Page last updated at 07:21 GMT, Friday, 27 July 2007 08:21 UK

Is the C-charge right for Manchester?

by Jacquie Williams
BBC News

Traffic on Oxford Road, Manchester
The congestion fees are to be used to improve public transport
The year is 2012 and commuting to Manchester city centre has never been easier.

"Pay-as-you-go" technology records motorists' movements as they ease smoothly across the city - in less than half the time it took back in the bad old days of 2007.

The money raised through the congestion charge has brought more trams, taking you to Rochdale, Oldham and even Ashton-under-Lyne - connections only dreamed of back in 2004.

There are hundreds of buses criss-crossing the city in dedicated lanes, whisking students, the elderly and sharp suited businessmen to their destinations.

More efficient

But will it really be like that?

Map of congestion zones
M60 Outer Ring: 2 to enter 7-9.30am and 1 to leave 4-6.30pm on weekdays
Intermediate ring: 1 to enter 7-9.30am and 1 to leave 4-6.30pm on weekdays
Location of intermediate ring to be determined
No charge 9.30am-4pm weekdays, or at weekends

Many of these plans will only happen if the projected levels of cash are raised through the scheme.

In other words, income from motorists paying to enter the zones will be ploughed back into providing more buses and extra tram lines.

Manchester is seeking 1bn from the government's Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) and plans to borrow a further 2bn, which will be repaid by income from the congestion fees.

One of the key clauses to get the agreement for the congestion charge is that public transport must be improved.

In London, money raised from when the scheme began in 2003 until the end of financial year in 2006 just about covered the start up costs. Transport for London said that about 70,000 fewer cars a day entered the zone last year due to the 8 toll and that 123m was generated for the city. That money is being used to improve bus services.

'Fewer accidents'

So when and how will Manchester see a benefit from the C-charge?

Professor Chris Nash, from the Institute of Transport Studies, believes in five years time with the introduction of a congestion charge there will be significantly less traffic.

"Faster journey times, an improved environment, fewer accidents on the roads and better road conditions for buses are all possible benefits," he added.

Traffic jam
Businesses say that congestion charging is a price worth paying

The London charge has been expensive to implement, but successful in cutting down the number of vehicles entering the capital. But they already had a long established tube, rail and bus network. What about Manchester?

"With improved bus services, which reduced congestion facilitates, plus the tram and train it has a good starting point," Professor Nash said.

Manchester's Chamber of Commerce surveyed its members and found that for many the current congestion problem was costing them money.

Just over half those who responded felt congestion charging was a price worth paying for
Angie Robinson, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Angie Robinson, chief executive of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said its survey had generated the most responses ever.

"Just over half those who responded felt congestion charging was a price worth paying for reduced congestion on the road if linked to guaranteed public transport improvements."

This, of course, means that the other half of businesses are against the charge, a statistic which emerged from AGMA's public opinion poll.

One vocal opponent has been Peel Holdings, owner of the Trafford Centre and Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

Its managing director Andrew Simpson has said the proposed charge was "of serious concern" to businesses and could drive away potential investors in the city.

There is a risk that some businesses, particularly in retail, may move out of the city to where they can avoid the charge but from Professor Nash's experience, most businesses will gain.

So what lessons can Manchester learn from other places that have the charge?

Professor Nash said: "Generally the experience of London, Stockholm, Oslo and Singapore has been positive, although all cities are different and each scheme needs to be tailored to individual circumstances.

"The Manchester scheme is complex, there are two rings of charges and two charge periods, but it should be fairer and more effective."

Roads less travelled?
27 Jul 07 |  Manchester
Vote D-day for C-charge proposals
27 Jul 07 |  Manchester
Authority says 'no' to road tolls
26 Jul 07 |  Manchester
Authority's support for c-charge
25 Jul 07 |  Manchester
Public 'back' congestion charge
20 Jul 07 |  Manchester
Businesses 'opposed' to c-charge
21 Jun 07 |  Manchester

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