Congestion charges may be coming to Cardiff — expect a battle! Part Two.

Image by Julia Phillips from Pixabay

Last time, we told you what the state of play is on Cardiff’s proposed congestion charges. The short version is that there’s a consultation in progress, nothing’s decided, but the talk is of charges for both residents and visitors, though the former might be subsidised.

This time, we’ll have a go at summarising why a lot of people aren’t less than overjoyed with the idea — to put it mildly — while others are hoping it goes ahead.

Against the Cardiff congestion charge: “people are not happy”

A Wales Online article informs us that “people aren’t happy” about the proposed congestion charges, then backs this up with the results of their online poll. 75% of those who responded were against the idea.

Of course, you should always take figures like these with a gritter lorry’s load of salt. For example, anyone who is really up in arms about the charge is probably more likely to respond than someone who’s in favour of it. That’s just how self-selected samples work.

However, whatever the precise figure is, it’s probably safe to say that an awful lot of people don’t want the congestion charge to go ahead. Here are three solid reasons.

The scheme may hit the poorest people hardest

One big reason for the opposition is who it’s going to hit the hardest. Let’s say the charge comes in at £2 a day for residents. For those already on the breadline, an extra £730 a year on top of recent gobsmacking rises in food and energy costs is the last thing they need.

Alternatively, let’s say that the charge is only levied on anyone driving the oldest, most polluting vehicles… guess who that hits again? The people driving the oldest, most polluting vehicles aren’t generally doing it as some act of environmental terrorism. They’re driving what they can afford to buy.

For many at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis, congestion charging can feel like a barmy scheme dreamed up by an out-of-touch elite — at best. Others just see it as out-and-out class warfare.

Public transport alternatives aren’t practical

The idea of the charge is to get more people onto public transport, but some Cardiff residents are sceptical that this is a practical option. The Wales Online article has this:

Readers also shared their own experiences of the impact of cuts to services. Claire Woodman is one of them and talked about the difficulties of getting to Cardiff. “Maybe they shouldn’t have got rid of the Cardiff East Park and Ride,” she wrote. “We now park in St David’s 2 instead if we go to Cardiff. To use public transport would be a bus and train or two buses. The first bus we would need is every half hour, we would then need to wait in Newport for a connecting Cardiff bus which would then take 30- 40 minutes to do the journey, or walk across Newport for a train. It would take far longer, and for three people it would cost a lot more than parking,” she added.

To be fair, Cardiff City Council has said that they will bring in improved public transport links before the scheme launches:

The council said £1 bus fares on key routes and better and expanded bus services would be available before [our emphasis] any road user charge was introduced, as well as improvements to regional commuting.

What about businesses?

Another objection often raised is that congestion charges will kill off Cardiff businesses. The logic is straightforward: the harder you make it for people to visit your city, the fewer people will come, and the less revenue there will be. Then there are increased running costs. Particularly hard hit, say critics, will be businesses running taxi services and others dependant on supplies brought into the city. It’s difficult to find any hard data on how much economic impact clean air zones have had on other cities, but it’s hard to believe there isn’t any.

For the Cardiff congestion charge: less crowded roads, cleaner air for all?

Cardiff City Council may face an uphill battle with public opinion, but not every good decision is a popular one. As we’ve covered elsewhere, seatbelt mandates weren’t well-received when they were brought in. And with that in mind, what does a congestion charge have going for it?

Resolving the chicken-and-egg public transport problem.

Why do so few people use public transport? Because it’s rubbish and expensive and doesn’t do what it should. And why is it like that? Because so few people use it, so there’s no revenue to fund improvements.

The congestion charge could be a way out of this chicken-and-egg problem. Cardiff City Council wants to ring-fence the revenue raised by any congestion scheme, then use it to pay for a massively upgraded public transport system. According to Herald Wales, this would include:

  • A metro city-wide tram system, including Cardiff Crossrail a circle line and new stations with a minimum of four trams an hour
  • A prioritized bus network across the city with more reliable services
  • Delivery of an electric bus and taxi fleet
  • The completion of the Eastern Bay Link
  • Sustainable travel incentives, like travel discounts, tickets and bike purchase vouchers

Many European cities are criss-crossed by superb electric tram systems. They’re quiet, great to travel on, cheap for citizens, and they’re well-used. In the absence of a huge Government investment in public transport, maybe this is a way Cardiff could achieve something similar.

Health benefits.

One of the most shocking revelations of public health science in the past decade has been just how bad air pollution is for us. Of course, we’ve always known that air pollution isn’t exactly good, but just how much damage those itty-bitty particulates do to the human body, and how many years they shave off our lives — that wasn’t apparent until the science caught up.

Getting the most polluting vehicles off the road, or at least reducing the number, is one of the most straightforward ways of addressing this. Congestion schemes in London have had a big impact on pollutant levels, and there doesn’t seem any reason why this couldn’t work in Cardiff. The problem with selling this to a sceptical public is that the health impact is silent and invisible — it’s all percentages on charts and incomprehensible research studies — whereas a congestion charge has an immediate, visible effect on your bank balance.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the health problems associated with air pollution disproportionately affect the less well-off.

Climate benefits.

Three-quarters of UK citizens are worried about climate change. Government policy recognises the dire global situation and has enshrined the UK’s net zero aims in law.

Increasing the number of EVs on the road will help with that goal, but that’s not enough. There’s a general recognition that we can’t keep driving two-tonne hunks of metal for an average journey of 8.4 miles. Public transport has to play more of a role, and that’s what the congestion charge aims to provide.

Congestion schemes in cities are one way of trying to change things. Will that persuade the public? Unfortunately, there’s a huge gap between recognising the climate change problem and being prepared to change anything in order to help out. It’s human nature to point out other people are causing even more problems than we are, and demand that they change first.

What do you think?

Having looked at some of the issues, is it a bit vacuous to say we can see both sides? Well, sorry, but there it is. Tell you what — why not book yourself in for a  service, repair or MOT, and you can explain in detail why we’ve got it wrong!

The WVS blog covers a wide range of automotive topics, from the contentious to the light-hearted. We are an independent garage specialising in the VW group marques, including Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda and SEAT. WVS provides services, repairs and MOTs, delivering a main dealer level of care at affordable prices. To book your vehicle in, or for any enquiries, get in touch.