Examination of Witness (Questions 60 -
WEDNESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2002
60. Good afternoon. Would you be kind enough,
sir, to identify yourself for the record.
(Mr Livingstone) I am Ken Livingstone. I am the Mayor
61. You are most warmly welcome here. You can
understand that this is a matter of very considerable importance
and it certainly has been one of much political debate. Did you
want to introduce your remarks briefly?
(Mr Livingstone) I suspect, actually, that you have
read everything I have most probably said on this and it would
be best if you just dive in and question me. I do not want to
waste your time with my opinions and hopes.
62. As you know, Mr Livingstone, I do not think
it is very likely that I would allow you to waste our time. Your
manifesto made it clear that you intended to bring in congestion
charging. Do you really think that that is sufficient to ensure
that you have public support for the scheme?
(Mr Livingstone) No, it is a battle you have to wage
all the time. What the polls showed all the way through was that
opinions were fairly evenly divided fluctuating through very minor
areas. This was a major issue between the candidates. I based
my commitment at that stage on the ROCOL study which seemed to
be a good basis for going forward.
63. Would you like to use not too many
(Mr Livingstone) Sorry, this was the government's
investigation, I think, into all the various options, car park
charging as well as congestion charging. Looking at the two, it
seemed to me that the one which would have the greatest impact
on congestion was the congestion charge, the other was more of
a revenue raising measure. The business community were strongly
opposed to the car park charge whereas were broadly supportive
of the congestion charge. Without the support of the business
community, and, at least, the acquiescence of the government,
you would not be likely to carry this forward.
64. Can you say a bit more about why you chose
the congestion charge because, before you became the Mayor, you
were in support of a car parking charge because you felt that
was a fairer and more equitable form of tax on the motorist. I
would just like to know what it was that convinced you that this
was the way we should go in London.
(Mr Livingstone) Both the London First Study and the
ROCOL study indicated the biggest impact on congestion came from
congestion charge. As a way of raising money, the car park tax
is fine, but it will not have the same impact on congestion. I
was led down this road. I have lived in the city all my life and
the traffic has got worse all my life and we were getting to a
point where we had to tackle the problem. I would be quite happy
if that was not the case and somebody else could go first, but
I did not want to be in a position that, two or three years down
the road when we finally get permanent gridlock in London, people
say to me "Why didn't you do something about it?" If
there had been an easier option, fine. But in the last two and
half years of consultation, in all the representationall
of which I have readwhich have come to my personal office,
everything from the Green Ink Brigade to the RAC and the AA, no-one
has come up with an alternative, except car park tax, which, as
I said, is better for revenue rather than congestion.
65. I represent a constituency in south-east
London so I declare that interest at the outset. One of the things
that always galls me is that central London boroughs raise an
enormous amount of money from car parking fees and penalty charges
(around £200 million a year income in the inner London boroughs)
and that is without a business based car park charge. Yet, having
driven through constituencies like my own they contribute nothing
back to constituencies like my own. I see your role as Mayor to
redistribute some of that income and make sure that my constituents
benefit from that because the pollution has been left behind in
my constituency on the way to central London. I just wondered
what plans you have to ensure that you tackle those problems in
places like south-east London or outer London.
(Mr Livingstone) You will be glad to know that each
year we let one fifth of our bus contracts so I am about to let
the third tranche of these contracts and they are broadly from
Croydon right the way through your constituency so you are about
to benefit from about another £150 million worth of expenditure
on the bus subsidy, so you should see a dramatic and noticeable
improvement. I am going to need the congestion charges to continue
to fund that increasing bus subsidy which has really gone from
virtually zerofour years agoto something close to
£1 billion by the time the entire five tranches have been
dealt with over the five years. Basically it is the poorest of
Londoners, the ones most dependent on the buses, the ones who
have no access to a car, the congestion charge revenues will sustain
the expansion of the bus service for another year.
66. You are looking closely at the terms of
those contracts, are you not, Mr Mayor?
(Mr Livingstone) We are because they have turned out
to grow more rapidly than one would have liked.
67. That is something that has been understood
by this Committee. We did some enquiries into that so we will
be taking a very close interest in it.
(Mr Livingstone) I read your report with interest.
68. Mr Livingstone, do you rule out adding to
or removing from your list of exemptions, for instance are there
circumstances in which you would make motor cycles subject to
congestion charging or exempt teachers?
(Mr Livingstone) We did look at not exempting teachers,
but giving them free travel but we found that legally we cannot
give that to any one category; you would be subject to legal challenge
and virtually everyone would get it. There are no plans to vary
any of the existing exemptions. Three, four, five years down the
road, if this has been a success, we may come back and revisit
this. A scenario that is possible is that you introduce this and
very little changes, that £5 is not enough. We found on our
opinion polling that once you got to £6 resistance was much
stronger. We have gone for £5. It is the lowest charge that
my professional advisors have said might work. It might be we
69. You have done a number of models; you are
not just guessing, are you? You are not just relying on public
opinion. You must have done some estimates by running a few models
to work out what the different charges would produce.
(Mr Livingstone) I am sure that has been done.
70. By whom, Mr Mayor?
(Mr Livingstone) That would have been done by my office.
I assume ROCOL did some of that work. I am very heavily influenced
by opinion polls given where I am coming from.
71. Well, that comes as a very considerable
surprise, Mr Mayor, I must say.
(Mr Livingstone) I do think there will be a significant
difference. If there was minimal reduction in congestion then
one would consider perhaps going to £6. We have found on
our polling that if you talk about £10 the level of public
resistance it most probably was not feasible to even try.
72. Who will be discouraged from using the roads?
(Mr Livingstone) We are talking about two years ago,
so I cannot remember the details of that. You might find that
your next witness, Derek Turner, will have all that at his fingertips.
Chairman: It may be that we shall ask him.
73. You are reported as saying that you would
scrap the scheme if it failed after two months. Is that correct?
(Mr Livingstone) Yes.
74. It begs the question how, in heaven's names,
with a scheme so complicated and major as this one, you are going
to make that judgment in two months.
(Mr Livingstone) I do not think that will arise. I
have been pressed constantly by my political opponents on this
issue. We have had all the brightest boffins and traffic management
looking at this for years. They say this will work. It could be
we are just wrong and there is something we have not anticipated
that could mean a catastrophic failure. Or there could be a level
of political resistance, as with the poll tax, which means it
just is not sustainable. Beyond that, those two possibilities,
I think the scheme will work. I suspect it will not have as many
downside effects as people are saying and it will not be quite
as good as we hope; it will be somewhere in between.
75. It depends on what criteria you use for
success or failure, presumably. But, as you will know, this scheme
is being eagerly watched throughout the country, very much so.
The notion that after two months you can come to any sort of reasonable
decision as what has been success or failure still strikes me
as very strange.
(Mr Livingstone) If it was obviously going to fail
we would know by them. I suspect that what we will have is a very
difficult first two months as people adjust to what is the biggest
traffic management scheme in history. If, by the end of those
two months, it is starting to settle down, you will realise it
is going to work. But until you have had six months we will not
be able to honestly say the impact on traffic flows. We have,
therefore, immediate studies, a six month study and a five year
study to get the long term impact.
76. Am I correct in thinking that as things
stand at the moment you have not got any criteria to judge success
(Mr Livingstone) Yes, there is. I would be very disappointed
if this scheme did not lead to at least ten per cent less journeys
into the zone, and at least 20 or 25 per cent less congestion.
If it is much below that one would have to look at whether you
needed to increase the charge or whether the scheme might not
be fundamentally flawed. You would want to see a noticeable improvement
in congestion reduction and a greater reliability about journey
time in the zone. Otherwise this has not worked.
77. It is a bit like slimming, is it not, you
loose the first lot of weight at the outset. But according to
Mr Turner, the information we have received (I shall have a chance
to ask Mr Turner) he has confirmed "We have not got a success
(Mr Livingstone) The mayoral system is such that in
the end these are my executive decisions. If I get it wrong, Londoners
will get a new mayor.
78. I understand that. That is the political
process. We all accept that.
(Mr Livingstone) So I am very focussed on that.
79. I understand that; I am not challenging
that. But what I am interested inI have questioned you
on the two months and am clear about thatis how in heaven's
name are you going to come to any judgmentif that is the
right wordafter two months or so when, at the moment, you
do not have any criteria laid down to assess what has failed and
what has succeeded.
(Mr Livingstone) We have put in place really good
monitoring. In the past we have had all these estimates for decades:
traffic flow in and out of London, traffic speeds in London. They
have been largely a lot of guessing based on the very small number
of sampling points. We have now in place detailed mechanisms by
which we will know the traffic flow, we will be monitoring it
beforehand and we will be monitoring it afterwards. We will have,
for the first time, quite accurate figures. These will be publicly