Will Bristol's citizens get to vote on congestion charge?
IT'S been about six weeks since the voters of Greater Manchester overwhelmingly rejected the plans to impose a congestion charge on motorists across their region, yet there's been very little comment from the architects of the proposed Bristol congestion charge in Bristol City Council and the West of England Partnership.
Most other regions considering the congestion charge such as the West Midlands, Reading, Cambridge and Durham have announced that they're abandoning their plans for charging, yet our local politicians at the Council House seem to be ploughing on regardless, flying in the face of both logic and the likely outcome of any referendum held in greater Bristol.
This begs the question, will we in Bristol be given the chance to vote on such a massive change to our daily lives?
Bristol City Council seems to have rejected the possibility of a referendum last year – so a democratic vote is clearly good enough for the citizens of Manchester and Edinburgh, but not for us in Bristol.
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If that's the case, then those councillors in favour of a congestion charge such as Mark Bradshaw and Helen Holland should remember that there are local elections this year – the ballot box could well scupper their pernicious plans whether they like it or not.
Making transport funding dependent on congestion charging is blackmail. It doesn't happen in Europe, they simply get on with providing decent public transport without resorting to bribing their citizens with their own money.
Here in Bristol, we've had next to no meaningful investment in our public transport infrastructure in a generation, resulting in an appalling, unappealing and prohibitively expensive service run purely for the benefit of its shareholders by First Group.
In Manchester, already benefiting from an extensive tram, rail and bus network, the proposed congestion charge would have brought a further 22 miles of tram lines, more buses and trains, a Bus Rapid Transit line, a fleet of yellow school buses and eight integrated transport interchanges.
In Bristol, our "improvements" (outlined on the West of England Partnership website) will consist of some vague promises about trains every half an hour, two new park and rides and a couple of Bus Rapid Transit lines, which are basically diesel buses with some body kit, run by the lamentable First Group.
Bearing in mind the dreadful state of Bristol's existing public transport, this is hardly inspiring or likely to provide a "viable alternative to the car", is it?
Congestion charging in Bristol will cost a fortune to implement, run and enforce, leaving precious little to improve our public transport.
Bristolian taxpayers will be forced to pay the resulting shortfall in funding as well as the punitive congestion charge itself. The only winners in a Bristol congestion charge will be whichever private company is chosen to run the scheme and First Group. There's a very simple way to relieve congestion in Bristol – improve public transport without resorting to bribery and stop reducing road capacity and introducing deliberate congestion-causing measures.
Bristol city councillors should abandon their ill-thought-out and unpopular plans for a congestion charge and get on with improving public transport – which is what we pay them for – otherwise many of them could find themselves joining the swelling ranks of the unemployed by the next election.
Steve Collins, Southville.