Birmingham should consider a £4bn pay-as-you-drive road pricing scheme because congested roads are threatening growth in the region, a report says today.
The city could adopt the idea under proposals to stop traffic from choking businesses in the West Midlands, in what would be a significant step towards introducing road charges across the country. An independent report commissioned by local authorities in the region predicts that congestion will rise by 22% in the next 10 years if no action is taken.
“The West Midlands faces a stark choice – carry on as we are and watch congestion grow incrementally over the next decade and beyond, or face up to the problem and decide upon strategies to combat it,” says the study.
Unlike London’s congestion charge, which charges a flat fee for entering a restricted zone, under road pricing a satellite-monitored black box is installed in cars and motorists are charged according to what route they take, the length of their journey and what time of day they drive. The London mayor, Ken Livingstone, has poured the £300m raised from the congestion charge into public transport. Its detractors argue that it has damaged businesses within the charging zone.
The West Midlands study says that on a typical weekday, 3m car trips are made in the region, which could rise to 3.5m by 2021. It highlights 19 congestion blackspots, including junction 2 of the M6 and several inner-Birmingham roads, warning that more will appear: “The West Midlands has already passed a tipping point where further economic growth and the additional traffic which results from it creates added congestion. This problem will become progressively worse as the demand for movement approaches – and passes – the capacity of our transport networks.”
The report, for seven authorities including the Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry city councils, cites widespread public concern over congestion levels and illustrates a problem that already costs businesses about £2.2bn a year. It is estimated that the region will lose 40,000 new jobs to other parts of Britain if the problem is not addressed – the equivalent of closing seven Longbridge car manufacturing plants.
The report estimates that introducing road pricing on congested roads and increased investment in public transport would cut congestion levels by a quarter. Half the £4bn cost of the scheme would need to be spent on improving rail, metro, bus and motorway networks. Research shows that rush hour bus journeys are taking twice as long as they should in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry.
Cities around the country are considering road pricing schemes, including Manchester, Bristol and Tyne & Wear. Along with the West Midlands, they will be vying for a share of the government’s transport innovation fund, which is offering up to £2.5bn a year to local authorities in England with inventive ideas for tackling congestion.
Douglas Alexander, the transport secretary, is planning legislation which will allow pilot schemes to go ahead next year, possibly as a precursor to a nationwide road pricing system.
Source: The Guardian