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Response to Manchester Congestion Charge Consultation

October 10th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

The following is my response to the TIF proposal consultation document.

The concept of the TIF bid is fundamentally flawed, as the proposals do not provide a viable alternative to car transport, particularly to residents of Bolton and Wigan.

The Alternatives

GM transport comparison tableRather than just rejecting the idea, I have actually taken time to research and consider alternatives to using the car. Let’s take a look at those alternatives. I will be referring to the table on the right which compares relative journey times and other factors.

Click the table for a large readable version.


I live in Horwich, only ten minutes walk from Blackrod railway station, and work one mile inside the M60 (the proposed outer charging zone), right next door to Clifton railway station on the same Preston-Manchester line as Blackrod. It would seem an obvious choice of transport, yet it is not actually possible for me to get the train to work, as there is no service at Clifton*. I have taken this up previously with the GMPTE and have written replies from them stating that they have no intention in rectifying this situation and nothing in the TIF proposals will either.

I believe I am in a very small minority of commuters who live and work adjacent to railway stations on the same line; if GMPTE can’t handle that very simple public transport journey, what hope is there for the rest of Greater Manchester?
* One train a day that is too early to actually connect with does not constitute a service.

Blackrod to Clifton direct (not possible)

If there was a service, it still loses out to the car on anything but a bad day time wise, and on all other factors (see table) every time. Even the best option, a direct (non-existent) service would take 48 minutes compared with an average car journey of 37 minutes, or 24 minutes on a good day.

Blackrod to Clifton, changing at Bolton (also not possible)

In reality, if the train did stop at Clifton, it would not be the Preston-Manchester service, but the Blackburn-Manchester service. This would therefore involve changing trains at Bolton increasing both the journey time to 59 minutes and the risk of being affected by cancellations and delays.

Blackrod to Swinton changing at Salford Crescent

The one alternative that is actually possible, a situation that will remain so under TIF proposals, is to travel to Swinton Railway station, changing at Salford Crescent (after farcically passing through Clifton station). As is clear, this would take over twice the journey time by car; clearly not a viable alternative.

In addition to the lower journey times by car compared to rail transport, on the car journey I never experience overcrowding, my personal security is high, my exposure to inclement weather is low and most importantly the car is totally flexible.


As is plainly clear from the table, at almost two hours to do a 16 mile journey, using buses for my commute is completely out of the question, as I am not prepared to spend an extra 3 hours every day getting to and from work. By the time I get to Bolton on the bus, I could already be sat at my desk at work.

A bus is a valid mode of transport for up to 4 or 5 miles, but no further, unless it is an express that doesn’t stop at every lamppost. Some bus stops are literally 2-300 yards apart.


Since AGMA were forced to back down on their intention to charge a non-congestion creating form of transport, namely motorbikes, this would at first appear to be an option, however while this would make sense for those who already have them, it does not make economical sense for those who don’t. Apart from the initial cost of purchase, the cost of insurance, tax and maintenance would wipe out any savings made on the congestion charge.

Car sharing

With three work colleagues living in Horwich and Blackrod it would seem attractive to consider a car-pool, but this option falls foul of one of the flawed assumptions of our traffic planners, to which I will come later, namely that we do not work the same hours.

Pay the charge and ‘enjoy the reduction in Congestion’

This is the last gasp excuse given by the AGMA PR machine to those for whom there is no public transport alternative. “Well at least you’ll have an easier drive to work with the reduction in traffic’, we are told. OK then, let’s play along and examine my drive to work, the congestion I experience and how that will change post-TIF.

Depending on how the various congestion spots stack up, my journey can take between 22 minutes and one hour, but averages 35 minutes. The journey involves:

Home to M61 junction 6 using the B5238, A6 and A6027

This should take a mere 6 minutes, but can sometimes take up to 25 minutes. I could already be at work by that time. The reason for this congestion is the close proximity of the A6/A6027 roundabout to the motorway roundabout; north and southbound A6 traffic compete to navigate the roundabout and get in the correct lane on the short stretch of the A6027 before entering the motorway roundabout.

Little can be done to move the roundabout, but recent line remarking of the motorway junction has exacerbated the problem by reducing the number of entry lanes onto the roundabout. There are several relatively simple and cheap modifications that could be made to improve the situation such as better line markings on the approach to the A6/A6027 roundabout, reinstating the three entry lanes onto the motorway roundabout and utilising the existing part time traffic controls at junction 6 which are switched off in the mornings.

Since this congestion is a localised problem caused by traffic heading both north and south on the M61 (and towards Horwich) this situation will not be improved by the imposition of a congestion charge. The opposite will in fact be the case as the TIF promotion of Horwich Parkway as a park and ride station will increase the traffic crossing this junction.

Reduction in congestion from TIF: NIL

M61 junction 6 to M61 junction 3

Every driver who travels the M61 southbound on a weekday morning is more than aware of the congestion on this stretch which can vary from almost nothing, to a queue all the way back to junction 5 (A58).

What is important to understand is that this will not be reduced by the congestion charge. As I approach junction 3, it is obvious that it is lanes two and three that are queuing. Neither of these lanes carries traffic into Manchester, rather the traffic is heading around Manchester on the M60 towards Leeds, Liverpool and southern Manchester . The cause is the merging of the M61 and M60 and the lack of capacity on the M60 between junctions 14 and 12. This situation was foreseen several years ago but the government of the time shelved the planned additional capacity, one of several poor decisions for which we are now feeling the pain.

The only lane (lane one) that does carry traffic into Manchester and across the outer congestion charging zone is perfectly clear every morning. The only reason that people in lane one experience congestion is due to the selfish drivers who use it to queue-jump the traffic in lanes two and three and hold up lane one as a result. Equally, the slip road I take off junction 3 is clear.

Reduction in congestion from TIF: NIL

A666 Kearsley Roundabout

On some mornings, a queue will form on the slip road from the motorway up to the roundabout. This is caused by the proximity of the traffic lights at Long Causeway/Higher Market St. (Farnworth) to the motorway roundabout, leading to traffic backing up onto the roundabout. Traffic does not respect the ‘keep clear’ road markings and thus blocks the entrance to the junction. Note that this traffic is heading away from Manchester and will not therefore be reduced by the congestion charge.

Reduction in congestion from TIF: NIL

A666 Kearsley Roundabout to junction with Stoneclough Road

Again this queue is caused by the proximity of the traffic lights at Stoneclough Road to the motorway junction, however it should be noted that over fifty percent of the traffic turns off the A666 here following a route which does not have a public transport alternative. Additionally, the A666 will lose space to bus lanes as part of the TIF proposal making matters worse.

Reduction in congestion from TIF: NIL

A666 Kearsley to M60 J15

Congestion here is caused by the large number of side roads from which traffic emerges, coupled with pedestrian controlled traffic light crossings, school crossings and local nursery traffic. Once the traffic reaches a certain volume, it takes very little to bring the traffic to a halt, after which it fails to recover as the traffic from the side roads, particularly Slackey Brow, sees opportunity to merge in. This situation will significantly worsen with the loss of road space to inefficient bus lanes under the TIF proposal.

It can be seen that this congestion is not caused by the amount of traffic heading into Manchester as any congestion usually clears after Slackey Brow and has always cleared by the Salford border, respectively 1.2 and 0.5 mile before the M60 outer charging zone.

There is little that can be done for a road layout which was planned when traffic levels were far lower, but it doesn’t help when planning consent is given to develop the Ringley area without adequate surrounding road infrastructure, causing increased traffic entering from Slackey Brow.

Reduction in congestion from TIF: NIL, possible worse

Shortly after crossing the M60, I turn off towards Clifton Junction. I experience ZERO CONGESTION inside the M60. The only reason the M60 has been chosen as a boundary is that the limited number of crossing points minimises the cost of setting up the electronic ring-fence, and it maximises the income from motorists who do not have a viable alternative. The size and limits have absolutely nothing to do with the actual location of congestion hot spots.

So, adding up the reduction in congestion on account of the TIF proposals,

the grand total of reduction in congestion from TIF is NIL

Given the fact that a viable alternative does not (and will not) exist, I will be out of pocket by £700 a year (at 2008 prices, let’s not forget that) and receive NOTHING in return.

Flaws in Greater Manchester Public Transport system

In order to make public transport a viable and attractive alternative to the car, it must be at least as cheap, reliable and flexible as a car journey, ideally better in each respect, yet the way Greater Manchester public transport is set up, it cannot possibly provide an alternative for the majority of people trying to get to/from work, as those in charge of providing services make three fundamentally flawed assumptions:

  • Everyone works in the centre of Manchester (or other town);
  • Everyone works fixed 9-5 hours;
  • No-one has any other responsibilities such as children

Let’s take each of these in turn:

Not everyone works in the centre

The system is set up in radial fashion – there are no orbital routes like the circle line in London. Unless you live and work on the same radial route (assuming there is actually a service, which for me there isn’t), you have to travel into Manchester and out again. Not surprisingly, this takes far longer than a direct car journey.

If you need to run an errand in your lunch break, a city centre worker can walk from the office to the shops or bank. Not so a peripheral worker who is likely to be on an industrial estate away from shops. Without a car this is not possible.

People work varying hours.

Working hours vary for several reasons – some people work shifts, others are on flexitime, work commitments mean you can’t always leave ‘on time’, yet the services provided are based around fixed hours (typically 9-5) and the frequency of service means you are not flexible to stay another 10 minutes otherwise you face an hour’s wait for the next train, if there is one.

Also, consider the nurse who lives in Pendlebury but is working night shift at Bolton Hospital. By car, she would pay to drive home inside the M60 after her shift, but if she switched to public transport to avoid this, she would then be travelling alone late in the evening – why should she be pressured to put her safety at risk in this way?

Responsibilities outside work.

Since the services are based around the above hours, it does not allow for those who have to take their children to/from school/nursery, or have other similar responsibilities outside of work.

On days when my children are at nursery, I would have to drop them off by car (earliest 7:30) then return home to restart my journey to work by public transport. This would add another 15 minutes to the already extended journey times as discussed above. Driving from the nursery to the station is not an option as all of the limited car park spaces have been taken by that time. By contrast with the car, the nursery is already on the way to work. There is no such additional delay.

More importantly, what happens when you get the phone call that your child is sick and there’s no train to get you home or it takes a couple of hours on a bus?

Those that do fit these flawed assumptions (i.e. work 9-5 in the city centre and have no responsibilities outside work) are already using public transport now. Nothing in the TIF bid will address any of these issues for those that don’t fit the profile for which the service is set up.

Promised ‘improvements’

Those in favour of the congestion charge are keen to promote the improvements that Bolton will receive:

Extra carriages on trains into Manchester

These are extra carriages that we have already been promised. They are not conditional on the success of the TIF bid, so it is false to claim that they are. In any case, they will not solve the overcrowding we have now, let alone the extra passengers the TIF proposal is trying to encourage. This is backed up by the fact that the promises only claim to ‘reduce’ the overcrowding, not eliminate it, allowing the politicians to claim any small and insignificant reduction as an achievement.

Anyway, what’s the point if it doesn’t actually stop at the station?

Bus interchange

Again, this is not conditional on the TIF bid, which will only bring the completion date forward. In any case I am not interested in the inconvenience of changing modes of transport. Changes increase waiting time and the risk of being affected by cancellations. If you want to promote the use of public transport you need to promote convenience; having to change buses or trains is not convenient.

Re-instatement of Wigan platforms at Lostock station

Again this is already part of the recommendations of the Strategic Rail Authority.

Rapid Bus service on the A666

This has got to be the worst idea, being actually promoted as a benefit yet actually causing more congestion. The A666 cannot afford to squander its already limited space on inefficient bus lanes. We are also being sold the benefit of an 8 minute bus service yet we already have a 10 minute bus service – this will not make an ounce of difference.

If you want to increase services, double the number of trains.

So basically, nothing new, nothing we weren’t getting anyway, and nothing that could not be achieved by regulating the bus and train companies in the first place to provide the services the public require rather than the services they choose to run to maximise their profits.

We are also told that:

“Less than 20% of peak-time car journeys within Greater Manchester will attract a congestion charge”

This is an irrelevant statistic deliberately engineered low to try and get those who won’t be directly affected by the congestion charge to vote ‘yes’. You might as well claim that less than 5% of peak-time car journeys within the North West of England will attract a congestion charge. Why stop there, why not include the whole of England and get the figure even lower?

The only true and meaningful statistic is that 100% of peak-time car journeys crossing a charging zone will attract a charge.

The congestion charge would only be introduced “after 80% of the transport investment is in place”?

This is an extremely dangerously worded statement. Note that it does not say that the transport changes are actually working, just that the investment is in place, i.e. after 80% of the money has been spent. There is no guarantee that services will have improved.

“Traffic has risen by 12% in Greater Manchester”

Another misleading statistic – the only roads that have experience rises are the motorways – the traffic inside the congestion zones has actually dropped.

“We will provide individualised travel planning for workplaces”

Translated: “We will tell you how to run your business and propose you use what public transport is available – when you complain that it is not suitable, we will brand you as inflexible”

Bolton and Wigan commuters paying for Metrolink

Distorted Metrolink Map to hide the lack of service to Wigan and Bolton Much is made in the TIF bid brochure about the extension of the Metrolink system. While this is welcomed, it will not be extended into Bolton or Wigan. Why then should Bolton and Wigan residents pay the same congestion charge as other areas for a service from which we will never benefit?

This is a sore point of which AGMA are clearly aware, as the schematic map in their propaganda (left – click map for larger version) is clearly drawn to try to hide the fact that the north west of the GM area is being left out. The Trafford Centre has been moved from the south-west to the west while Eccles has been moved from the west to the north-west to fill the void left by the lack of service to Bolton and Wigan.

I fully appreciate that the Manchester Preston line is part of the West Coast Main Line and as such cannot be converted to Metrolink, but electrification would allow faster and more numerous commuter trains to be run.

Commuters on the electrified Merseyrail Northern lines enjoy a 15 minute service during the day and 30 minute service on evenings and Sundays. The trains are also several carriages long. Compare that with the farcical situation at Bolton Station when a crowded platform of commuters is presented with an already overflowing two-carriage train.

So what would be acceptable?

This is not London – we do not already have an integrated public transport system with frequent and long trains, yet we are facing a charging area far larger than that already in operation in London in which viable public transport alternatives simply do not and will not exist post-TIF. The outer zone exists purely to boost income from a group of people who cannot avoid it.

  • Get rid of traffic congestion creation measures masquerading as ‘traffic calming’ – use intelligent thought on road design, preferably by someone who actually uses the road rather than someone working from a ‘simulated traffic model’ in an office. Some road layouts clearly seem to be designed by someone who doesn’t even drive at all. Anyone who has sat at a poorly timed traffic-light controlled junction can see improvements in timings. Get these road designers (not an army of data gatherers) to sit at a traffic light controlled junction for a day and readjust the timings or add filters. The cost is minimal, the effect can be significant.
  • Crack down on non-insured, non-taxed vehicles – that would equate to more than the reduction in traffic during school holidays.
  • Trains at least 6 carriages long every 15 minutes between 07:00 and 09:00, and 16:00 and 18:00. Anything less and you’re wasting everyone’s time and money.
  • Electrify the Manchester-Preston line.
  • Stop the train at Clifton – it can’t be that hard! GMPTE claims there’s no demand, yet only provides one useless train per day – hardly surprising that there’s no demand. The old Chloride site is currently being flattened to make way for industrial units and offices. That will create demand.
  • Regulate the public transport operators to provide services in the public interest rather than the PTOs’ interests.


Unfortunately, while £3bn could go along way to fixing the above points, it is likely that too much will be wasted on costs which will have no direct benefit on public transport. For the majority of motorists, paying the congestion charge is unavoidable and as such is an unfair tax on working inside the M60.

The outer ring is based purely on maximising income and has no basis is congestion reduction.

Successive governments have squandered the road tax fund and failed to invest in public transport, yet we are being asked to bail them out of the last fifty years of mismanagement. If the government can find billions of pounds to bail out the banks, but cannot invest a fraction of that sum in public transport without fleecing the motorist, then it truly shows where politicians’ loyalties lie.

I will be out of pocket by more than £700 a year and receive NOTHING in return.

I will therefore be voting against the proposals.

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  1. Alan Castle
    October 11th, 2008 at 17:49 | #1
    Using Mozilla Firefox Mozilla Firefox 3.0.3 on Windows Windows Vista

    As a former employee of a large company situated adjacent to Clifton Junction Station, I empathise entirely with Mr Fitter.

    Residing within 10 minutes or so walking distance of a railway station approx the same distance south of Manchester as Clifton is to the north, using the train would have made absolute common sense during my period of working there.

    However, the one train a day in each direction, that currently posits to serve Clifton, is of assistance to precisely no-one at all!

    The current service is, clearly, I would submit, the absolute minimum ‘parliamentary’ service that the TOCs are obliged to provide. Indeed, I can confirm that on the occasions when I drove over the station bridge just as the daily ‘up’ train was due, only a solitary passenger was seen to board – and this from a platform that for the majority of last winter was totally unlit! How dangerous was that?

    No-one bothered even to attend to that matter, so WHY should we expect anyone to show any interest now? Furthermore, I am led to understand that the reactions to requests for an improved service, made both to Network Rail and local parliamentary representatives, can be best described as ‘lukewarm’.
    As an aside, even HAD there been convenient trains from ‘door-to-door’ for cross-city passengers, it would still prove to have been cheaper to drive up and down the M60 each day in my 2-litre car! If rail facilities ARE to be improved as a consequence of the proposed congestion charging, then rail fares must also fall into line.

  1. October 10th, 2008 at 12:40 | #1