Thursday, 24 September 2009

Return of the Newt

The Daily Red Rag has published yet another article by the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone (why is the Inebriated Newt still given the oxygen of publicity?)

He uses this diatribe to broadcast his tired, mixed-up views of congestion charging and emissions control. In a predictable response to yesterday’s announcement from the present Mayor that the Western extension to the London Congestion Charge may not be scrapped any time soon, Livingstone argues that the zone should be expanded to include punitive charges for large vehicles. What he doesn’t argue of course, is for the zone to be extended North or East into the heartlands of his core voters.

The CC is all about reducing traffic levels; if it reduces emissions too, then that may be a good thing, but since London gets as much pollution from Rotterdam, Paris and Manchester, we needn't worry too much about a few Tonka toys dropping off Tamsin and Tarquin.

And unfortunately, the CC has completely failed to reduce traffic levels. Traffic levels are up and jams are worse than ever. I walk from Fleet St to Charing X every evening, and can get there quicker than any car or bus. However, this is not caused by volume of traffic, but poor management of the traffic that is there. Livingstone failed to introduce any legislation to prevent multiple holes being dug up in the same area. Livingstone ordered the installation of traffic lights every 100 yards on main roads to help pedestrians cross streets at any opportunity, and to frustrate motorists out of their cars (and for cyclists to ignore completely).

Unfortunately, like the Treasury’s addiction to using road tax and fuel duty to bail out every other government department, TfL is now dependent on whatever income it can get from road pricing. This means the CC is being used primarily as a revenue source for a quango, rather than as a means of alleviating traffic. TfL is short of cash because less people are working in London. Therefore fewer commuters are using the antiquated, unreliable tubes and buses, so TfL need to steal some money from elsewhere.

If we take a reductionist view of the Congestion Charge and it achieves it stated (original) aim, then less traffic will drive into London and therefore less money will flow into TfL’s coffers. This means that TfL needs to look for another source of revenue. Their current thinking is to maintain the Western Extension, which Ken famously instated against public will purely to upset the residents of Kensington and Chelsea. The fact that he killed off numerous businesses at the same time was less important than sticking two fingers up to the toffs in West London. In which case, let’s extend the CC across the whole of London and make it equally unfair for all. That will raise even more money, which can be invested in CrossRail and keeping the existing transport infrastructure going.

Or how about reducing the extortionate prices charged to travel on the tube? That would encourage people out of their cars, who reason that spending £8 a day to travel into London is only a bit more than £5.80 for a return ticket on a cramped, hot, unreliable train. Air-conditioning and listening to Radio 4 in private, versus cattle-transportation conditions and being forced to listen to someone’s Nokia playing the latest atonal catawauling from the Top 40? No contest.

And as for Livingstone: you lost – get over it and leave us alone.

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