APPARENTLY no politician should ever answer a questionnaire sent to them by the press. It’s an unwritten rule to ensure they don’t get tripped up and say something they shouldn’t. And it’s a rule which was referred to by Edinburgh Council leader Donald Anderson in response to an Evening News survey to discover city councillors’ driving habits.
However, in the true spirit of public accountability Councillor Anderson agreed to answer - and so did another 44 out of the 58 men and women who serve on the council. The majority of them are, of course, Labour councillors, and it is their policy to introduce congestion charging to the city - a policy hotly opposed by Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, city retailers, big businesses and 46 per cent of Edinburgh citizens.
So just where do our councillors stand as individuals on the thorny issue? Does having a car and driving in the city make a difference to their political opinion, what do they think of the city’s roads, and are those who back the congestion charge non-drivers who take the bus everywhere and wouldn’t have to pay anyway?
We asked them if they owned a car and, if so, how often they drove and what they used it for, how they got to work, where they parked, what they thought of the state of the roads and finally, would they willingly pay a congestion charge?
The results are interesting. Out of the 44 who replied, only six don’t own a car - five Labour and one Conservative - although one at least does have access to a vehicle through the city car club. Yet only one, Michael Dixon, is against the congestion charge, while Lorna Shiels feels the question is not applicable to her as she has no car.
One non-car owner is train conductor Lawrence Marshall who goes by bus.
"Eventually, road user charging will be universal throughout Europe at least," he says. "In the meantime, however, car use in Edinburgh, already high by European standards, is projected to get a lot worse - especially to and from the west side of the city. To ignore the consequences of that will be to the detriment of us all."
In total, 20 councillors say they would not willingly pay the congestion charge - all are Conservative or Liberal Democrats. One Lib Dem, Paul Edie, wasn’t content just to say no.
He adds: "I am a very keen environmentalist but I think this is a clumsy tax which doesn’t tax congestion, doesn’t tax pollution, doesn’t tax fuel consumption and will put the cause of environmentalism in this city back 20 years. It will hit Edinburgh’s economic performance in far more ways than just the retail sector."
Lib Dem John Longstaff is the only person to respond saying he had two cars - but he says they’re required because "it’s difficult getting in and out of Edinburgh from Ratho Village where the bus service is hourly at best and two-hourly in evenings and on Sundays." He adds: "I will be campaigning against it [the charge]. The tram lines need to be built first and their effect on congestion taken into account before any charge is levied."
Conservative Kate MacKenzie threw up another issue. "As a woman, I feel there is an issue of personal safety using buses, particularly as I would then have to walk along a driveway with trees and bushes on one side and there has been an incident there before," she says.
And even though every Labour councillor says they are for the charge, some add caveats to their support. Elizabeth Maginnis, for instance, says that while she uses her car "as often as I can - for work, for play, for shopping, for visiting, for what it was intended," she’s "not thrilled" about congestion charging. But she adds: "There’s too many people like me who love their car and it’s undeniable we’re going to have to pay a larger price for it."
Former Lord Provost Eric Milligan gives the idea tacit approval by saying: "I believe taxes should be paid. I never have had much sympathy for tax dodgers," while current Lord Provost Lesley Hinds and Dougie Kerr give their support, but only if "the people in Edinburgh vote for it in a referendum".
Donald Anderson admits to using his car frequently "to keep in touch with local issues in my council ward, as I can cover a large area very quickly by car", and this is because he says: "I found these to be very difficult journeys to do by public transport.
"The car is a real boon for family journeys and local community activities."
But he adds: "I use the bus on a daily basis and also use taxis depending on where I am going and how quickly I need to be there. I think congestion charging will be good for essential car drivers and will reduce unnecessary journeys. The London scheme has been a huge success, and if Edinburgh citizens vote for it we will implement a scheme in the city."
On the subject of parking, most say they park on the city streets and use bays like other motorists unless on council business in which case they use the space provided for them. None expounded on whether parking was becoming more difficult.
However, on the state of the roads there was some agreement - that they are generally poor, with some people branding them "disgraceful".
Dougie Kerr says: "As a cyclist, I am only too aware of the number of potholes. Years of under-funding won’t be sorted out overnight; continuing to find extra money has to be a priority."
Trevor Davies adds: "They’re not good. We have not invested in our infrastructure (schools, hospitals, water pipes, sewers, railways, roads) for three generations: no-one wanted to pay the taxes. Now we have to catch up - and catching up is hard to do. It was right to start with schools and hospitals. Now we will pay attention to the rest and 25 million will now go into roads and pavements from next year.
"And, of course, revenue from the congestion charge will help us get our roads (and pavements and cycleways, and buses, and trams) into good condition."
Donald Anderson says: "The roads are greatly improving, but more needs to be done. Like all councils in Scotland, decades of under-funding are taking time to overcome. Every day more work is being done."
Of course, transport convener Andrew Burns is the one who is flying the flag the highest for congestion charging.
He does have a car, but drives only at weekends and evenings for family purposes and otherwise gets the bus.
As to the road toll, he says: "It will reduce congestion, improve Edinburgh’s quality of life and lead to Edinburgh having the best transport infrastructure in the UK."
However, Tory transport spokesman Allan Jackson is adamant it won’t happen.
"I am the main opponent of road tolls for a wide range of reasons," he says. "Edinburgh residents will throw the concept out in a referendum so the question [of whether I would pay] is academic."
As for Trevor Davies, who says he sometimes drives his partner’s car, he’s all in favour of congestion charging. "Of course," he says. "Why? Because it’s worth it. Two pounds to clean up the air and free up the streets seems a bargain to me. Governing a city takes slightly more complex thinking than a simplistic questionnaire. Can the News cope with that?"
He, as well as the rest of the councillors, should perhaps be asking if their constituents will cope with it.
How they compare
Rev Ewan Aitken, Restalrig, Labour:Yes At weekends or evenings Bus or taxi Yes
Robert Aldridge, East Craigs, Lib Dem:Yes Going out of town Bus or bike Yes, on few occasions I’d need to
Donald Anderson, Kaimes, Labour:Yes Family leisure trips, evenings and weekends Bus or taxi Yes
Andrew Burns, Moat, Labour:Yes Evenings, weekends, family purposes Bus Yes
Robert Cairns, Southside, Labour:Yes Weekends only Walk Yes
Steve Cardownie, Newhaven, Labour:Yes Business and pleasure Car or bus Yes
Maureen Child, Milton, Labour:No Car club membership means drive once a month Bus and walk Yes
Bill Cunningham, Holyrood, Labour:Yes Daily Car or bus Yes
Trevor Davies, Broughton, Labour:Partner does Weekends and evenings Bike, bus or walk Yes
Jenny Dawe, Gyle, Liberal Democrat:Yes Every day Car No
Michael Dixon, Stockbridge, Conservative:No N/A Walk or bus No
Paul Edie, NE Corstorphine, Liberal Democrat:Yes For work and in evening Car and bus No
James Gilchrist, Murrayfield, Conservative:Yes Socially Bus No
Sheila Gilmore, Moredun, Labour:Yes Six times a week, mostly evenings and family purposes Bike Yes
David Guest, New Town, Conservative:Yes Daily for school run Walk, bus or car No
Ricky Henderson, Parkhead, Labour:Yes Personal/family use Bus or walk Yes
Lesley Hinds, Muirhouse/Drylaw, Labour:Yes For family purposes Bus and LP car Yes
George Hunter, Craiglockhart, Conservative:Yes For constituency work Car No
Allan Jackson, Trinity, Conservative:Yes When public transport is unsuitable Walk or car No
Dougie Kerr, Calton, Labour:Yes Three or four times a week Car or bike Yes
Shami Khan, Mountcastle, Labour:Yes Very rarely Bus Yes
Allan Laing, Balerno, Conservative:Yes When required Car or bus No
John Longstaff, Dalmeny/Kirkliston, Liberal Democrat:Two cars Daily Car No
Gordon Mackenzie, Prestonfield, Liberal Democrat:Yes For work and domestic purposes Car or bus No
Kate MacKenzie, Cramond, Conservative:Yes For business and pleasure Car No
Fred Mackintosh, Newington, Liberal Democrat:Yes Three to five times a week Walk No
Elizabeth Maginnis, Granton, Labour:Yes As often as I can Car Yes
Lawrence Marshall, Portobello, Labour:No N/A Bus Yes
Brian Meek, Colinton, Conservative:Yes For work and pleasure Car or bus No
Eric Milligan, Stenhouse, Labour:Yes For business and pleasure Car, bus or train Yes
Mark McInnes, South Morningside, Conservative:Yes Daily for work Car No
Gordon Munro, Harbour, Labour:No N/A Bus or bike Yes
Ian Murray, Alnwickhill, Labour:Yes Rarely, have bus pass Walk Yes
Alastair Paisley, Baberton, Conservative:Yes Daily to work Car No
Ian Perry, Meadowbank, Labour:Yes Daily for work Car Yes
Tom Ponton, Dean, Liberal Democrat:Yes Daily for business and pleasure Car No
Frank Russell, Sighthill, Labour:No N/A Bus Yes
Andrew Scobbie, Firrhill, Labour:Yes Most days Car or bus Yes
Lorna Shiels, Fountainbridge, Labour:No N/A Bus N/A
Kingsley Thomas, Dalry, Labour:Yes Daily for business and domestic reasons Car or bus Yes
Marjorie Thomas, Leith Links, Liberal Democrat:Yes Work and shopping Car share No
David Walker, Sciennes, Liberal Democrat:Yes Daily for domestic purposes Bus No
Phil Wheeler, SE Corstorphine, Liberal Democrat:Yes For business and personal purposes Bus or train No
Iain Whyte, Craigleith, Conservative:Yes Daily for private and business use Car No
Chris Wigglesworth, Tollcross, Labour:Yes Twice a week for out of town travel Walk or bus No