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Gov to Manchester: No new trams without road pricing

One-way congestion charge favours night shift

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Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary, has made it clear that Greater Manchester will lose £1.5bn in central government funding for public transport if local people don't agree to the use of road pricing for motorists.

“There is no Plan B. I would not want people to be under any illusion about that,” said Mr Hoon, referring to the proposed Westminster-funded road pricing and public transport package in an interview with the Times. The citizens of Manchester are currently being polled in a local referendum on the plans.

"If the vote is ‘no', there will be no central government funding," said Mr Hoon. “There will be plenty of other cities looking to take up the opportunity if Manchester doesn't.”

The scheme would see heavy investment in public transport infrastructure including trams, bus lines and trains. But there would also be a network of detectors and a system of electronic tags and prepaid accounts for motorists.

Unlike the London Congestion Charge, however, drivers would not be charged a flat fee for any entry into the charging zone. A car would be charged only during rush hour periods, and only when going in the busy direction of travel. There would also be an inner charge zone, costing more than the outer one. The most a motorist could pay would be £5 daily, as opposed to the £8 London rate.

To further sweeten the pill, there are discounts offered for those on minimum wage and exemptions for workers on the Trafford Park industrial estate, who would otherwise have been hit hard. It has also been promised that the public-transport improvements would come first, with the charges commencing no sooner than 2013.

Manchester has seen a renaissance of economic growth in recent times, but has suffered from congestion as a result. Local politicians fear that unless something is done, the city will miss out on jobs and wealth in coming years.

The existing London charge is managed purely by automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) camera systems. The data generated by these is already accessible in real time by the police Counter Terrorism Command, though this wasn't originally part of the plan.

Similarly, there are no plans at the moment for live police access to the Manchester tag-scanners and accompanying enforcement ANPR systems (yes, there will be accompanying ANPR enforcement).

The idea of local charging schemes enjoys cross-party support, and the Tories have said they would stand by the plan if the local referendum is won. The Conservatives say they're against national road-pricing schemes, however, whereas Labour see these as part of the future under their "Managed Motorway" plans.

The Times writeup is here. ®

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