A COUNCILLOR has dubbed plans to explore bringing in a congestion charge for Cardiff “outrageous” and has called for a referendum on it.
Cardiff Council yesterday announced that it could be set to look at the possibility of bringing in a road user payment to reduce congestion and improve air quality.
The authority said that money raised from any future charge could be used to fund public transport improvements in the city.
Opposition councillors have criticised the plans, with the leader of the Liberal Democrats group at Cardiff Council, Cllr Rodney Berman, saying that any charging scheme “must have support from the people of the city”.
He said: “Given that Labour did not include a specific plan for such a scheme in its manifesto for last year’s local elections, we don’t therefore know that a congestion charge scheme would have the required level of public support.
“If the council wants to proceed to introduce one, it should make its case and then put that to a referendum of Cardiff’s residents.”
Over a month before the local government elections last year, the Labour group at Cardiff Council denied they had any proposal for a congestion charge, but said urgent action was needed to tackle climate change and air pollution.
The council’s transport white paper from 2020 raised the possibility of bringing in a road user payment as a way of cutting congestion, improving air quality and raising funds to improve public transport in Cardiff.
Cllr Berman added: “I am very concerned that Labour leaders want to make an ‘in-principle’ decision that there should be a road user payment scheme before they do any consultation, with any decision afterwards simply being about what form it should take.
“This is quite frankly outrageous, but it’s something we are seeing repeatedly from Huw Thomas’s arrogant Labour administration – they did the same recently with their plan to hand the running of St David’s Hall over to a private company.”
No decision has been taken on any road user payment scheme and even if the council’s cabinet members agree to move ahead with the project, it could take about five years to implement a scheme.
In that time, a lot of work will go into researching different schemes and how they could work, consultation with members of the public and coming up with a business case.
Cllr Berman said: “The council needs to demonstrate that any proposal for a congestion charge, or any other form of road user payment scheme, would bring clear benefits.
“We have long since argued there needs to be major improvements in public transport provision in Cardiff before any charging scheme could be considered.
“And yet, we have repeatedly seen bus routes withdrawn across the city and the promised benefits of the South Wales Metro scheme still seem a long way off into the future.
“We have also recently seen the loss of the park and ride service to the city centre from Pentwyn, with the bus link having been withdrawn. So currently, we are very much going in the wrong direction.”
The council has also said that it will look to bring in a number of public transport improvements before any payment scheme is implemented.
This could include the introduction of £1 bus fares on key routes, better and expanded bus services and improvements to the rail network and regional commuting.
Cllr Berman added: “The jury is therefore out, with many people feeling the current council’s policies are contributing to the increasing congestion we have been seeing on the city’s roads including on our key arterial routes.
“We will be watching the outcome from any consultation with interest. It has to be seen as genuine consultation, and one way that could be achieved would be if the council committed to putting the outcome from it out to a referendum before any final decision is taken on whether or not to go ahead.”
Tory councillors were also opposed to the possibility of a future road user payment, fearing it could have a dramatic effect on businesses in Cardiff.
A spokesperson for the Conservatives group at Cardiff Council said: “All councillors have residents who struggle to use public transport for day to day activities, with numerous train and bus journeys cancelled on a regular basis.
“Without a reliable system, residents and visitors need to use their cars to ensure they don’t miss hospital appointments or fail to turn up to work on time. There are also residents who need to use their own transport for health needs.
“Congestion charging is a cost on the workforce, the people who live in Cardiff and visitors alike. With the cost of living hitting everyone, this additional charge could be the last straw where people simply cannot afford to get to their place of employment.
“This tax on the motorist is highly damaging and could have lasting implications for people who are already struggling to pay the bills. ”
Group leader, Cllr Adrian Robson, added: “Welsh Government and Cardiff Labour really want to penalise the car user at every opportunity, and this is wrong on many levels.
“More people would use public transport if it was reliable and cost effective, but this is not the case. We need to ensure that people can choose their own modes of transport which work for them, and are not penalised for that choice.”
In response to the comments made by opposition councillors, a Cardiff Labour group spokesperson said: “The opposition are completely burying their heads in the sand. Successive years of Tory cuts have had a devastating impact on public transport.
“The Tory decision not to give Wales its fair share of consequential funding from the HS2 project has alone cost Cardiff £500m which could have been used to transform our transport network.
“And in the meanwhile, the Cardiff motorists spends over a week each year stuck in congestion, whilst our environment and our economy suffer.
“As for the Lib Dems, instead of showing leadership, Rodney Berman is too busy trying to work out which position is most politically expedient for him to support. Their environmental credentials are truly in tatters.
“Transport, the economy, and climate change – these are defining issues for our city, and it is only Labour who are looking to address these matters head on, through sensible, mature dialogue with residents and businesses.
“Together, we’re confident we can develop a fair set of proposals that offers cleaner air, and upfront delivers a reliable, robust transport system – one which will help reduce our dependence on the car, and which provides a real lifeline for the poorest in our city who are already reliant on public transport.”