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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 March 2006, 14:21 GMT
West: For whom the road tolls
Dave Harvey
Dave Harvey
The Politics Show West

Congestion charge warning sign
Congestion charge for Bristol

It is the oldest chestnut in the political book: Gridlock.

And the hottest potato on the political circuit: Toll Roads.

So why are Bristol's politicians backing congestion charges?

It seemed inconceivable, outrageous, extraordinary: a fiver to drive past the mother of Parliaments.

But Red Ken did it, and it famously made his political name. Businesses still grumble, but congestion charges are now seen to have saved London's streets.

Bristol has been talking about following suit for years, but now the talk has turned to action.

"The national scheme will start piloting in about two years, and we hope to be part of that," Cllr Barbara Janke (Lib Dem) told the Politics Show. "So it could be in about three years."

Cllr Janke, who leads Bristol City Council, was announcing the new Joint Transport Plan for the Greater Bristol area.

Essentially the old Avon area, this means four councils working together: South Gloucestershire, Bath & North East Somerset, North Somerset and Bristol.

For the first time since Avon was split up, they have worked up a joint solution to the traffic jams gripping the Bristol area.

There are ambitious plans for buses. A 54m bid for Bath & NE Somerset.

Another 42m for ten new "Showcase Bus Routes" in Bristol.

There are plans for more people walking and cycling, safer routes to get kids to schools.

But the political humdinger is slightly buried:

"1553 Questionnaires were returned, and 62% backed Option C". Not quite as dramatic as Red Ken Goes West - but that's what it means.

"Option C meant comprehensively improved bus networks, and a charge to drive on the most congested roads.

"And two thirds of the council's respondents backed it.

"Obviously this has to come with greatly improved public transport" said Cllr Janke.

"People tend to think they'll have to pay and queue, because there's no alternative, but we have to do something about congestion - and this is it."

Her pessimism about popular reaction was borne out by a phone poll on Points West.

Obviously unscientific, just a snapshot, but in one evening 3,000 people dialled our phone vote, on the simple question:

"Should there be congestion charging in Bristol?" 75% said no.

Will congestion charging be the making or the breaking of Bristol's Lib Dems?

We will find out soon enough.

The Politics Show

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