Let's end myths on charging

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AS a transport professional who has been involved in some of the work in preparation of the envisaged congestion charging scheme, I believe that it is time to dispel some major myths surrounding the scheme.

Myth 1: Congestion charging will only displace traffic from the city centre onto rat-runs and, if anything, even increase overall traffic volumes and congestion by encouraging longer trips to avoid crossing the cordons.

Truth: While it is true that the 2 charge will not have anything like the dramatic impact on traffic reduction as the 5 charge in London, it will undoubtedly, and very substantially, ameliorate the traffic problems that Edinburgh is facing.

The impact of the still steady growth in car ownership, combined with the expected substantial population growth both in Edinburgh and the Lothians due to the booming Edinburgh labour market, will lead to a dramatic increase in congestion over the next ten to 15 years not only in existing hotspots, but also in areas and at times that so far only experience limited or no traffic problems, unless drastic action is taken.

Several existing studies have found, and the reporter at the public enquiry has confirmed, that the congestion charge can and will counterbalance this increase through both the direct reduction of car traffic demand and the investment package that will be enabled through its revenues.

Some rat-running will undoubtedly occur, but this can be restrained to a minimum with traffic calming and appropriate modifications of the traffic light settings.

Myth 2: Trams have to be in place before charging starts to provide the necessary alternatives for car drivers.

Truth: While trams will provide a step change in quality and quantity of public transport provision, this will by and large affect major transport corridors that already have a high density of buses now.

What is really needed to enable people to use public transport instead of their cars when charging starts are substantial improvements for areas where no reasonable bus service is available at all, and connections at times when currently bus frequency is low or there are no buses at all.

All of these conditions can only be met by Park and Ride sites outside the major entrances of the outer cordon and bus routes that do not just provide connections into the city centre, but enable fast and frequent connections both from the Park and Ride sites to all parts of Edinburgh for people coming from outside the city, and between suburban locations for Edinburgh residents.

A study carried out by Napier University has shown where connections between a series of key locations outside the city centre (eg South Queensferry, Portobello, Fairmilehead, South Gyle, Ocean Terminal, the ERI or Western General Hospital) most require improved services.

Myth 3: The retail sector in Central London has suffered significant loss of sales as a direct result of congestion charging, introduced in London on February 17, 2003, as proven by a study carried out for John Lewis.

Truth: The study contains a week-by-week comparison between sales at John Lewis’s Oxford Street store in 2002 and 2003. This data shows that sales start to drop below the previous year’s as soon as the January sales were over. This drop reached an average of around 13 per cent in the three weeks directly preceding the introduction of congestion charging.

During the five weeks immediately following the start of charging the highest drop was around 11 per cent - ie sales directly after charging were, at least relatively, better than in the three weeks before. And in the three weeks that followed then, sales were even higher than in the previous year, by up to 20 per cent.

Only after April 13, sales drop again suddenly and substantially; but this is a full eight weeks after charging started, and it is simply not credible that this is now suddenly due to the introduction of congestion charging.

According to John Lewis’s own figures, less than 10 per cent of their Oxford Street customers come by car in the first place.

Out of the 180,000 car drivers that entered the charging zone per day before charging started, less than 5000 have stopped coming into Central London altogether (others have switched to public transport or travel at different times).

Even if a completely disproportionate number of the missing car drivers have been John Lewis customers, and even if they spent a disproportionately high amount of money there, there is simply no way in which they could account for the reported weekly loss of sales of 5.5 per cent.

Something clearly reduced John Lewis’s sales in Oxford Street in late 2002 and during 2003, but, whatever it was, the congestion charge cannot have been a major factor in this.

Christiane Bielefeldt,

Visiting professor for strategic transport management,

Transport Research Institute,

Napier University

CAN Edinburgh really afford to make the same mistakes as we have here in London? The London congestion charge is causing substantial damage to the heart of the nation’s capital. I urge all in Edinburgh not to let the same happen to their great city.

That the congestion charge in its first year showed a profit at all was largely down to its success in fining the unsuspecting. Much of the insignificant profit came from fines.

At the entrances to the congestion zone there are signs advising you are entering the zone. There are no instructions on how or where to pay.

We still have visitors to the capital every day who do not know about the congestion charge, and if they do have no idea of how to pay it. Others arrive expecting to approach a toll booth if they are entering the zone.

Some find out too late that they are supposed to get on the phone and hand over their tax before 10pm on the day otherwise their charge has doubled to 10.

Much of the time these unsuspecting visitors can’t actually get through to pay. Even if that fault comes down to the authorities, the individual concerned still gets the fine.

Theatres, restaurants and shops are all reporting a downturn in trade since the introduction of the charge.

Despite protestations from Ken Livingstone, Transport for London and other groups responsible for its introduction that it is anything but the congestion charge responsible, the charge is the cause for the downturn. This can be proved simply by asking people who used to visit London for shopping, eating or a night out.

So many of them who no longer visit the capital city cite the hassle factor of paying the 5 as the final straw and the reason London is no longer a destination for them.

Why risk being criminalised for driving into central London when you can go somewhere else instead?

Personally, I live within the congestion charge zone. It is evident to me that fewer visitors are coming to the capital. No wonder it has been likened to a "Berlin Wall" dividing London across its middle.

Estimates vary as to how much damage this congestion tax has caused to central London but one commentator quoted 3billion per annum. Can Edinburgh really afford a similar burden?

John Clancy,

Guilford Street,


AS a resident of Fife I have to say that I am dismayed at the thought of travelling to Edinburgh from 2006 when congestion charging comes in.

Not only will I be asked to pay for taking my car into the city centre, I will be asked to pay a congestion charge to take it back across the bridge.

It seems to be overlooked or ignored that from 2006, the proposals for the Forth Road Bridge are to change from toll to a congestion charge, meaning that more can be charged at peak times.

This is intended to make you want to use public transport - which, as we all know, already carries a congestion charge with services costing more during peak hours. Public transport is already overcrowded and in my view is not going to get any better.

Will the roads be any less congested with congestion charging? No, because so many people who already use their car in the city will be exempt as residents.

What Edinburgh needs is cheaper public transport links and more of them. This is the only way to get people away from their car.

Ian McPherson,

Braemar Drive,


I LIVE at Kirkliston, having moved from Edinburgh seven years ago due to the Capital’s high house prices. I work in Edinburgh Park at the Gyle. I drive to work because we have a terrible bus service.

There is one bus in the morning that goes to Edinburgh Park but the time is not suitable for me starting work. There used to be two but First Bus took the service off. First is notorious for buses turning up late and not turning up at all.

Why should I pay congestion charges when I am not driving into the city centre?

Kirkliston is a part of Edinburgh, but we cannot get a decent and reliable service, the same as South Queensferry and other surrounding areas.

Also, my husband is a taxi driver working night shift. He has to drive to Longstone to pick up the taxi and he finishes in the early hours of the morning, so public transport is not an option for him.

This council is out of order by trying to push this congestion charge through.

I made sure we would get forms to vote against this, but thousands of people are not getting the chance to do this.

The council has caused the congestion in Edinburgh by closing roads and traffic calming measures.

Also, how can you compare Edinburgh to London when they have a far better public transport system than Edinburgh?

Mrs Anne McKearney,

Maitland Road,


THERE has been much said about the pros and cons of the council’s scandalous congestion scheme, but I would like to add a little more information that no one so far appears to have mentioned.

Our house is located within the outer cordon and outside the inner cordon, in the area the council has referred to as the doughnut.

On enquiring about various aspects of the scheme and aware that the council intends to allow Edinburgh residents living outside the outer cordon to be exempt from charge, I was informed that if we required to return home from work - or a doctor’s appointment, dentist, vet, shops, funerals, etc, or indeed return home for any reason during the council’s charging period - I would have to pay 2 per day to do so.

Therefore unless we pay the council’s extortionate charge of 2 per day we must remain outside the outer cordon 100 yards from home, until after the charging period has ended at 10am. I suppose sometimes, we could go in the other direction from the house and not need to cross the outer cordon to return - oh, I forgot about the council’s inner cordon: back to square one.

This council seems intent on attacking residents from every angle, with their multi-coloured roads, insane schemes that have caused more congestion than ever and Draconian parking enforcement, they have already contributed to making the city centre a no-go area for a lot of residents.

No prizes for guessing my vote then!

Ricky Lewis,

Burdiehouse Road,


I ATTENDED the recent congestion debate at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, and I left it appalled at the small-minded outlook of some of Edinburgh’s most privileged citizens.

Opposition to the charge seems founded almost exclusively on blinkered self-interest. For example, the affluent central zone residents who would prefer to jeopardise the entire scheme and all its benefits of reduced congestion, improved environment and better public transport (for those with and those without cars) - just because they resent paying 2 to return home before 6.30pm.

Clearly the idea of using what is acknowledged as the best bus service outside London has never even occurred to them.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city and if it is not to be destroyed by inexorable traffic growth we cannot allow such selfish attitudes to prevail.

Let’s focus on what is for the long-term benefit of all of us.

Maruska Greenwood,

Robb’s Loan,

Chesser, Edinburgh

Time to act for long-term future of our Capital city

IT appears to me the Evening News will not put across the points in favour of congestion charging without bias.

This bias was highlighted in the article "Opponents of charging vocal at EICC debate" (News, January 26) where plenty of column space was given to outline the concerns of people "lining up to oppose the plans" but only said that people in favour of charging (by your own estimate, at least half the audience) were capable only of "heckling".

There are plenty of sensible reasons why congestion charging would be positive for our Capital. The News seems to have forgotten that 42 per cent of Edinburgh residents have no access to a car. Surely their views should be taken into account?

Transport accounts for 23 per of carbon dioxide emissions, and unless we do something traffic volumes in Edinburgh are set to increase by 30 per cent by 2021. I own a car and I don’t want to have to change the way I live my life, but I am starting to believe the campaigners who say that we have to act.

Like most people, I know that I am lazy and I will never get round to changing my reliance on the car until schemes like congestion charging help me by giving me the financial incentive to switch to public transport.

As a resident I expect to benefit from quieter, safer streets, reduced congestion, fewer delays for buses and more investment in public transport.

I expect tourists and shoppers would prefer to visit our Capital if they were not choking on fumes and having to contend with busy streets.

Let’s all think about the long-term future of our Capital and give congestion charging a chance.

Claire Brenner,

Dalkieth Road, Edinburgh

Parking nightmare

CONGESTION charging will put more pressure on areas just outside the inner cordon, with those commuters trying to avoid the 2 daily charge.

In our area, around lnverleith and Warriston, we are subjected to the daily commuters who work in the large insurance offices dumping their vehicles in and around this residential area.

The Murrayfield/Ravelston area will also succumb to this parking nightmare. I hope the council has some credible plans on how to address these issues.

Simon Challoner,

Eildon Street, Edinburgh

Businesses will adapt

ONE of the more telling arguments against congestion charging is that it would be bad for business.

I remember this argument being used to oppose Greenways and the consequent reduction in parking spaces.

The reality of Greenways was that it became easier to visit the shops, as half-hour spaces were created.

The losses in places like Leith Walk were the all-day spaces, and these explained why some shopkeepers were opposed to Greenways - they used them to park their own vehicles, effectively blocking out their own customers!

Similarly with the congestion charge, many people who run businesses in the city centre have free parking spaces and can see an extra charge for themselves. But what about their customers and staff? Most of them will benefit from the charge with cleaner air and improvements to public transport.

I accept that there are going to be short-term reductions in retail takings, whilst people adjust to a new way of travelling. But what are the longer-term consequences of doing nothing?

Congestion and pollution will go on increasing, public transport will be more reliant on buses and will be slower and more expensive.

Scarce parking spaces will get more expensive, becoming in effect a toll, but without the benefits of the scheme on offer.

Arthur Homan-Elsy,

Deanburn Road, Linlithgow

Reminder to council

NO matter what the pros and cons of road tolls, I shall be voting against them. Why? Because I’m fed up with the council’s sleekitness.

Week after week in this paper we’ve seen them trying every trick they can think of to rig the referendum, even going so far as to load the question. This poll is our chance to show them we’ve had enough. Let’s vote ‘no’ - and remind them they exist to serve us, not we to serve them.

George Oboe,

Comely Bank Avenue, Edinburgh

Posters not persuasive

I AM appalled that someone has seen fit to adorn every second lampost in Edinburgh with yellow posters regarding congestion charging. This is nothing other than the visual pollution and defacement of our city by those pushing one particular point of view.

There should be no posters either for or against the charge - let people make up their own minds.

I suspect that rather than persuading people to vote for their stance the flyposters will find it will have quite the opposite effect.

Graeme Robertson,

Belgrave Terrace, Edinburgh

No relief for inner city

I AM feeling generous. I am giving one very small and very quiet cheer to Councillor Donald Anderson for admitting, at last, what most of us realised ages ago, that "there are areas [of parking restrictions] where we have not got it right" and where these are "too restrictive" (News, January 21).

We then read of proposed changes to be introduced within 18 months, including discounted parking for shoppers if a congestion charge is introduced.

There is no mention of any relief for resident citizens living within the inner cordon who will he penalised for daring to return between the hours of 7am and 6.30pm to the area where they live and for which they may well have paid for a resident’s parking permit.

Those living within the inner cordon should be clear about this. Possession of a resident’s parking permit will not give exemption from the proposed congestion charge. You have been warned.

David Findlay,

Howe Street, Edinburgh

Don't choke before vote

THOSE opposed to the congestion charge have been consistently unable to suggest an alternative solution to the jams and pollution blighting our city.

The current situation is only going to get worse if no action is taken. While the current proposal is not perfect, it’s the best and fairest solution available given current technology.

If the city rejects these proposals, no politician will have the courage to propose meaningful action for at least another five years, during which time our city will continue to choke.

I have confidence that Edinburgh voters will choose to tackle this blight on our fair city, rather than turn their backs on it: a yes vote is the only forward-thinking option.

Ian Sly,

Warrender Park Terrace, Edinburgh