inconvenient for them.

in this respect i am agreeing with bristol dave's point. the public transport has to come first. the congestion charge can only come later.

another problem was just gall: why the f**k should manchester have to vote for a congestion charge before getting public investment, when money has always been spent like water in london on hare-brained projects.

i have to disagree with what kerry said about some areas being better served than others under the manchester TIF plan. there was pretty good coverage in all 10 boroughs. but it wasn't all the same kind of coverage - some areas got metrolink extensions; some got rail improvements (though these were pretty sparse); many got new bus routes.

people who are relatively wealthy and are used to driving cars, are never ever in a trillion years going to use the bus. ever. buses are good because they are cheap, can run to more areas, and can run all night. but for the daily commute, it seems to me that no matter how much you invest in buses, you're not going to convince people to leave their cars, the way they do if there's an urban rail system or suchlike.

my dad and brother both voted against it because of this (though i persuaded mum to vote for it, on the grounds that manchester really needed the £3bn, even though the congestion charge was a silly idea). they weren't convinced that the public transport they were proposing would be enough to allow them to stop using their car - and also practically everyone else i have spoken to about it. in salford specifically, the main proposed improvement was a semi-segregated bus route going right through to the city centre - which would actually have been fairly quick and pretty frequent - but most people discounted this automatically, because it's a bus service, and they noted that salford was not getting any metro or rail improvements.

(i have to be clear, i'm not saying buses can't be a good form of transport, but i'm saying they're not perceived as one.)

a further point on the nature of the proposed congestion charge. the outer charge ring was around the m60 - that's like having a congestion charge ring in london around, say, zone 3. you can imagine how enraged londoners would be if they were told they were going to get charged every day for driving from, say, edgware to golders green. it also makes very little sense. i accept that manchester roads are not the same as london roads, in that congestion is throughout the city rather than just in the centre... but surely this is because of the lack of public transport? surely once you have provided the transport (and put a congestion charge around the city centre area), if the plan works, the congestion around the city will stop...?

anyway, cities the size of manchester elsewhere in the world have extensive integrated transport systems which are constantly being upgraded and extended. the uk government is not prepared to spend this sort of money outside london. until it is, people will continue to use their cars.

if you're interested (and i know you're probably not!!), here is a list of european metropolitan areas. you can look at where some british urban areas are on that list, and compare the kind of transport they've got. (i realise this is extraordinarily geeky ^_^, but useful comparisons might be between manchester and say, cologne or barcelona, where there has been a lot of public infrastructure investment.)

the government continues to deny that places outside of london need more public capital investment, and continue to insist that london needs more investment (per capita) than elsewhere, because it gets more invesment. (no really.)

labour mps should not be supporting this policy. labour mps are there to make sure that constituents get the services they need and deserve. they should be putting pressure on the govt to invest more in their areas. infrastructure investment is by far the biggest factor in growing lcoal economies and raising incomes. yet even today, in a city like manchester, a professional person can't get by without running their own car.

given that there is a need for more public spending, and the goevrnmetn has already committed to this, the government should go us-style and invest in infrastructure.

that means spending that £3bn even without the congestion charge.

oooh long post. had to get all that on record :-)

Kieron said...

sorry just saw kerry's post above

point (b) hits the nail on the head, though the planned £3bn would never have been enough on its own to convince people, even in 2015.

in response to point (a), the biggest flaw of the scheme was the outer charging ring, which was unjustifiable on so many levels... but also a flaw was that there was an assumption that people would view a new fast bus route as equally worthwhile as (say) a metrolink extension or a rail upgrade, which is kind of laughable really. so it was a *perception* that the benefit was unevenly spread.

kerry, i hope you will support manchester still getting the £3bn even though the cc was voted down. :-)

Kerry said...

It was so tempting to reject that comment from Kieron...What do you mean, you don't agree with me?!

, I was just going by what MPs have said to me - that they felt their constituencies were getting the short straw - but they could well have been talking parts of constituencies or parts of boroughs, so some communities felt like they were overlooked (or, as you say, getting bus routes rather than nice trams or new stations).

Kerry said...

That last comment from me was posted before I saw the second comment from Kieron.

I was thinking of asking if Bristol could have the £3bn instead actually!

timbone said...

If I may just insert my bit as an adopted Mancunian.
Yes, it is true that many people voted 'no' because there was nothing in it for them. Just one example: Swinton has a road system which has not been touched for years, with pretty average public transport. The plans looked as if they had forgotten Swinton was there.
In the Borough of Trafford where I live, we even received a leaflet through the door from Graham Brady, the Conservative MP for Altrincham and Sale, exhorting us to vote 'no'. It also said that nearby Labour Constituencies were also supporting the 'no'vote.

Kieron said...

Timbone!!!! You know Swinton! What a small world ^_^

You're right, Swinton has the city's worst road junction. As I said, Salford would have got the upgraded 35 bus route just a bit further south of swinton, but that doesn't make up. I suppose the thinking was that Swinton has the railway line... but then, if you've ever tried to actually use that line... *shudder* And there were no upgrades planned for that.

Kieron said...

kerry, i promise to agree with you more in future. just not on transport. or mcfly ;-)

Bluebaldee said...

Kerry,

I sincerely hope that Bristol City Council and the West of England Partnership will now quietly drop the absurd idea of a CONgestion Charge for Bristol.

We have, by common consent, the worst urban public transport network in the UK and probably in Western Europe. Of course it needs massive investment but it's an absolute affront to Bristolians to make this conditional on introducing a CONgestion Charge.

Bristol has been starved of public transport investment under this Government and the previous Tory administration. The award of the Cycling City cash and "Showcase" bus routes are simply tinkering around the edges. Even the proposals for a Bus-based Rapid Transit network are a cut-price effort at being seen to be doing something - and destined to fail.

We need an expansion of our local rail system allied to the introduction of several tram lines, all integrated with each other and the local buses, water taxis etc.

Sure, it'll cost money but as we haven't had any investment in our local transport system for more than a generation I don't think that it's too much to ask. The money can be found quickly enough for Crossrail, the Olympics, Trident, new aircraft carriers and to bail out incompetent bankers.

Gordon Brown clearly wants to spend his way out of the recession so why not start with giving Bristol a decent public transport system.

Oh, and please ask Geoff Hoon to boot First out of our city. They've been a disaster. Regular fare rises way over the rate of inflation, slashed services, dire customer service on both the trains and buses mean that the car for most Bristolians is by far the best bet.

Elby the Beserk said...

" Kerry said...

Maybe that's why Manchester didn't win the vote... because it already has decent public transport? Although from what my colleagues tell me, it's not so good once you get out of the city centre. Wigan's a long way from Deansgate."

Errrm. Wigan's not in Manchester, Kerry. Not even Greater Manchester, I would think.

Kerry said...

It doesn't need Geoff Hoon to kick First out. Under the Local Transport Bill the local authority can pursue a 'Quality Contract' which would give them the power to award the contract to run bus services to whomsoever they choose. I've gone on about this a lot....

And Elby... funny, I said exactly the same thing Ian McCartney (Wigan MP) when I was discussing this issue with him. There are 10 local authorities which make up the Greater Manchester metropolitan area which was covered by the TIF bid (and falls within the GMPTE), and Wigan is indeed one of them.

timbone said...

Yes Bluebaldee, it is difficult to see how in return for a congestion charge, you get emancipation from the Beeching destruction of the rail network and the Thatcher deregulation of bus services

Kieron said...

FYI wigan has always been one of the "ten towns", since the 1800s, which went on to form greater manchester. ppl in wigan town itself would probably not consider themselves in manchester. but people in tyldesley or atherton, or even leigh, within MB wigan, would consider themselves to be on the outskirts of manchester. i went to the same school/college with some people who lived in that area.

timbone is right (if he is making the point i think he is making??). transport needs to be re-invested in and, equally importantly, re-regulated.

kerry, you have presumably had a lot of talks with the relevant ministers on the public transport bill. it's good that they are giving cities more powers to control local transport... but why are the government being so stingy with those powers? why can't all cities have a TfL, which can order bus companies around, mandate fares for the entire city, take on debt, make big investments, etc? surely the explanation can't just be that other cities don't *need* all this?

Kerry said...

I think it's to do with the cost of running a PTE. Although not sure why this should be a problem, as you could just move staff over from LAs. Certainly I think Bristol (CUBA) would benefit from becoming a Strategic Transport Authority. We just have to convince the other 3 LAs that it would benefit them too, so we're trying a 'shadow STA' at the moment to see how it pans out.

timbone said...

Yes, I was a member of the Labour Party in 1997, and Membership Secretary in what was then Sale West. I was overjoyed by the landslide victory, and can still see Michael Portillos' face when he lost his seat (payback for Shirley Williams losing hers in 1979).
I fully supported Tony Blair's statement that New Labour would not set about undoing everything which the Tories had done, create debt, and four or five years later, hand Parliament back to the opposition again.
Now the Tories had done some pretty nasty things, like the National Curriculum and Ofsted (I was a teacher at the time, and can assure you that this might seem progress but was the opposite). They closed mental hospitals for care in the community (a money saving exercise which we can still see the disastrous results of, like violence and murder and overcrowded prisons).
More to the point of this particular blog, they of course deregulated the bus services.

What I am saying is this. New Labour could have reformed or upgraded what the Tories had done. As far as public transport is concerned, they should have reintroduced regulation, not the way that previous Labour Governments had done, but gradually, so that by now we would have had a reestablished bus service catering for everyone by what was required not by whether it made a profit - breaking even is fine in social areas.

This is why I left the Labour Party, I was disgusted, disillusioned.

Kieron said...

but you see timbone, Labour *have* re-regulated the buses. but only in London. don't ask me where the logic is.