In 2006, Councillor Alistair Dow (Lib Dem, Selly Oak) wrote in the preface to his report on Traffic Management to Birmingham City Council that ‘Congestion is one of the greatest challenges facing Birmingham today and tackling it is a priority for our residents’.
This statement reflects the depth to which congestion affects all of our lives, whether cyclists, walkers, car, van or lorry drivers; congestion impacts on us when doing the school run, delivering to our customers, making it to meetings, getting to work and doing the shopping. When at its best it is endurable, and when at its worst it can turn what should be a relatively short journey into a 4hr claustrophobic nightmare of a car journey. Congestion causes increased pollution from cars ticking over while standing still; they not only emit more carbon dioxide while doing this, but also particulates that affect our health. Congestion also causes considerable economic problems for Birmingham; it is estimated that it costs the West Midlands alone £2.5billion a year.
The problem isn’t likely to go away anytime soon either, as a recent report1 into the issue by ‘West Midlands Metropolitan Authorities’ (WMMA) and the ‘Passenger Transport Authority’ (PTA) points out: ‘If action is not taken congestion across the area will grow by nearly a quarter (22 per cent) on current levels by 2021 with West Midlands roads filled by an extra 469,000 journeys each day’.
Luckily the aforementioned report by the WMMA and the PTA suggest a solution: ‘a combination of substantial public transport investment together with road charging could reduce the number of vehicle trips on West Midlands roads by 180,000 per day’.
But what would this solution mean to our everyday lives? Realistic answers are:
•    Faster traffic speeds for those that still need to drive
•    Reduced traffic and congestion
•    Faster bus services
•    Improvements to our public and road transport infrastructure, including;
•    Investment in commuter rail services
•    Midland Metro
•    Park and Ride schemes
•    Enhanced bus networks
•    Highway improvements, amongst other priorities
•    Less through-traffic on the streets where we live
•    Less pollution, both particulates and CO2
So why aren’t we all beating a path to the government to tell them that we want congestion charging, along with the increased investment in public transport and road infrastructure? In fact why did almost 2 million people sign a petition against road pricing in Britain?
Peter Roberts, the Account Manager from Telford who started the petition, said ‘It is a tax too far that will be put on the people without the backing of them. It is a stealth tax. The London system has generated £900 million and this is what the Government is looking to extend – the money that can be made from congestion charging. Also, none of it will go back into public transport.’2
This simply is not true, as Ken Livingstone states ‘by law, all money raised from congestion charging will be added to what‘s already been spent on London‘s transport facilities – so that it benefits everyone’3.
Could it be that it is too easy for the Truck Lobby to scare us into believing we are going to be hit with extra taxes on our transport? Could it be that there are vested interests in sticking with the status quo? And are those vested interests justified, when they too will be hit just as hard by the growing congestion in Birmingham.
With the release of the RAC’s latest survey of 2000 motorists4, it seems that the tide may be changing, and that the Truck Lobby’s hold on public opinion may have shifted. Their annual review on motoring said 73% of drivers would find road pricing acceptable if the money raised was invested in buses, trains and trams – an increase of four percentage points on last year’s poll.
Are the drivers now on board? It appears so, but are they vocal about it? Not quite yet. Maybe it is time that campaigning organisations in Birmingham with an interest in transport get together, helping people to voice their opinions on congestion charging. A collaboration of walkers, cyclists, car drivers, bus and train commuters, environmentalists and truck drivers, all acting in the interest of Birmingham’s economic, social and environmental future.
If we don’t, then Manchester will, and it already feels like they are pushing out in front5.