Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Boris wobbles on c-charge pledge

The Evening Standard today splashes the news that London mayor Boris Johnson has 'shelved' plans to axe the western extended area of the city's congestion charge zone.

Scrapping the westward extension was a flagship pledge made during Boris's successful election campaign.

The repressive anti-car policies of his precedessor as mayor, Ken Livingstone, were said to be a major factor in his downfall from office.

The plan to scrap the western extension was greeted warmly by the overwhelming majority of businesses and residents in the area.

No surprise, given a large majority voted against the imposition of the extension in the first place, but were at the time completely ignored by Livingstone.

However, the idea that Boris has 'shelved' the plan - implying indefinitely - seems to be something of an overstatement.

While it does look like the pledge now will not be delivered "by 2010", as originally suggested, Johnson this afternoon rushed to confirm in no uncertain terms that the western zone will be removed "next year" - blaming "a number of tedious bureaucratic hoops" for the delay.

The confusion seems to have been caused originally by Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor's transport adviser.

Looking at his quote in the Standard, Ranger appears to have intimated that removing the western extension was merely an "aspiration" and that economic circumstances may now prevent it happening.

It's understandable how the Standard interpreted such political code as the plan being 'shelved'.

While removing the zone would cost TfL between £55 million and
£70 million in revenue,
if the economy is a factor at all in the decision it is more a reason to scrap the zone as soon as possible than a justification for delay.

While TfL undoubtedly wants to cling onto that revenue, the reality is it comes out of the pockets of thousands of people likely already struggling to make ends meet in difficult times - money they could otherwise be spending in the shops and with local businesses also struggling to ride out the downturn.

Businesses themselves are hit twice by the c-charge, first by the reduction of passing traffic cutting visitors to their shops and second when their staff or delivery vans have to criss-cross the zone boundary and they have to pay the charge themselves.

So businesses in particular will not be at all happy at having to put up with the zone for potentially at least another year.

If Boris is going to maintain the great deal of goodwill he enjoyed at the last London election for his c-charge pledge, he'd better redouble his efforts to cut through that bureaucracy and get wielding his axe as soon as possible.