As in London, charging is at the heart of Manchester’s plans. Charging linked umbilically to radical and long awaiting improvements in the city’s public transport system.
Certainly the announcement by transport secretary Ruth Kelly to back Manchester’s plans with £1.5bn of public cash is very good news. The scale of the city’s ambition is to be admired as is its desire to really institute radical change in behaviour.
Ahead of any charging, the plan will see the introduction by 2013 of new trams lines, new buses, bus routes, ticketing and security measures, improvements to local rail services and stations. And it will see investment in cycling, park and ride schemes and a new yellow bus service to get children to school.
Only once these measures are in place will charging be rolled out to target specific driving patterns in specific locations at specific times and raise cash to underpin the investment. Yet the announcement has, perhaps predictably, prompted renewed complaints from other cities over the government’s apparent insistence on charging as a basis for any claim for cash from the Transport Innovation Fund.
Why, they demand, should cities be forced – blackmailed – into introducing politically unpopular charging schemes in return for public cash to invest in congestion busting?
These arguments and moans have been trotted out all too often in the past as cities around the UK struggle to tame the growth of car travel without appearing to offend anyone along the way.
The blunt answer is that, having seen central government set the rules of engagement for claiming TIF money, the smart thing to do is get on with it and play to these rules.
The scale of potential funding available – as Manchester has just discovered - should surely be sufficient a carrot for local authorities to think beyond their existing policy boundaries.
And by the way, some people will have to be offended. The reality is that, while there are of course a myriad of congestion busting options available and in use across the UK, the only real way to get drivers to address their travel behaviour habits is to hit them in the wallet. Hit strategically and with care, but in the wallet never-the-less.
So well done to Manchester. It has carefully produced a scheme that has ticked the government’s boxes and netted serious public funding to lay the foundations for a public transport revolution while avoiding the mass alienation of car drivers through targeted and specific charging.
Its lead must surely now be followed across the UK.