Mayor won't rule out a 'congestion charge'
BRISTOL'S elected mayor George Ferguson says he would not rule out the introduction of a congestion charge in the city.
Speaking to The Post in his first interview of the new year, Mr Ferguson would not dismiss charging motorists to drive in to the centre of town as part of a "carrot and stick" approach to getting more people on to buses.
"It's not something that I've got into yet but I wouldn't rule it out," he said. "I would base a decision on whether or not it was practical. It's not on the immediate horizon but I don't rule anything out that makes this city work better, as well as healthier and safer."
He said the system would have to be more sophisticated than London's congestion charge – perhaps more like the timed, flexible system in operation in Singapore, where road use is charged at different rates according to when and where cars are used and congestion is worst.
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He said he would look to extend residents' parking schemes as part of the "essential" need to get more people on to buses.
Mr Ferguson has admitted that frontline services which help the young, elderly and infirm will not escape looming council cuts.
In a letter to the city's 70 councillors, the mayor said he had tried to protect the most vulnerable people as far as possible, making cuts from administration and reorganisation wherever possible.
But he says he has had little room for manoeuvre because of the severity of the cuts, which total more than £30 million, and the short time since he took office.
He added: "I propose having a much more fundamental review throughout the coming year."
Mr Ferguson says that he plans to raise council tax bills by just under two per cent – adding about £30 a year to an average council tax bill – which is less than the current rate of inflation.
Mr Ferguson says that if he did not raise the council tax, then he would have to make even more cuts next year, which he says would be "unacceptable". But he has promised to help 29,000 of the poorest council tax payers by meeting the cost of a discount scheme which the Government is no longer going to fund.
Mr Ferguson is promising to reduce the number of senior management posts to cut costs and does not plan to replace acting chief executive Graham Sims when he retires in the spring. Instead, he plans to appoint a chief operating officer on a three-year contract "preferably with a strong business background".
The mayor said he could lead a trade mission to China later in the year as part of his "principal job – to 'beat the drum' for Bristol", which would also see him champion the city's latest Green Capital bid.