Centre for Cities, which has supported congestion charge bids by both Manchester and Cambridge for Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) cash, has made a policy U-turn and now called for the government to abandon its insistence on charging.
The Government has set aside £200M per year to be invested in TIF until 2019, a total pot of some £2bn.
Schemes that want to bid for the money must include a congestion charging portion, a policy that has been heavily criticised by both LIberal Democrat and Conservative MPs.
Manchester’s bid for £1bn of TIF cash failed in a public referendum in 2008.
Centre for Cities now say the effects of the recession have made it more important to invest now. It says money would be better spent being invested in public transport schemes, and the congestion charging criteria should be dropped if no cities adopt TIF this year.
Director of the Centre for Cities, Dermot Finch, said: “Cities like Manchester and Edinburgh have found congestion charging a tough sell. Other cities considering a charge - like Cambridge, Reading and Bristol - are undecided. If there are no takers by the end of the year, the Government should call it a day on its current road user charging push.
“A tough post-recession fiscal climate means central government transport grants are likely to dwindle post 2011. The next Government should use the congestion charging pot to start up a new fund for transport projects, together with councils and the private sector. This fund would keep UK cities’ moving and help shift the national economy towards recovery.”
The report says the dire economic conditions will leave cities virtually bankrupt and unable to invest in public transport once the recession is over. The report recommends:
By the end of 2009, transport ministers should liberate the £1bn funding earmarked for congestion charging and seek cross party consensus to safeguard the money for city transport improvements.
After the general election, the next Government should create a £4bn Urban Transport Investment Fund, using the congestion charging pot as a starting point.
The Centre also says that public transport has been a low priority for government, spending 18 times more on the VAT cut, “Than on bringing forward transport investment projects, which create jobs, boost the UK’s economic competitiveness and cut congestion,” reads a Centre for Cities release.
They also say that more than 70% of commuters in England’s six largest urban areas outside London still travel to work by car.