Lib Dem candidate for the upcoming Penarth and Cardiff South by-election Bablin Molik has launched a blistering attack on the Cardiff Council Labour administration’s request that officials look into the possibility of introducing a congestion charge.
You can see a copy of the electoral information received by some Penarth residents here, courtesy of blog subscriber FW.
I’ll come on to some of the bigger issues in a moment. But for now let’s look at the substance of the pamphlet. We see “local residents left stunned”, with Bablin then having “called on local residents to oppose Labour plans for a congestion charge in Cardiff”. So once again, we see the Lib Dems unable to muster up a single Penarth resident willing to be quoted. Given that this is the second time – out of two – that the Lib Dems have failed to present any evidence of residents being consulted, I have come to the following conclusion. The Lib Dems, far from being a consultative, grassroots-based party, are a centralising party much keener on telling us what they would like residents to be thinking and doing. That sounds more like what the Ministry of Truth should be doing, which is doubly ironic for a party called the Liberal Democrats. Bablin, I won’t take any more of your false claims to represent residents. The people of Penarth shouldn’t be taken for a ride.
And talking of taking a ride, Bablin tells us that a congestion charge in Cardiff “would really hit people in the Vale hard”. Actually, it may hit some people in the Vale hard. However, it may also provide tremendous benefit to some people in the Vale. It’s this cavalier approach to politics, with generalising and misrepresenting, that I find galling. Is it any wonder that politicians are held in such low esteem if we can’t even trust those who are seeking office? Bablin, you might want to look in the archives of this site for some election material from genuine Penarth residents. You’ll find by and large a focus on matters relevant to the level of election and with detailed knowledge of the local issues.
But it’s the issue of the congestion charge itself that really troubles me. Can there be anyone who listens to Radio Wales (or Radio Cymru for that matter) who doesn’t raise an eyebrow when we hear of congestion on the A470 heading into – and leaving – Cardiff, day after day after day. And how about the people sat in traffic jams that back up almost into town from Baron’s Court? If she thinks that a congestion charge would be “bad news for our local economy”, what consideration has she given to the economic consequences of congestion? This research, for example, tells us that congestion costs of £4-6 billion could be saved across the UK by the means of, you guessed it, congestion charges.
So what effect would a congestion charge of, say £4 per day (Bablin’s figure), have on people’s travel behaviour from Penarth?
I’d anticipate an immediate transfer of large volumes of commuters from their cars to the train (day return cost £3.40). This would make bus transport much faster into town because congestion on the roads into and within Cardiff contribute to a much slower ride during peak hours. A day ticket on Cardiff Bus is £3.40, so this form of transport would suddenly become an awful lot more convenient (and relatively cheaper) to Penarth residents commuting into Cardiff locations that are not well served by train stations. I imagine that many more people would suddenly feel the urge to dust off their trusty two-wheeled warriors from their garages and make the largely traffic-free commute by bike – stimulated perhaps by Sustrans Cymru’s excellent TravelSmart scheme. And before you know it, Penarth is travelling sustainably, is much better insulated from the problems that peak oil will cause, and we’re all a lot healthier besides.
One of the most influential ways to change people’s behaviour is to use economic instruments (taxes and charges). Look at carrier bags. Clearly we didn’t need them by the hundreds of millions in Wales, because we’re now using 90% fewer than we were doing prior to our 5p charge. We tried for years to persuade people not to take them for free, but what really worked was to put a cost onto them.
What’s not to like?
Ah, yes, I forgot. Some people are wedded to their motor vehicles, and will frame this in terms of an attack on their civil liberties, as a tax on business and all the other tired arguments that the motoring lobby drags out in response to proposed congestion charges. These people tend to be very vocal and usually well organised. But we’ll see a bit later that people who are negatively affected by congestion tend not to kick up a stink about it.
So how does all this relate to Cogan? Those of you who’ve followed this blog for some time will know that you shouldn’t hold your breath on Windsor Road, although there has been a feeling that we could be breathing easier thanks to Sustrans and the Welsh Government. A congestion charge in Cardiff could be just the ticket for the Vale of Glamorgan – and the Welsh Government – to avoid being dragged through the European Courts as a result of their consistent failure to meet Air Quality objectives.
And perhaps unlike the thrusting, letter-writing, 4×4-driving upper echelons of Penarth, some of the residents of polluted Cogan are just too busy figuring out a way to make ends meet to bother kicking up a fuss or getting political parties excited in their issues. Perhaps the idea of sending off a complaint to the European Commission over their horrendous air quality is just a bit daunting. [Note to Cogan residents – someone’s already done that on your behalf].
Electorally, the failure of the councillors representing Cogan to protect their constituents from air pollution may have been a factor in them taking such a pasting in the May elections. I’d be very interested to find out what effect this Lib Dem stance has on their Cogan vote come the by-election. If anyone’s attending the count and would be interested in doing this bit of research please get in touch: penartharbyd[a]gmail.com
I’ll state quite simply here. Anyone who has the best interests of the people of Penarth at heart should be campaigning for a congestion charge in Cardiff. Bablin, that puts you and the Lib Dems firmly in the anti-Penarth camp.
And finally, Dr. Malik herself has done research in a field related to human health. Her opposition to a scheme that would have tremendous benefits to public health is morally repugnant.