What should come first


…the chicken or the egg?


Proposed Manchester Congestion Charge zones.

(Public domain artwork sourced via Wikipedia.)

Last Thursday, over a million people in Greater Manchester (well over 50% of those eligible to take part) voted almost four to one to reject plans for £5 a day congestion charge in return for a £3bn package of public transport improvements.

The only surprise is that so many transport pundits claim to be surprised by the result. The result is a good example of a game theory dilemma called the ‘The Tragedy of The Commons‘. Hunan nature is such that few people will voluntarily accept greater costs (or a smaller benefit) for some future benefit that they have not had the opportunity to check out for themselves.

The cynic in me suspects that the Greater Manchester Transport Innovation Fund project was set up to fail. The DfTt predicated government funding on the city setting up a congestion fund. We were told that the objective was to reduce traffic in the city’s centre and help towards the running costs of the project’s tramway extensions, improved buses and rail links.

Now, if I had been asked to sell the congestion charge to the people of Manchester, I would have wanted to introduce the public transport improvements first and developed effective ‘park and ride’ schemes to encourage ‘mixed mode’ trips. (You start your journey by car, but don’t take it all the way to the city centre.) Having put attractive public transport links in place, I would have held a couple of congestion charge demonstrator weeks, or even tried a ‘motor traffic free’ week in the city centre.

Once people had tested the public transport alternatives and had the opportunity to see how restricting motor traffic in the city’s core actually improves the environment asking people to vote about introducing a congestion charge becomes much more meaningful. I suspect I may have even won the Manchester referendum!


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