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The MEN’s Congestion Charge debate

Jonathan Schofield and why we shouldn’t be having a transport referendum

Written by . Published on November 28th 2008.

The MEN’s Congestion Charge debate

The MEN held a congestion charge debate at their offices on Hardman Street on Wednesday. It was exactly the right thing to do. Sadly it achieved nothing.

This is all down to the nature of the argument. After experiencing a number of ‘meetings of minds’ on the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) bid, Confidential’s beginning to find them all a bit meaningless. 95% of those who come along already have their minds made up: all they want to do is jibber-jabber about their particular beef.

The panel consisted of Sir Richard Leese and Lis Phelan on the ‘Yes’ side and Graham Stringer and Sue Williams on the ‘No’ side. In other words and in order, the Leader of Manchester City Council, the Chair of the ‘Yes’ campaign and the MP for Blackley (and Confidential columnist) and the Leader of Trafford Council.

All the panellists were lucid and clear in their opinions whether pro or anti. It was impressive. To sum up: the first two said TIF is what Manchester needs, it will boost the economy and help the less well-off get the most from the city region. The second two said it would be terrible for the region, harm the economy and discriminate against the poor.

All well and good. But the floor of the debate was a bear pit. There were so many self-interest groups it resembled that skit in the Life of Brian about the various factions of the anti-Roman occupation movements. Some of the which seemed to have been thought up in the pub a few minutes before.

It needed a firm hand to control them and unfortunately Andy Crane, of Channel M, wasn’t the man to provide it. He let anybody interject whenever they felt like it. There was no structure to allow the key issues to be debated in turn.

The same topics kept coming up when Crane should have said: "We’ll have 15 minutes on buses, 15 minutes on rail, half an hour on the benefits or negative effects to lower income groups, half an hour on the effects on business. And nobody interrupts anybody or they're out."

There was one pro-campaigner who was a raving, frothing at the mouth loon: he was surely the last pissed up Rangers fan in town following May’s football funfair. He swore, interrupted and generally caused mayhem with the vigour of a docker filled with five pints of Stella. There was little sense to be gleaned from him.

Confidential has a theory.

It should never have got to this.

To a referendum that is. This process clearly shows the limits of this electoral technique.

This issue is too complex. The politicians have absolved responsibility. We vote them in so they can represent us, debate, mull over the issues and decide: especially on subjects as labyrinthine as the Transport Innovation Bid with its myriad clauses and sub-clauses. At the MEN debate there was an un-illuminating five minutes as the size of rolling stock of trains was picked apart.

Referenda are for straightforward yes and nos. If it were proposed that Greater Manchester have an elected mayor then a referendum would be perfect. An easy yay or nay on a relatively simple issue.

Confidential isn’t saying that the electorate is too stupid to understand the issues causing the polarisation over the TIF bid, just that the whole thing is based on conjecture, projections and the arcane ins and outs of infrastructure policy. It's certainly too complex for me to have a full overview.

The result is that when you turn up to debates such as this, idiots come along too. I would have preferred listening to the panel for a lot longer and listen to them debating, not listening as people shouted at them.

At the end things made less sense than before. The result is that we have to vote on this with the heart not the head. To me Manchester is best when it’s trying to push things forward. I’m voting yes. On Deansgate, by the way, the traffic was all snarled up.

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38 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

For saleNovember 28th 2008.

Ms G ,you can have thenm for 63 used water bottles and a free piggy back to work on wednesdays...x

samNovember 28th 2008.

Vote yes!

osama bin linerNovember 28th 2008.

Please please please vote yes.Packed public transport is good,we have to use less explosives to be cost effective during the credit crunch no?

Stephen HawkingNovember 28th 2008.

You are correct, that is not rocket science. But it has my vote.

special kNovember 28th 2008.

I agree with you and I feel really frustrated with it all too. I wont be voting yes - I am insensed that there are YES posters on the buses and people, sponsored by the bus companies handing out expensive campaign materials to promote the yes vote. Unlike London, we don't have any control over what we are charged on the buses - and of course its in their interest for us to vote yes, because they get more business - the difference is we have no say on what they charge - even though promotional materials say there'll be a cap on fares - the actual info with the voting papers makes no mention of that - and who trusts them to stick to it? My local fare went up from £2.80 to £3.30 in one go this summer - with no alternative. Apart from that I wouldnt dream of suggesting that my elderley mother get on a bus, the way they drive is insane and dangerous to passengers let alone pedestrians.I'd love it if we had a public transport system that was cheap and efficient and courteous - but with these private companies in charge thats never going to happen, because they are driven only by profit - its not a public service in Manchester.Thanks for the space to rant!!

Artie FufkinNovember 28th 2008.

Steveo, it's all very well hoping transport will improve this time (after all the other overruns etc) but what about the economy and what about the repayment of the loan?

Lord Levy Of CashpointNovember 28th 2008.

Quote from eddy rhead : ........."The 'general public' are too motivated by self interest to decide on things of great import without asking themselves 'Whats in it for me?"Good job politicians aren't in it for themselves isn't it?

SteveoNovember 28th 2008.

Guys - it has to be a yes. The local authority messed this up years ago when they ploughed money into extending the tram service (anyone who has driven to Harpurhey and seen the crashed 'spaceship' tram stop will know) then pulled the funding when they saw that there was a chance someone else would stump up the cash.The idea was always a good one - its just been managed really, really badly and we find ourselves in a dark place. Have faith that the public transport will improve. Have faith that it will be affordable. But be prepared to change your lifestyle.Most No voters asimply dont want to change their entrenched behaviour. They like their cars and convenience.If nothing else think about the environment. If they can be, people will be selfish. It's part of our makeup. Isn't it time we stopped blaming everyone else and start taking some responsibility for our actions?Vote yes - it's the only pro-active, future-thinking, positive step to make.

Regen08November 28th 2008.

Just to correct one of the previous contributors. Due to the limited, peak time, one-way nature of the charging system, only 1 in 10 will pay any kind of charge with only 1% estimated to pay the maximum charageble amount in any one day. The figure that has been plastered all over bill boards by the Trafford Centre-funded 'no' campaign is therefore, highly misleading as very few will in reality pay anthing approaching this amount. The benefits of a once-in-a-generation £3bn investment in public transport will far outweigh the impact of the limited, peak-time congestion charge that helps to part-fund these improvements. Good for commuters, good for business, good for job creation, good for the environment, good for motorists and good for Greater Manchester. If you care about your city, VOTE YES!

DaveNovember 28th 2008.

I like the idea in principle but it seems to entail giving stagecoach a load of money, in the hope they'll work in the interests of public transport users? There don't seem to be any guarantees about service improvements, or can anyone point me in the direction of said guarantees?

Ali McGowanNovember 28th 2008.

Choo choo. The extra train seats funded by TIF amount to a MASSIVE* 2,950 per rush hour [a 3 hour period it states]. Errmmm so that's only 1000 extra seats per hour. That's RUBBISH. *It's not massive, it's pathetic. It will barely deal with the current overcrowding, let alone help with all the extra people who choose to go by train once the charge comes in. This is where the TIF lets us all down. There are some good ideas and I catch the train daily. But the whole scheme is flawed, full of holes, too many unknowns, too many unanswered questions, too many hidden figures, not enough promises... and that's why I still say NO and have already voted NO. As a lover of public transport, it pained me to vote no, but I did... I don't want a 30 year legacy of more broken promises.

Alf TupperNovember 28th 2008.

Rex Knowledge,The last figures I saw show a gain of about 50,000 in Greater Manchester - The "problem" that Manchester faces is that less than 40% of the jobs in Manchester are filled by Mancs - The rest have to travel in and out. if they all choose the same time to travel you have some 160,000 wanting to come into the centre while 30 odd thousand are wanting to go out in the morning. Not only did the population fall but the job market changed - male employment fell while female increased, and many women do not feel safe on public transport after having the "security" of a car. Did the suits trying to sell the scheme choose the best transport options? I don't think they did.

Nick ListerNovember 28th 2008.

I don't think Peter's read the leaflet that comes with the ballot papers. Extra rail carriages will be funded by TIF over and above the extra carriages central government has already committed to.

BenNovember 28th 2008.

I give up! It is clear that unfortunately the NO vot will win because most people in Manchester can't see beyond the end of theri noses. "so Long Stink town Im off to London" where "public transport" isn't a joke!! manchester will never be an international city if it does not have a good transport Infrastructure. Oh and don't forget the environment! People who can justify needing a car for work shoould be given consessions or free use such as key workers. LAZY, Tories on the other hand should be rinsed until they have to sell their car and start walking to work!! If people really dont want to pay the congestion charge then they will find ways round it! Go to work ealier, leave earlier!In a Nut shell if MAnchester does not take this then it will remain a EXTREMELY fragmented city in terms of transport, THINK BIG!!!!!!!

Ken KidneystoneNovember 28th 2008.

Quote:..."THE DRIVERS of floats who ferried Britain's Olympic medalists on the London victory parade were all fined for failing to pay the congestion charge.The 12 lorries were all caught on the C-charge cameras and their drivers told to pay £120 each for not paying the £8 fee."............What joy!!!

Rex KnowledgeNovember 28th 2008.

That last fact is right Alf but then you have to consider that the population in Greater Manchester has risen in that time, the population change is due to the creation of council estates such as Langley, Hattersley and so on with a huge filling out of suburb areas such as those in much of Stockport.This has as Ricardo Leese pointed out meant that the main congestion is often in those suburb areas. When I was moving not so long ago, my wife fancied somewhere like Marple, then we discovered what the congestion is like in the borough. It's a)lunatic, b) horrible.

HyperopianNovember 28th 2008.

Where are the ballot papers!

Peter Roberts - Drivers' AllianceNovember 28th 2008.

To Jennie who is concerned about her train.Vote NO Jennie as the heavy rail (train) element of the public transport improvements are already funded and are not part of the TIF bid.If you need to take a tram to the airport and can't use the train, then maybe you should consider voting yes.There are no new buses from TIF funding, no new trains and no fare reductions.It is an apalling waste of taxpayers money and a debt which will last for 20 years. Not such a good idea in my opinion.

LauraNovember 28th 2008.

Voting YES will NOT improve bus services! The bus companies will only run services that are financially viable to them. If the service isn't there already, it means it's not financially viable - how will the TIF make any difference to this? IT WON'T!

Alf TupperNovember 28th 2008.

Man-Con quote:"On Deansgate, by the way, the traffic was all snarled up."............Twas ever so. I got out out of working out of Manchester city centre (Oldham Street) in 1975 - What the city planners have done since have only made it worse. BTW there was 100,000 more people living in Manchester back then.

GezzabelleNovember 28th 2008.

I am so bored of all of this. I think the plan is to get us all so bored with the questions that we can't be bothered to vote either way and they just decide to do it anyway. My personal view - as I might as well put my 2 pennies worth in - is that I live in Chorlton and drive into Piccadilly every day as I am a Sales Rep and need my car. If there is no traffic and I am driving into town late at night, it takes me about 10 minutes to get into town. In the morning, during the times that people will be charged, it takes me 20 minutes to get into Piccadilly. In my opinion, if it just takes me an extra 10 minutes during rush hour, I don't think that warrants a congestion charge, because there isn't that much congestion. If there was it would add at least half an hour onto my journey.

scoteeeNovember 28th 2008.

£1000 a year? I have an answer for that Ms Grace???.......hmmm but they wont accept the bottle tops!I think the transport solution is a bit messed up. For example; If readily identifiable commuters were able to perhaps claim back their charges based on their roles such as social workers, home help(as Emma states) .The “YES” campaigners may have got a surprise. Its not enough to say that we will all benefit without being completely specific and transparent. Who is “one in ten” anyway? If one can’t identify specifics then we are all going to get a “No”.I don’t think this will go through im afraid. The “YES” campaign has been a mess from start to finish and shouting and scream throwing leaflets at people in the street gets less and less convincing each time I see media references to the C charge.

William HillNovember 28th 2008.

You'll not need the extra NO votes Emma, theres plenty available.The Book is now open.NO Vote...... 50%- 60%........EVENS...........60%-70%........3/7 FAV........70% or above........2-1 ON YES VOTE 50%-60%.......2-1 ..........60%-70% .........5-1.............70% or Above..............10-1...............Roll up roll up, show me the monies.

emma graceNovember 28th 2008.

Yes, the person I know who will be affected in this way has worked it out and will be paying that much (they have had no confirmation yet from their work whether or not they will be subsidised). And even if they do, they are likely only to be reimbursed for the charges incurred on the home visits, and not for the trip to and from work in the car. (Bearing in mind they would not be coming into work in the car if they didn't need it for the visits!). That's just one example. And like I said, it's all very well and good for the Yes Camp to keep telling us that only one in ten will pay, but even if that's true, it's totally unfair to expect that one person in ten to find that sort of money out of their salaries. It's unfair and that's why I shall be voting no.

emma graceNovember 28th 2008.


jennieNovember 28th 2008.

I genuinely don't know which way to vote, and all the stuff I hear & read just makes it more confusing. On the one hand, I usually get the train into town, and although there are no improvements in my area, I hope after TIF, the trains may run a better service, and anyway the charge won't really affect me (selfish I know). However, on the other hand, my trains are late and crowded, the timetable is about to be changed with no consultation meaning I will either have to arrive at work 30 minutes early or 30 minutes late, and the fares go up in January. If I vote in the TIF, I will have no choice but to get the train however bad they are as I won't be able to afford the C Charge.

AnonymousNovember 28th 2008.

I genuinely do not know which way to vote. To begin with, as has been said previously, the No Campaign posters plastered around the Trafford Centre are misleading as no shopper would ever have to pay £1200 a year to get to the Trafford Centre. In the first instance, it doesnt open until 10am which is after peak-hours so unless you wanted to get there well before it opened then you wouldnt have to pay. I work at the Traff Centre and use public transport which is an absolute nightmare no matter what time of the day I get on the bus. I have had leaflets off the T.Centre pretty much pressuring us into voting NO which i think is a bit rich given that a lot of its workers have to use public transport to get there, and thus keep them in business. Isnt it in the Trafford Centre's interests to get MORE people there shopping, especially in this current economic climate, and so better public transport would be beneficial. The No campaign does not provide any alternatives.On the other hand, all this TIF propaganda that is floating around does not convince me to vote yes. Having visited the website to see what improvements would be made, there are a few examples of what routes would be improved, but not a full list. 125 miles of new cycle routes....but that is across the whole of G.Manchester. Divided up between each borough that isnt really that much is it? Given that the congestion charge in itself covers something like 80square miles. The private bus companies need to get their act together if excellent improvements are going to be made.I think the whole thing is a mess. The yes camp is aimed at people who use public transport, rather than trying to persuade people to get out of the comfort of their own cars, while the No camp is run by a bunch of selfish people who are only concerned about another 'tax' on drivers and not those who have to stand at freezing bus stops for an hour waiting for a bus which should be running every 20minutes, and when they do turn up, dont stop and drive past full.Having said everything, do I vote NO so the planners can go back to the drawing board and think up of a better plan? I think Michael West has the wrong attitude in saying that it would fail anyway. In that case, should I vote YES to give this a chance?

Neil ArmstrongNovember 28th 2008.

OMG its not rocket science.1. Make the bus lanes multi occupancy lanes.2. Put the traffic light sequences back to their correct timings, yes the ones that EASE congestion.3. Ban HGV's from the inner ring road. Create distribution depo's for goods to be delivered to. (Non profit, subsidised delivery service run by GREATER MANCHESTER TRANSPORT CORPORATION (GOODS)running LPG or electric delivery vans)4. Make Secure park and ride sites near all train and tram stops outside the city centre.5. Implement the metrolink extensions that are already planned and financed.6. Create a GREATER MANCHESTER TRANSPORT CORPORATION providing jobs and services for a non profit organisation run hydrogen cell, LPG or Electric vehicles.7. Introduce a £10 per week travel cardJob done!N.B.* Subsidies to come from Road tax already paid by all motorists but currently re-allocated by central government.*Introduce no unfair charges, tax's or fees.*No private companies to profit directly from travel plans, they may tender for routes, but GREATER MANCHESTER TRANSPORT CORPORATION will have first refusal.When do you want me to start?

Michael WestNovember 28th 2008.

Having posted my ballot form off - I think it was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make. I have never been a member of a court jury , but the complexities are very similar. I voted NO, not because I don't want improved public transport, but for the simple reason that the TIF would have failed anyway. Government bullying, a reliance on Metrolink to supply the backup of much needed public transport and hay brain schemes like the Oxford Road orbital were wishy washy to say the very least. A rethink is necessary, the plebiscite was bound to failure from its instigation and unfortunately cost a lot of money.

scoteeeNovember 28th 2008.

I have received three voting cards.I have lived at 3 addresses in the last 18 months ...? that was well thought out then!

Olga StrapondildoskiNovember 28th 2008.

Artie Fufkin i like the the sound of you big boy/ big girl.Do you want to come round my flat and drink vodka yes?We can have a traffic jam of our very own.Do you like double deckers my friend?

eddy rheadNovember 28th 2008.

"Confidential isn’t saying that the electorate is too stupid to understand the issues" After listening to some of the bafflingly ill informed, paranoid, ignorant rants coming from the NO camp i am strongly inclined to disagree. As Jonathan points out we, rightly or wrongly, pass over important decisions to elected officials in the vain hope they will 'do the right thing' for the good of the people that elected them. The 'general public' are too motivated by self interest to decide on things of great import without asking themselves 'Whats in it for me?' and for that reason too many people have let the finer details of TIF pass them by. Had the British government in the immediate post war period left it up to the public to vote for the introduction of the NHS and Welfare State through a referendum instead of just having the courage to do it, i'm sure Britain would be a very different place today.

Artie FufkinNovember 28th 2008.

I was at the MEN meeting, i was surprised that i appeared to be the only person who was just a bloke who had a jod. Eveyone else seemed to be part of one interest group or another. I recognised 2 stooges from the Yes campaign posters and most of the people who asked a question from the floor appear complete with pictures on various other websites.I'm even more convinced that 'no' is the way to go, it's clear many people have fallen for fibs and misleading facts.Th ultimate question is, you are being given £1.5 bn you have to take out a loan of £1.2 bn for which must be paid back with interest. THE QUESTION, do you really think the TIF thing is the best use of this money in order to improve travelling in Manchester. (bear in mind the hit it can have on the economy adn Unemployment)

HelenNovember 28th 2008.

I've never seen an issue where people have got more vicious. A collegaue came in and said she was voting yes and in her words, other colleagues "Looked at her like she threatened to eat her own baby". I'm a yes voter but I don't think yes will win I'm afraid, people are generally speaking too selfish and all want to use their cars in spite of the congestion and they don't wnat to pay for that 'priviledge'. I don't totally blame them though, public transport isn't great - for one thing you have to share it with the public, who are an unpredictable lot!

For SaleNovember 28th 2008.

Never be unsure again, vote Yes and No!!!2 extra ballot papers came to me in the post with different barcodes on. POA first to see will buy....;@)

emma graceNovember 28th 2008.

I'll take them! So that'll be 3 NO votes from me!!

scoteeeNovember 28th 2008.

I tell thee what was funny this morning tho!Just up from the Malmaisson Hotel there is a huge bill board with "VOTE NO" on it and there must have been around ten people passing by(off to work) with the billboard on their left! Immediately to their right however and right opposite the bill board is a 600x400 poster with two semi naked ladies opening a gift...not one head was looking at the billboard, Male nor Female!!!! maybe thats where this campaign went wrong...its not sexy enough!!!

emma graceNovember 28th 2008.

I agree with Helen, but I don't think it's fair to say that people who want to use their cars selfish. Some people have to use their cars for work and don't have a choice (social workers etc who need their cars for home visits and such). It's all very well and good saying that only 1 in 10 will pay, but that 1 person in 10 has to find an extra £1000 AT LEAST a year. Where on earth do they expect people to find that sort of money???

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