TERRY DIGNAN: The way we travel harms our
health, economy and environment. So our transport system is getting a
hundred and eighty billion pounds more investment. And towns and cities
are being allowed to charge drivers for using roads or office car parks.
But while other parts of the country prevaricate over using this power,
London's mayor intends pressing ahead.
Some Labour MPs in the
capital are deeply unhappy with Mayor Livingstone's plans to charge motorists
for driving into central London. And nor are Tony Blair's transport ministers
terribly enthusiastic. Indeed, there are signs they've gone off the whole
idea of using congestion charging as part of a national strategy to tackle
urban gridlock. Yet it's argued that without congestion charging, or something
like it, it's hard to see how the Government is going to persuade many
more car drivers to use public transport instead.
LYNNE JONES MP: At the end of the day,
we'll probably have to grasp the nettle that the only way to get motorists
out of their cars, and into public transport, is to, is to start charging.
KATE HOEY MP: Cars for many people,
and particularly for women I think give them a sense of independence.
And I don't think that you can try and use congestion charging just to
get people out of their car.
DIGNAN; Campaigning to be the capital's
mayor, Ken Livingstone had a vision of a congestion-free London. He's
ahead of cities like Birmingham with his proposal to charge motorists five
pounds a day for driving into central London. While ministers say they've
no power to stop him, they warn he must proceed cautiously.
JOHN SPELLAR MP: This needs to be sensitively handled
- that's precisely why we've said to the Mayor of London that, well this
is his decision, he not only has to assure himself that the technology
will work, and therefore the scheme is technically valid, but also that
he's carrying the great majority of London opinion with him as well, in
order to bring that scheme forward.
DIGNAN: The boundary of the charging
zone cuts across constituencies of Labour MPs like Kate Hoey. She says
that here in Kennington, there'll be a price to pay for living on the wrong
side of the road.
HOEY: You can have a ridiculous
situation where people just going about what would be their normal daily
travelling, back and forward, are going to have to pay. We're going to
see people you know who have to go into central London perhaps with a
small business, perhaps a window cleaning business, living one side of
the road, they won't pay, the other side they will.
DIGNAN: But the body appointed
by Labour ministers to advise them on transport policy backs Mayor Livingstone.
The Commission for Integrated Transport argues that improvements in public
transport on their own won't reduce congestion in our towns and cities.
DAVID BEGG: If Ken Livingstone doesn't
introduce congestion charging then the people that travel in London are
going to be travelling at speeds which are no quicker than the horse and
cart was a century ago. It's just incredibly inefficient, imposing a huge
cost on London business. So the Mayor's right to try and get in a congestion
charging scheme as quickly as he can.
DIGNAN: Birmingham. The city's
prosperity was founded on the motor car. Yet today it's said road traffic
growth is costing the regional economy here more than a billion pounds
a year. And in the next three decades rush hour car journeys are forecast
to rise by nearly two hundred thousand a day.
Companies like A. E. Harris
and Co complain angrily about congestion. The firm makes metal components
which are delivered by road to customers throughout the United Kingdom.
RUSSELL LUCKOCK: Traffic congestion increases,
that puts up costs of getting materials in, goods out, of this factory.
On certain occasions we're having to pay a premium for motorcycle riders
to get urgent components out because they can get through the traffic quickly,
and that puts up our costs. It doesn't help at all when your van is stuck
out say, three miles from the City Centre.
DIGNAN: When the Deputy Prime Minister,
John Prescott, was Transport Secretary, he asked groups of experts to find
solutions to the traffic problems of urban areas. The conclusion they've
come to here in the West Midlands is that you won't get many motorists
to leave their cars at home simply by spending more money on public transport.
They've told ministers congestion charging is essential because many commuters
find driving to work is relatively cheap. But the Government's policy of
leaving it to local authorities to introduce charging schemes means it's
unlikely to happen in many areas in the foreseeable future, as even ministers
In Labour's ten year transport
plan, John Prescott warned that compared with buses and trains, motoring
was likely to become even more affordable. Yet his plan aims to cut congestion
in cities like Birmingham by eight per cent by twenty-ten. According to
some Labour MPs here - and those advising ministers - it can't be done
BEGG: Now we are absolutely clear
in our advice. What we are saying is that you do not reduce congestion
in Britain without measures such as congestion charging. Yes it's politically
difficult. They probably don't want to discuss this at present. But they
have to decide how they are going to tackle congestion and whether the
policies that are in place are going to be sufficient.
JONES: Although motorists squeal
about the costs of motoring, in real terms it's stayed pretty steady but
whereas costs of public transport have increased quite dramatically, so
we've got to even the balance as between those two - or the different sorts
of transport. But at the end of the day we just cannot go on as we are.
DIGNAN And Birmingham businesses
like this one would agree. Yet they have fiercely objected to attempts
by Labour councillors to introduce both congestion and workplace charging.
To the dismay of those who advise the Government, opposition to the idea,
in Birmingham and other towns and cities, remains strong.
LUCKOCK: This factory is right
in the heart of the city of Birmingham. Therefore all my employees would
be subjected to being, who come in by car, would be subjected to additional
cost. They wouldn't want to come in, they could go and get jobs elsewhere
and that would cause me much grief. In fact I'm not at all sure that we
should be able to continue and function as a viable proposition.
DIGNAN: That's a warning councillors
ignore at their peril. But their biggest fear would be losing jobs to other
areas unless neighbouring authorities also introduced charging.
JONES: I mean the example in Birmingham
is that, if Birmingham City Council wants to charge people to go into the
city centre, the traders there will say, "Well people will stop coming
in, and they'll go to out of town centres like Merryhill, in Dudley," so
it's got to be an overall strategy for a region, if not for the whole country.
DIGNAN: The Government's transport
plan, published just two years ago, assumes at least twenty towns and cities
will introduce congestion or workplace charging. Yet the transport minister,
a Birmingham MP, doesn't believe it's his job to encourage it.
SPELLAR: There's a considerable
demand and understandable demand that many local issues should be decided
by local people who are best able to understand the local circumstances
and to understand the, understand the best response.
JONES: Well I think this is government
ducking its responsibilities here. It's ready to interfere in many areas
of policy where local authority is - local authorities are competent to
ACTUALITY: "Would you like to be
DIGNAN: At the Heritage Motor Centre
at Gaydon near Warwick schoolchildren learn about the so-called golden
age of British-made cars.
ACTUALITY: "Are you happy with
DIGNAN: When they grow up and learn
how to drive Labour promises the roads will be less congested. That's assuming
twenty towns and cities introduce charging by twenty-ten. But ministers
are now backing away from this figure.
SPELLAR: You do have to have a
degree of, of prediction in order to be able to get some shape of a national
picture. And, I think that probably twenty would be now a slightly optimistic
BEGG: That has an impact on the
amount of revenue that will be available to spend on transport - up to
three billion pounds is forecast to come from these new charges and it
has a disproportionate effect on reducing congestion - around a quarter
of all of the congestion reduction forecast by the government by twenty-ten
will come from these congestion charging schemes.
DIGNAN: Which may be why Chancellor
Gordon Brown publicly supports them. The Integrated Transport Commission
hopes he'll back, using satellite technology, to charge motorists on any
UK road that's congested. In return, vehicle excise duty would be axed
and petrol taxes cut. Congestion would decrease by forty-four per cent.
But it would mean extending Treasury plans to charge haulage companies
for road use.
BEGG: It's a type of technology
which is already in place and which the Government are proposing to bring
in for lorries. So it's proposed to be a distance tax for lorries. So lorries
will be taxed on the basis of the distances they are travelling in Britain.
That same system can be used to try and bring in congestion charging for
ACTUALITY "This motorway starts
a new era in road travel."
DIGNAN: But it didn't last long.
When Government ministers opened the first motorways, little did they know
they faced a losing battle to keep them clear of congestion. Motorists
who feel they get a raw deal from Labour believe the answer is better
roads - and more roads.
LUCKOCK: I mean the, the percentage
they take from fuel is almost criminal, almost obscene and not to invest
it in better methods of transportation is also obscene. Road transport
is the best solution. And we want better roads, wider roads, double-deck
roads if necessary to get transport and goods moving.
DIGNAN: Labour hoped to curb the
motor car's power. But ministers worry about motorists' views, especially
after the fuel tax protests. Indeed a third of the budget for the ten
year transport plan - fifty-nine billion pounds - will go towards roads.
While advisers on transport are sceptical, ministers now appear to show
enthusiasm for road building.
SPELLAR: There's been considerable
under-investment in transport and there is a real need to be getting more
investment into transport and not just in the big ticket items of the main
railway systems or indeed the Highways Agency the main trunk roads, important
that those are. A lot of local roads, a lot of local bypasses that we're,
that we're putting through, but we'll be dealing with real congestion
locally and making a big difference to free flow of traffic in those areas.
BEGG: It may be that if you start
to build more roads in two thousand and eight, two thousand and nine, that
if you take a snapshot of two thousand and ten that there's a reduction
in congestion. But these extra roads by, freeing up congestion, will attract
more traffic and by two thousand and fifteen, two thousand and twenty,
we could effectively be back to square one.
DIGNAN: Although London is due
to become the first big city to charge motorists for driving to work, few
seem likely to follow. Ministers hope better roads and public transport
will reduce congestion. But their advisers warn any solution that avoids
charging car drivers more won't work.