Rights and wrongs of city's congestion charging plans

Share this article


Vote Yes: 2 will be a small price to pay to make Edinburgh a cleaner and greener city


NOT one rat run, not one shop out of business, congestion down by 30 per cent, traffic fumes down by 20 per cent, road accidents down and public transport massively improved. At the same time, the centre of the city transformed with clearer, cleaner streets. Congestion reduced in the zone, around the zone and outside the zone.

This is a hard fact in London, thanks to congestion charging. It is not a projection or a flimsy fact skimmed from the internet. No-one of any significance in London is advocating the removal of the scheme. Even Ken Livingstone’s Tory hairdresser now says it is the "biggest improvement" to her quality of life since she divorced her husband.

These improvements and more are simply a vote away in Edinburgh. In Edinburgh’s first-ever referendum, people can vote for 760 million of transport improvements and make a difference for businesses, the environment and all our lives.

In Edinburgh, a new car comes on to the streets every two hours. Traffic has grown by 60 per cent in the past 20 years and congestion will double by 2015. Streets in the city built for a horse and cart are struggling to cope with the volume of extra traffic. It is slowing up your journeys, costing business, holding up deliveries, delaying bus users and spoiling our environment.

Edinburgh has two choices. We can move with the pack, wait until congestion is so bad that the public outcry forces politicians to act. Or we can vote for transport improvements that would normally take 30 years to provide being provided in less than a decade.

Everyone will benefit. Car drivers will enjoy school holiday levels of traffic and journey times. Residents outside Edinburgh will see transport improvements and bus services that will never be provided any other way.

Those who choose to use the even better public transport system will enjoy quicker and easier journeys (bus delays are down 60 per cent in London). There will be extra bus services and money raised would also pay for a third tram line.

When you walk, the streets will be more pleasant and you will breathe cleaner air. With these proposals, Edinburgh will be the first UK city to have 20mph zones in all residential areas. Already, for the first time ever, we have achieved zero child fatalities in the past two years - 20mph limits in all areas will ensure that we can make our streets even safer.

If you do need to drive, dealing with the congestion charge will be hassle-free. You will never pay more than once a day (and not at weekends), it costs 2 and you only pay driving inbound.

We can succeed. We have the strongest city economy in the UK. We have a quality of life second to none but we need to do more. That is why people from all parties and more are campaigning to say "Yes to Edinburgh".

Much of the opposition is hysterical. The usual suspects parade out to oppose change and, significantly, they offer no alternative.

Streets being championed by some opponents, which could potentially see a tiny increase (0.2 per cent!) in traffic, need not be worried. Less traffic coming into and around the city will mean less traffic everywhere.

We will avoid any potential rat-running with traffic calming measures. Without congestion charging, these streets and the whole city will be packed to capacity anyway, as traffic continues to spiral out of control.

I do accept that some, most notably city retailers, are genuinely afraid of such change. We will work with them to prevent any potential impact. Shoppers make only a modest contribution to congestion and we will offer a reduction in parking charges so shoppers will not pay more. It is also worth remembering there will be no charge at weekends when many shoppers are in town.

The city’s transport is good enough to offer an attractive alternative for car users. We will have spent 150 million on transport by 2006. There are 25 per cent more people using Lothian Buses (owned by the council) than three years ago. In London, people switched overnight from their cars straight to buses - even though they had the choice of the underground and trains. In Edinburgh, people will do the same as there will be extra bus services the week before charging comes in.

This is about a charge equivalent to the current cost of one hour’s parking in the city centre. It will improve journey times and allow us to spend time either at work or with our families, rather than stuck in increasingly congested traffic. It is a very small price to pay for a better city.

Vote "yes" in Edinburgh’s transport referendum.

• Councillor Donald Anderson is the leader of the City of Edinburgh Council


Vote No: This damaging pig’s ear of a scheme will not reduce traffic or improve our capital


NO SINGLE, co-ordinated voice has dominated the campaign for a "no" vote. This is a significant strength: retailers, businesses, concerned citizens and political groups have all made different points about the negative impacts of the congestion charging proposal. Unlike the "vote yes" lobby, which has concentrated on untrue generalisations, "vote no" campaigners have addressed the reality, and detail, of implementing Edinburgh’s particular toll scheme.

City-centre retailers, large and small, are already under threat from out-of-town shopping centres, many of which can be accessed by Edinburgh residents without crossing any cordon. These retailers, on whom the economic health of Edinburgh as a world-class capital depends, are rightly fearful: they face a very uneven playing field. There are no benefits for them: evidence at last May’s public inquiry demonstrated that neither traffic levels nor air quality will improve in the city centre. There will be an increase in the number of traffic movements and a worsening of nitrogen dioxide emissions.

Edinburgh Communities Against Congestion Charging (ECACC) has put the case on behalf of the city’s residential suburbs. Neil Johnstone, the council’s traffic flow witness, agreed at the public inquiry that "cars do not disappear - what we are doing is re-distributing traffic and spreading the load". The load is being spread to the "doughnut" between the two cordons, where significant traffic increases are forecast. In essence, cars are being displaced both from the city centre and the city bypass, as Edinburgh residents who currently use the bypass for local journeys will revert to using residential streets in the "doughnut".

The vast majority of Edinburgh’s schools lie between the two cordons. An 8 per cent increase in traffic on Ferry Road, already a busy artery, represents a significant worsening of air quality and accident risk for the 22 schools within half a mile of it. On Calder Road, 11 schools are in the same position; this pattern is repeated across the city.

Successful Safer Routes to School projects, which promote walking and cycling to school and try to change the travel habits of the next generation, will be seriously undermined. Sustrans, the national body which oversees Safer Routes to Schools projects, has yet to properly explain its support for a scheme which will increase traffic around schools.

"Vote yes" campaigners cite the London experience and the public inquiry findings in their defence. But the single-cordon London experience is not the same as the two-cordon, double-noose effect facing Edinburgh. It is significant that the (council-appointed) Reporters at the public inquiry concluded "the nature of the two-cordon scheme would mean little total reduction in car travel".

Confusingly, we are being asked to vote on the council’s "preferred transport strategy", and not on congestion charging alone. Various transport "goodies" are on offer - but there are no guarantees these will be delivered. As Ken Livingstone surveyed the financial fall-out of far less-than-expected income from his London scheme, he warned Edinburgh: "Don’t do it for the money."

The lead argument of the Liberal Democrats has been that significant transport improvements should be in place prior to congestion charging. However, the underlying contradiction of charging - that Edinburgh’s political leaders need cars to keep coming into the city to raise revenue - explains why cart is being put before horse.

The "vote yes" campaign has attempted to crudely polarise the debate. But the Edinburgh referendum is not just about being pro- or anti-car, or the pound in people’s pockets, or political orientation, or principles. The referendum is about the deeply-flawed scheme we have in front of us. Edinburgh citizens, whether voting "yes" or "no", have been badly let down by this disastrous proposal. This scheme is a wolf dressed up in "cleaner, greener" sheep’s clothing. Disappointingly, "vote yes" campaigners (many belonging to sustainable transport groups funded by central and local government) appear to have been consumed by the wolf.

In reality, we face increased traffic in residential areas, higher costs to the NHS, public services and employers, and increased pollution. Financially, the charge hits hardest those who can least afford to pay.

Ultimately, voters need to address the specifics of this scheme - which is neither cleaner nor greener - not the principles which lie behind it. Many "vote no" campaigners are acting more in sorrow than in anger, appalled that local political leaders can bring forward such a damaging pig’s ear of a congestion charging scheme.

• Tina Woolnough is a founder member of ECACC, an apolitical umbrella group acting on behalf of a number of Edinburgh communities. ECACC is not pro-car.


Does Donald Anderson make a persuasive case for road charging - or do you think Tina Woolnough is right to say the scheme is flawed?

E-mail: congestiondebate@scotsman.com

Post: Letters, The Scotsman, 108 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh, EH8 8AS.


A selection of readers’ questions, sent by e-mail, have been put to our two protagonists. We will publish a selection of questions and answers in the paper next week - and e-mail replies to the individual questioners.

Don't harm carers

I live in Dewartown, south of Dalkeith. No buses come through the village; I have an option to walk about three-quarters of a mile along an unlit pavement where I can catch the Humbie to Edinburgh bus - there are about four in a day. My mother lives in Marionville, Edinburgh, and is housebound. I have constantly tried to get her a carers’ allowance, without success, because she will not admit she needs help. She has no home help and is unable to get down two steps at the front of the house, never mind walk the small distance to the newsagent for daily provisions.

I therefore have to come into Edinburgh at least twice a week to do her shopping, cleaning, washing and check she’s OK. Even if I were to be able to get into Edinburgh by bus, there are no shops near my mother’s in which I could do her weekly shop. She has been waiting over a year for double hip and double knee replacements. The longer she waits, the worse she gets. Another six months and she will be too frail to be able to go through an operation. I do not think carers like myself, who are not going into the centre of town, should have to pay congestion charges.

RUTH ARMSTRONG Dewartown, Midlothian

Thin out traffic

Yes to congestion charging if it thins out the traffic in the city centre.

IAN ARMSTRONG Maputo, Mozambique (normally Slateford Road, Edinburgh)

Spin turns me off

As an Edinburgh resident who travels daily throughout the city, I can see the need for congestion charges, and would be in favour of them if it were not for the fact I do not believe the funds raised will be used to improve existing public transport.

So many politicians put "spin" on truth and I feel, while fees may be shown to be used fully to make improvements, other transport budgets would be cut, in effect making charges just another tax on the motorist. The reason I will be voting against the charges is, like many people, I no longer believe anything politicians at any level tell me.

RON PICKLES Little France, Edinburgh

Roads not that bad

Traffic in Edinburgh is not that much of a problem and the council should have been working for years to keep the flow of traffic moving. Instead, it has listened to trendy "road planners" and ended up with a problem at peak times.

Every time I come into the centre of Edinburgh, the madness of the traffic systems leads me to believe they are designed to cause congestion and talk up the charging argument. The council would do better to look at its overall planning policy and address issues such as Sheriffhall, which is a disgrace. The queue locals and visitors face as their welcome to the city says we are a laughing stock.

JIM McGREGOR Dalkeith, Midlothian

Concessions will go

I will not vote for the congestion charges, no matter what concessions are given now. Once the congestion charge is in place, the concessions will be removed one by one.


Menace of the lights

Much of the congestion is being caused by the sequencing of traffic lights to actually cause congestion. Much would be overcome if traffic lights were removed, as they cause traffic to bunch. Ever tried getting out of a side street between two sets of traffic lights?

The congestion charge is simply another Labour racket to fleece the motorist of every penny they can get. The unrestricted behaviour of private traffic wardens gives a pointer to what might happen with congestion charging. For certain, it will not be long before the 2 charge is raised to 5.

BOB COTTON Edinburgh

School run trouble

No charge should be introduced until a regular, reliable public transport system is already up and running.

Even then, there should be no districts given dispensation, such as Balerno, Currie etc, as their 4x4 school runs into George Watson’s and other schools are part of the cause of morning congestion. Also, car club users should not be exempt as they contribute to congestion as much as other users and may have only one occupant.

As for cyclists, they never obey the Highway Code anyway, so there’s no point including them in any restrictions.

ROBIN IAN MCEWAN University of Edinburgh

Another unfair tax

No to the congestion charge. I live in the Borders and work in Edinburgh. My car is what enables me to work the odd hours I do; even an office job is seldom nine to five. The congestion tax is simply another unfair tax. Planning for traffic flows is how to manage a traffic system, not pricing out those least able to afford the additional costs.

STEPHEN M Galashiels

Outer cordon wrong

I disagree strongly with the outer cordon - if this was really about congestion charging in the city centre, that’s where the cordon should be. I live in Edinburgh but if I decide to shop in Livingston and am back before 10am, I will pay 2 for the privilege. People living in Kirkliston don’t pay a penny. I would vote for this measure if it was an inner cordon only.

PATRICIA SMITH Westburn Village, Edinburgh

South says no

We, here in the south of Edinburgh, are very much opposed to the congestion charge.

JACKIE and DAVID NEISH Burdiehouse, Edinburgh

Killing Edinburgh

In my view, congestion charges (another tax on drivers) will help to kill Edinburgh a little (or possibly a lot) more.

Most people cannot afford extra charges. We use cars because we need to get around, and public transport (in my case, non-existent) does not provide that need. This is especially the case for the elderly and those with families. Have you tried getting on a bus lately with two or more young children, or tried carrying shopping when you are a little frail?

Edinburgh is a beautiful city but take away some of the shops and people will not come just to look at the city - if they have to pay, they will go to Glasgow instead.

I don’t live in Edinburgh so have to travel in to shop. I am a new pensioner, have a daughter with five young children, and, having run my own shop which was killed off by a greedy council, I know what I am talking about.


Vote of conscience

Vote "yes". The current proposal may be a bit flawed in theory and perhaps slightly unfair, but so is London’s, and that works.

The people who vote "no" are doing so out of narrow-minded self-interest (which drives a lot of Scottish politics these days). People should quit complaining and vote, not because they don’t fancy paying more for (or sacrificing) their one-car, one-person luxury trip to work. The charge is supposed to make life unpleasant for car users - that’s why it works. I will vote yes and I encourage everyone with a conscience to do the same.

ALASTAIR CAMERON West End, Edinburgh

Parking cost enough

Edinburgh does not need to be charging 2 to enter the city. Parking charges are dear enough. As a blue badge holder, it means extra money for using a car to get to work.


Good for Fife

As a Fifer, I wonder if the Edinburgh congestion charge isn’t good for our shops. Won’t it encourage people to shop closer to home? I welcome it.

BILL MAIR Hill Street, Dysart

Time for action

I am in full support of congestion charging. It is time something was done to combat the overcrowded roads leading into the city. The problem is the upgrading the council is doing within the city. Will this help? Ask people in Dunbar, North Berwick, Livingston etc. It is in rural areas where the council is trying get people out of cars and into buses and trains. It is from rural areas that the money will come, not the city, yet we see the city council ploughing money into its own transport system. The money will be paid by people from East, West and Midlothian, the Borders and Fife, so it is in these areas money should be spent, not the city.

The city already has a superb transport system; improving it will not help rural commuters. The money should be spent in the Lothians, Borders and Fife to upgrade their transport system so people have a real alternative to the car.

DAN MCLEAN North Berwick

Historic problem

I am against the outer cordon. Perhaps the inner one is needed, but the historical road layout makes this a problem.

I am against people living outside the zone being exempted. What’s the point? Edinburgh needs a transport system; it only has a bus system.

KEITH LUMSDAINE Peebles (formerly of Edinburgh)

Business disgrace

My vote will be "no". Change the city-centre cordon to cover the true city centre (ie, Royal Mile to George Street) and I might change my mind, but to widen the inner cordon just to catch Edinburgh’s big businesses is an absolute disgrace.

I challenge the planners to say that’s not the reason for the cordon. I don’t know anybody who is going to vote "yes".


London disaster

As someone living with the consequences of London congestion charging (I work in London much of the time and keep a second home here), I firmly believe it has been and will continue to be a bane, and unmitigated disaster, despite the media reports.

The only apparent solid reason for the imposition of the charge is increasing revenues, and even this Draconian and silly measure has failed miserably. As a consequence, now the "charge zone" in London is being expanded, with congestion charges being raised. Will that fill the coffers? I seriously doubt it. It will reduce the attractiveness of London.

Other effects, all of which can be anticipated in Edinburgh - traffic continuing to crawl in key areas as before; availability of parking in the periphery of the congestion zone a major problem; a marked reduction in retail and business within the charge zone; huge upfront investment in technology, which will take years to pay for.

There are better ways to reduce congestion, and raise revenue. A congestion charge isn’t the way.

A PETERSON Edinburgh & London

Suffering motorists

As a motorist, I am already overtaxed and overcharged and view congestion charging as just another method of extracting money from the long-suffering car owner. Where would it be introduced after Edinburgh? We would undoubtedly then see it elsewhere.

SANDY BARNETT Newburgh, Fife

A good idea if ...

I think a charge of 2 is a good idea, providing it is spent on improving public transport infrastructure and services. I reside in the Borders and it’s a hellish journey into/out of Edinburgh of at least 1 hour 45 minutes by bus, instead of around 55 minutes by car. Despite this, I use the bus for two return journeys per week, mainly because there’s no parking at my Edinburgh destination on those days. I’d be happier to park the car in a safe and accessible location on the outskirts and get the bus in, however, I’ve not found a place which is both safe and accessible and where I can be sure that I’ll be able to park.

On other days, I’d be happy to pay a 2 charge knowing I’ll be able to park, or when I have to have the car, for example, to take my disabled father around museums and galleries, or to collect bulky or heavy items from shops.


Just a revenue-raiser

It’s very simple. This is nothing to do with reducing congestion through charging - it’s to do with revenue-raising. I travel to London frequently and all that happens in the areas covered by the charge is people "slip in" before charging starts and leave after it ends. You just change the time of day the congestion arises. Don’t forget how much car owners and users contribute to the local economy - will the promised improvements in public transport produce more jobs than those lost in garages, petrol stations, car retail outlets and all the businesses which provide services to them? Will the new public transport initiatives have more success than the "express" busway on the west side of the city at a reported cost of 10m, when the roads are more pot-holed than ever? Congestion in Edinburgh is as a result of all of the ongoing restrictions to benefit the minority.

Allow traffic to move freely in enough lanes and congestion other than in very isolated spots will be significantly reduced. As you might have guessed, I’m a No.


Nurse says no

There should not be congestion charges. I am an essential car user (a community nurse) and I’m expected to pay for the privilege of working. It’s ridiculous.



Traffic, especially at peak times, should be reduced but the proposed congestion charging is like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Instead, we should increase parking charges to catch the commuters, improve public transport (trains, buses, trams), improve park and ride - especially at the key points such as Forth Road Bridge, A8 approach, A1 approach.

Consider making local bus traffic free. These could be introduced immediately without too much capital investment. If there was a 30-minute journey time from Glasgow to Edinburgh, this would reduce road traffic considerably and tie the two cities together. Let’s go for simple solutions, not highly technical ones.

BRIAN McCROW Portobello

Simple words

I don’t agree with this whole concept - it’s rubbish. I am already paying for parking permits and now they are asking for more. In simple words, I don’t like this idea.


Expensive Edinburgh

I vote against it. It will drive away small and new businesses in the city centre and add to yet another expensive reason, among the unobtainable house prices, to why not to stay in Edinburgh.


We're taxed enough

I strongly disagree with the congestion charge. I feel that motorists are taxed and penalised quite enough without another charge being imposed.

ISOBEL DOUGLAS Tranent, East Lothian

Outer ring unfair

I think that an inner ring is fair enough. It is probably a good idea to try and cut down on traffic in the centre of the city. If you live in the suburbs, or Fife, West Lothian or East Lothian, it is easy to get public transport right into the centre. However, an outer ring is grossly unfair. So many people from outside Edinburgh, as in my case, have relatives and close family in the city. Many have to travel in for work, hospital appointments or even to visit hospitals and there is not the same level of public transport available if you aren’t travelling into the city centre.


Plan is flawed

I agree with the concept of congestion reducing measures, and support better public transport but I think that the proposal floated is the incorrect way to deal with the problem. The retailers’ group who propose only rush-hour charging is a good one, the concept of having reduced charges for multiple occupancy is a good one, but I also think people who live inside the zones are under-represented in the debate.

I live at the bottom of Dundas Street and if I visit my girlfriend in Leith in the evening and drive home in the morning, I have to pay 2 to return to my house. Surely having to pay to return to your own residence is a scandal? I already pay to park my car, surely I should not have to pay to return to the same parking space? To get to her flat would involve at least two buses or a very long walk. I work hard and have little time to waste in the evenings, so would doubtless end up paying the charge a few times a week. I think it’s pretty outrageous to have to pay money to return home.

FRASER MCKAY Dundas Street, Edinburgh

This is not London

We do not have a real congestion problem. The well-aired disadvantages far outweigh any perceived advantages. Edinburgh is not and never will be London.

NEIL WATERMAN Craiglockhart, Edinburgh

Get rid of congestion

Should Edinburgh have a 2 congestion charge? This is the wrong question and all the media coverage has focused on the 2 charge. If you have a survey that says "should we get rid of congestion in Edinburgh?", you will get people voting yes - but the question "Should Edinburgh have a 2 congestion charge?" is designed to get people saying no.

We need people to understand the issue is part of a complete proposal and the 2 charge is part of that (not just a stand-alone tax) before people can actually make up their minds with any real accuracy.

Personally I want to see the investment but I want the government to pay for it out of the already high taxes that we pay! Where is the option in the ballot paper for my friends and relatives to vote for that option? Sadly I can’t vote in the referendum as I was fed up with the traffic congestion on my daily commute so I sold my West End flat and moved out of Edinburgh. Almost ironic, really!


Not a big problem

Apart from a very few main roads into the city from outside, Edinburgh does not have a problem with congestion at all like those suffered by the other major cities in the UK.

I laugh when my dad becomes impatient in a five-car queue at traffic lights! Congestion charges work best for cities where a lot of people drive from suburbs into a central area for work. That’s simply not the case in Edinburgh - a lot of the congestion is destined for workplaces outside the city centre, like South Gyle. A congestion charge is not the way to reduce this traffic.

PHILIP WILLIAMS Inverleith, Edinburgh

• Thank you for all your correspondence. More will be published tomorrow and every day next week as the congestion charging debate continues.