After a couple of sorties into the problems of congestion on Britain's inter-city railways it's back to congestion closer to home. Not just congestion on the roads either. Yesterday I took a train from Bolton to Manchester at around 10.20 am, and even at that time the train was full with people standing. I think we are still struggling to get over to people that at its heart, the Transport Innovation Fund proposals are not about congestion charging but about dealing with problems like this - getting more carriages on trains particularly at peak times, more buses serving more destinations more regularly, better buses, more trams serving more destinations able to carry twice as many people. Better train, tram, and bus stations. Real-time information. Double the amount of Park-and-Ride and integrated ticketing and timetabling supported by a Manchester smart card. We will need congestion charging to help us tackle congestion on our roads and to help pay for all these transport improvements but only when the improvements are in place.
Earlier this week a series of draft proposals were announced about who might be exempt from paying the charge, proposals that will be part of the consultation due to start in July and run into the autumn. Today Manchester Council's Executive Committee will be considering where we are up to on TIF, and later in the week, on Friday, all of this will be discussed at the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities Executive Committee. One of the things they will have to decide is the consultation process and in particular how we will judge public opinion at the end of the consultation process. Many people have been calling for a referendum. In general I'm not in favour of referendums because they undermine our system of representative democracy. Every year the City Council makes lots of decisions many of which have far more impact on our citizens lives than the proposed congestion charge. We couldn't possibly have a referendum on all of them and that's how our system works - we elect representatives to make those decisions, and if we don't like the decisions they make we vote them out.
So, is the £3 billion we propose to spend on public transport and the consequent congestion charge any different? I've come to the conclusion that it is because we don't have an indirectly or directly elected body for Greater Manchester that has the power to make this decision and ten different councils making potentially ten different decisions is the road to chaos.
I'm prepared to back a Greater Manchester wide referendum on TIF, after the consultation process has concluded, as long as all ten Councils in Greater Manchester agree in advance that they will be bound by the result.