Tuesday, December 05, 2006

First zone charge petitions go in

I submitted the first 200 signatures from the petition against the congestion charge zoning to the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority today (Monday). Another 500 will be submitted to the City Council today.

They have been coming in fast and we can submit further tranches in January.

Simultaneously the Liberal Democrat group, which I lead, submitted a motion calling, amongst other things, for an alternative and workable scheme of road pricing to be submitted to the government. The government is determined the West Midlands will pioneer road charging outside London and its spokespeople, Advantage West Midlands, stated on Saturday in the Birmingham Post: "It is not a case of if but when. We are determined to be in the first wave of trials". So much for consultation!

We also continue to stress that the current public transport plans are misconceived. Buses need to take people where they want to go and need to be safe and pleasant. Continuous investment in our own A34 Walsall Road (ie plumping a Metro on top of buslanes and red route) is not going to help local people get to jobs on the A38 corridor, for instance. To do so you have to walk up the steep hill in the city centre to change buses. What nonsense, especially for professionals who may be carrying laptops late at night!

There was no chance of our motion being accepted as it was critical of the PTA leadership for its handling of the Gridlock or Growth so-called consultation and, quite seriously, of the lack of accountability of the way very large sums of money is being spent on consultants. They were asking for another £1 million today.

But we got some promises of a proper PTA debate on the matter and a good look at alternatives in the New Year. The new Centro/PTA chief executive Geoff Inskip is a bright spark, poached from Manchester, and is beginning to sort out some of the problems he has inherited. I sat on the recruitment panel. He stressed that he recognises the need for a great deal more thought about the nature of road pricing and also how investment is attracted into public transport beyond the £2 billion on offer from the government.

On the subject of congestion zones, I stressed that Gridlock or Growth had failed to offer any feasible schemes of road charging for this region. Its best idea is the congestion zones and they would be a disaster, particularly in the way they would hit the poorer suburbs of north Birmingham.


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