Reading Simon Jenkins in the Sunday Times today I was pleased to find that he has modified his views about the London Congestion Charge. He said:
This week he [the London Mayor] extends his West End congestion charge deep into Tory Kensington and Chelsea and plans to up the daily rate to Â£25 for gas-guzzlers. While he has paid lip service to â€œconsultationâ€, he has disregarded virulent opposition and gone ahead anyway. Londonâ€™s congestion charge may have had a modest impact on congestion (chaotic road repairs render statistics meaningless) and has proved an expensive way of collecting taxes, but some version of it is being studied by every major world city. In some shape or form it is here for keeps.
Back in December (ST 3rd December) commenting on Sir Rod Eddingtonâ€™s Treasury transport review Jenkins said:
As always, the crucial innovation came from local government, in this case London. Breaking every promise about the congestion charge, Ken Livingstone is turning the levy into a flexible charge that can be aimed at gas-guzzlers and articulated lorries. Whitehall has been forced to admit it has worked. Eddington calculates that some Â£24 billion in revenue is available from this source, which can only be levied by local government. Here is scope for a revolution in local finance. An ideaâ€™s time has come.
Effectively he not only endorsed the London CC but even implied it might lead to a revolution in local government finance.
Why the change in tone you ask? Instead of golden goose suddenly the Congestion Charge is “an expensive way of collecting taxes”. Could it be that he got an e-mail from yours truly pointing out the real economics of the Congestion Charge? In December he acknowledged my e-mail saying:
Many thanks for your e-mail and your most pertinent remarks about the congestion charge. My point is merely that such charges can reduce mobility, as in my experience they have done. I was in favour of a supplementary licence system rather than anything that has to do with a computer!
It seems Jenkins thinks that the Congestion Charge is OK even if it generates no surplus but at least he is prepared to accept the facts and has modified his opinions and what he writes accordingly.
You might think from my coverage of the London Congestion Charge and the road pricing petition that I am violently against all forms of road pricing. Funnily enough I am not.
My real problem with the Congestion Charge is that it has been so badly run that TfL can take Â£8 a day off you and just waste it. If the CC or any other road pricing scheme produced significant net revenue that could be used to improve public transport, reduce fares or reduce taxes then I could be convinced. One problem with public transport is that often, like with the CC, costs are allowed to get totally out of control. If you look at TfL’s last Statement of Accounts you will find that last year its costs exceeded its income by Â£2.0 billion. Until these public bodies get smarter with cash they simply can’t be trusted to take more on.