Manchester’s public transport infrastructure is not ready for a congestion charge, engineers have said, following calls for a scheme to improve air quality.
The life expectancy of people living in Greater Manchester is cut by approximately six months due to pollution, a report by think-tank IPPR revealed last week.
The report called on Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham to “speed up the introduction of already planned measures and introduce a charging zone for buses and HGVs and a workplace parking levy scheme by June 2019”.
However, engineers have said that the city would need to make major infrastructure improvements to cope with the influx of public transport passengers that would come with the introduction of a congestion charge.
“Who’s going to vote for more tax if they can’t see what the immediate benefits will be to them in terms of the changes to the city and changes to the infrastructure, and the very immediate improvements to their journeys or passage through the city centre,” said Manchester-based Civic Engineers director Stephen O’Malley.
“There’s got to be a clear vision, articulated and funded clearly before you go to the public and ask them to vote for a congestion charge.”
He added: “Frustrations with the current public transport system are a matter of record, we’ve seen in recent weeks the issues with Northern rail and a whole series of papers about the need to invest in strategic public transport.
“If we’re being honest with ourselves, the public transport is not quite ready, but I think there is a significant number of peak time journeys that are less than 5km, and they’re journeys that you could certainly walk or cycle.”
The report, Atmosphere: Towards a proper strategy for tackling Greater Manchester’s air pollution crisis, said the north-west had toxic air pollution levels to rival London.
It said: “Citizens are exposed, some die prematurely and the health of many more is affected. Along with the human cost, this creates a significant economic impact both in terms of costs to public services and damage to the wider economy.”
Mott MacDonald divisional director Tom Van Vuren told New Civil Engineer that changes would have to be made to infrastructure before any scheme was introduced.
He said: “I would be very surprised if the congestion charging scheme would be introduced without first working out what public transport improvements would be required, and by introducing some of these.
“I don’t expect that any politician without a death wish would introduce congestion charging without having considered the alternatives that need to be available to people. It wouldn’t be introduced tomorrow, it would take time because without that time it would be a PR disaster.”
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has ruled out introducing a congestion charge, and a 2008 referendum in the city found residents were against the proposals.
Responding to the report Burnham said: “I’ve said all along that we won’t be introducing a congestion charge, and I stand by that. It’s simply not fair to put that on drivers who don’t currently have a viable alternative.”
He said the Greater Manchester Congestion Deal has ‘‘cleaner transport at its heart’’ and includes targets to double charging points for electric cars, an emissions-free bus fleet and £160M earmarked for cycle lanes and pedestrian-friendly routes.
He added that £400M would be spend on upgrading junctions, tackling bottle necks, new roads and new smart traffic signals to improve traffic flow.
“Greater Manchester has been working hard for some time to improve air quality in the region. We have an existing Air Quality Action Plan and Low Emissions Strategy and we’re currently developing a new Greater Manchester Clean Air Plan to tackle areas of particularly high pollution,” he said.
“But we also need a comprehensive national strategy to support our local work – backed by substantial, up-front investment from the Government – so that we can all work together to tackle this serious problem that is affecting us all.”
A Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) spokesperson said a Clean Air Strategy would be submitted to government by the end of the year.
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