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Congestion charge key to culture change, says Manchester's top official

Congestion charging is the only realistic way for local authorities to tackle the growing threat of traffic congestion, according to the chief executive of Manchester City Council.

Speaking at last week's ICE/Faber Maunsell prestige lecture Sir Howard Bernstein said that taxation was the best way to change behaviour and added that in Manchester the majority of local people agreed.

"We believe that the key to changing behaviour is related to providing choice," Bernstein told the audience.

"The introduction of a pricing mechanism provides this choice."

Bernstein's comments came after Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly backed proposals to transform the city’s public transport system in return for introducing congestion charging by 2012.

The plan will see up to £2.8bn invested in new tram, bus, cycle and train schemes with £1.5bn coming from government’s Transport Innovation Fund.

Manchester will then introduce a two zone scheme to charge motorists up to £5 a day to drive their cars during rush hour.

Bernstein insisted that road pricing should not be seen as simply a way to raise money.

But he pointed out that it was a clear way to influence behaviour while generating revenue for vital public transport improvements.

"I don't see any alternative funding mechanism coming on stream that will work," he said.

"I can't understand that difference between taxation to influence the purchase of, say, alcoholic drinks with taxation to influence the way we choose to travel."

He rejected the notion that in Manchester local people would object to paying.

He pointed to a recent opinion poll which showed that 65% of Manchester's population supported the congestion charge.

"Successful local authorities and planning authorities are the ones that are able to take difficult decisions and make difficult choices," he said.

"Government has got to get away from one size fits all. It has got to incentivise people to change their behaviour."

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