Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Richmond at it again

Hot on the heels of their bizarre 'emissions-cutting' scheme that encourages people to drive their cars to work rather than leave them parked at home (an allegedly 'green' scheme that pushes people to concrete over their gardens in order to park their cars off ridiculously over-charged streets) Richmond Council in south London have come up with a new wheeze.

This time the plan to separate the borough's car users from yet more of their cash involves charges for 'drop-off' parking permits at local schools.

And once again they seem set on trying to daub this blatant tax hike as 'green'.

Top charge of £75

At the moment, parents can use a free permit provided by schools allowing them to park on double yellow lines or bays for ten minutes while they deliver or collect their children.

So far, so reasonable.

But the council have announced that, from September, a 'sliding scale' will be used to charge parents for these currently free permits, based on the CO2 emissions produced by their vehicles.

The top charge is reportedly going to be an outrageous £75 for dropping your kids off at school in anything from an average-sized family car upwards.

'Green' paint stripped

While the full details of the sliding scale have not yet been revealed (a bit of standard PR that tries to get the headlines out of the way before the gruesome details are exposed), the council's past form makes it likely that the vast majority of parents driving even the smallest cars will have to fork out extra cash where they don't have to currently.

The council's similar emissions-based scheme for residents' parking permits penalises with greatly increased charges those with cars in tax Band D and upwards.

That includes some models of small city cars like the Mini, Ford Fiesta and Nissan Micra. A very different story beyond the oft-used spin about attacking 'gas-guzzling 4x4s', and one that utterly strips away any claim that the scheme is actually about the environment rather than raising cash yet again from soft-target car users.

Sadly, going by the headlines, "4x4s" are the furthest the spin-vulnerable traditional media ever read into such plans.

Scheme condemned as 'unfair'

The council's plan has been roundly condemned by representatives of parent teacher and car user groups.

Margaret Morrissey of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations has called the scheme "unfair and unrealistic", quite rightly pointing out, "Many families have three or four children, and they need the space to fit child seats that the Government insists on."

And the AA's Paul Watters said: "People carriers are very efficient at getting kids to school, considering many are seven-seaters. It might be a better idea to remove the many smaller cars."

Lib Dem warning

As a Liberal Democrat-run council, Richmond's actions give a worrying indication of what sort of faux-green financial repression car users big and small can expect if the Lib Dems achieve any governing power.

Something for us all to bear in mind with local elections looming and even a general election on the horizon.

But spare a thought for the poor car-using residents of Richmond, who clearly face endless demands on their wallets between now and their next local elections in 2010.

Unless they fight back against blatant rip off tax hikes, even when they are labelled 'green'.

Friday, April 18, 2008

C-charge has not cut jams, admits TfL chief

According to today's Evening Standard, Transport for London's Michèle Dix - managing director of planning - has admitted that congestion in central London is back at levels last seen before the C-charge came into effect.

Speaking at a transport conference in London, she admitted that congestion has now returned to how it was before the controversial road-charging scheme was introduced.

But it seems she stopped short of apologising to car users for the vast cost of the failed scheme.

Confirming the conclusion of an earlier study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, Transport for London said the freed road space created by the 21% drop in traffic levels had been taken up by other road users, making congestion worse.

This is the first time TfL itself has publicly admitted to such a sharp rise in congestion in central London.

Ms Dix also revealed the extent to which public opposition to road tolls had made TfL think twice about extending the congestion charge zone to the capital's outer boroughs.

A petition on the Prime Minister's website calling for national roadpricing plans to be axed attracted a record-breaking 1.8 million signatories.

"It made government turn off charging, which has made it difficult for us," Ms Dix told the conference.

"If road-user charging was to be extended, we would have to make it more acceptable. We would have to improve public transport" she said.

Her admission serves as a major warning for any city considering introducing similar road-charging schemes - particularly those whose public transport system is thought to be less effective than London's.

The news also supports an Evening Standard survey conducted in February, and Department for Transport figures released last year, revealing that morning rush-hour traffic speeds had fallen to 9.3mph, below the 9.9mph recorded before the C-charge was introduced.

Paul Watters of the AA said: "It had become increasingly clear that benefits originally delivered by the charge were being eroded.

"Last year, TfL's own monitoring report said the initial 30% improvement in congestion had slipped to just 8% - now it seems even that gain may have gone."

Gordon Taylor of West London Residents' Association accused TfL management of "complete failure".