Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 60 - 79)




  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 of London.

  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.

Clive Efford

  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 representation—all of which I have read—which 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 zero—four years ago—to 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.

Tom Brake

  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 have miscalculated.


  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.

Clive Efford

  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.

Mr Stevenson

  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 or failure?
  (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 criteria".
  (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 in—I have questioned you on the two months and am clear about that—is how in heaven's name are you going to come to any judgment—if that is the right word—after 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 available.

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