Page last updated at 23:48 GMT, Monday, 30 June 2008 00:48 UK

Manchester congestion charge: myth and reality

By Lewis Atter
Architect of the Manchester congestion charging plan

The UK government recently announced one of the most ambitious urban road-pricing schemes in the world, a congestion charging plan for the city of Manchester along with a 3bn funding package to help improve public transport in and around the city.

Traffic in Manchester
Driving during the rush hour will become more expensive

The announcement has started a public debate that will certainly continue for some time.

And in September, 10 Manchester councils will have to vote on the plans. If seven of them say yes, the scheme will go ahead.

While the debate goes on let me try and explain the rationale behind the scheme.

Since the announcement, local and national media have focused on the introduction of the charge, which is due to take effect in 2013.

However, the charge itself is only a small part of a whole package designed to ensure Manchester's economy will grow further.

At the same time it aims to tackle the infrastructure, an social and environmental problems that accompany that growth.

It really is a blueprint for the future and should be seen as a concept that can be adopted by other cities around the world facing similar challenges.

Massive investment

When we designed the scheme we tried to answer two main questions.

First, what sort of infrastructure does Manchester need in order to continue to grow, to attract businesses and to create more jobs, while at the same time ensuring the city remains an attractive place to live and work?

Second, how to pay for the investments needed?

From the outset it was clear that the growing congestion problem in and around Manchester is both a sign of the city's success and a threat to its further growth.

We therefore asked ourselves how long will it take to kill Manchester, if we see congestion as an illness.

And we asked, when will congestion actually start to constrain the growth of the city's economy?

We calculated that effective public transport would create more than 200.000 jobs in Manchester by 2021, whereas failing to relieve congestion would reduce this number by 30,000 because some workers - and eventually jobs - would go somewhere else.

We therefore concluded that in order to realise Manchester's growth potential the city's transport infrastructure would need to be modernised.

As part of this process the city would need to significantly reduce congestion. Manchester would need a modern tram system, faster commuter trains and above all fewer cars.

In short, the city would need massive investments into its transport system.

Finding the cash

The next question was how to finance such a large infrastructure project.


It was obvious that the UK government would not have all the money to pay for such a large scale project.

However, in 2004 it had created the Transport Innovation Fund.

The fund promises support to innovative transport ideas designed to relieve congestion in urban areas. And it requires a commitment to reduce congestion.

So we came up with the following plan. Manchester would apply for a big chunk of money out of the government's Transport Innovation Fund and would ask to borrow the rest of the capital against its future congestion charging revenues.

Next generation

A few more words about the congestion charge.

Only two other cities in Europe run comparable schemes - London and Sweden's capital Stockholm.

I have come to call London's system first generation and Stockholm's second generation.

What Manchester would get is a third generation urban road pricing scheme, much more advanced and sophisticated than those of its predecessors.

Let me explain why.

London was the first big city in Europe to introduce a congestion charge.

Every driver that enters the relatively small charged area in the city centre between 7am and 6pm pays a flat charge of 8.

The money is collected with inefficient technology and actually does not relieve much of the congestion that continues to be a problem for much of London.

In Stockholm the charged area encompasses the entire city centre. The amount of tax payable depends on what time of the day motorists enter or exit the area.

Between 7.30 and 8.30am for example they will pay about 2 Euro, after 9am only half that amount. The maximum amount a motorist will pay per day is 6.50 Euro.

Stockholm also uses more advanced technology to collect the charge.

Unmanned electronic control points at all entrances to the charged area register the vehicles. The charge will be applied on both entry and exit and must be paid within 14 days of passage of a control point.

Most drivers in Stockholm have equipped their cars with a transponder for easy payment and the charge will be directly debited to their account.

Charges applied

The Stockholm charge, introduced in August 2007 after a 7 month trial period, has successfully reduced traffic, CO2 emissions and waiting times during rush hour.

Whereas much controversy surrounded the introduction of the scheme, public support has grown steadily since.

Manchester's charging area will consist of two huge cordons, one just inside the M60 orbital route and the second roughly around the inner ring road.

Charges would apply only from 7 to 9.30am for those driving towards the city centre, and from 4 to 6.30pm for those driving outwards.

Drivers will pay 2 for crossing the outer ring in the morning, and a further 1 for crossing the inner ring.

Outward peak-time journeys will cost 1 for passing the inner ring and 1 for passing the outer ring.

Charges would be collected with the help of a GPS "tag and beacon" system.

Drivers will stick electronic tags on their windows and congestion charge bills, payable by direct debit, would reach them at the end of the month, much like a mobile phone bill.

Hugh potential

Most important, Manchester will have five years to get used to the idea because the charging will only begin in 2013.

By that time the city will see public transport steadily improving because most of the 3bn will be invested before that on projects such as extending the Metrolink tram network.

Introducing a modern road-pricing scheme clearly poses a number of significant political, economic and social challenges.

We have tried to put together a package that will rise to these challenges and unlock Manchester's huge potential for the future.

Lewis Atter is the head of KPMG's global transport advisory group.


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