Sunday, February 06, 2005

Voting begins in Edinburgh on Congestion Charge

Edinburgh
(Edinburgh traffic jam--supplied by FreeFoto.com)

Over the next two weeks, residents of the City of Edinburgh, Scotland will be voting on whether the city should initiate a congestion charge scheme. London has had such a scheme for about two years. In London, drivers must pay £5 to enter the center city between 7:00am and 6:30pm, Monday-Friday. Money earned through the congestion charge is put largely into public transportation improvements.

While the London scheme remains controversial, some studies suggest that it has reduced vehicular traffic within the central zone by as much as 15% and bus ridership has increased dramatically.

In Edinburgh, the proposed scheme is a bit more complex. There are two cordons--one around the city center and the other around the perimeter of the city. The charge would be in effect for the inner cordon from 7:00am-6:30pm and the outer cordon from 7:00am-10:00am, Monday-Friday. The £2 charge would allow you to go through each cordon throughout the day.

The citizens of Edinburgh appear to be less-than enthusiastic about the scheme, with polls suggesting 65% of the city's residents opposing the scheme. Mingus Linklatter, columnist at the Scotsman, sees a serious problem with congestion in Edinburgh, but has little faith in the municipal leadership in developing transportation alternatives given their track record in dismantling rail service in years past. Some local affiliates of the leftist Liberal Democrats are breaking from their national party's pro-charge stand, by making similar claims of lack-of-confidence in Edinburgh's Labour-headed council.

The mode of election--postal ballots--has also been criticized, as nearly 12% of eligible voters who had taken themselves off the municipal junk mail list, may not receive ballots.

Should the tally be supportive of the scheme, the council would still have to get approval from the Scottish Executive before the plan would go into effect. The outcome may be portentous, as other municipalities in Great Britain, are being pressured into considering congestion schemes of their own.


*Update* Take a look at Richard Bloomfield's blog and Freedom and Whisky for debate on the charge in the Scottish blogosphere.