Edinburgh congestion charge and workplace parking levy: Study says businesses should help design schemes

‘Support depends on using revenue to invest in Edinburgh transport improvements’

Controversial traffic measures like a workplace parking levy and congestion charging can win support from the business community if it is fully involved in designing the schemes, a new report claims.

The study said using the income from new charges to invest in public transport improvements was also critical to their acceptance by both business and the public and suggested revenue from a workplace parking levy (WPL) in Edinburgh should fund an expansion of the tram network.

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Sustainable transport charity Transform Scotland commissioned experts at Edinburgh’s Napier University to look at the implications for business of so-called “demand management” schemes like WPLs and congestion charging. They found such measures could reduce traffic levels and worked best when introduced as part of a package, and said ring-fencing of revenue was key.

A congestion charge could help Edinburgh emulate Stockholm's success in reducing traffic, said the study. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

Transform Scotland said: “Scotland’s track record in engaging businesses around progressive transport measures has not been encouraging. Too often, tired stand-off has emerged, with business groups caricatured as opponents of progressive change and transport groups as ignoring the economic impact of their proposals. There are policies available which both cut congestion whilst supporting economic growth.”

Edinburgh council is actively working on proposals for a WPL, which could be set at between between £450 and £650 per space and raise up to £19 million a year. And transport convener Scott Arthur has suggested a congestion charge on commuters coming into Edinburgh could be introduced if future improvements in bus connections to surrounding areas fail to cut the number of cars driving into the Capital.

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‘Cost of congestion charging scheme would be less now than in 2005’

The Napier study noted there had been support from businesses for London’s congestion charge, partly because they recognised traffic levels in the city were too high, and initial implementation of the scheme had resulted in a 33 per cent reduction entering and leaving the zone and an 18 per cent reduction in traffic overall. It said Edinburgh’s strategy also focused on reducing city-centre traffic and suggested a congestion charge in Edinburgh could mean business benefits including improved delivery times and better public transport connectivity. “In addition, it would contribute to the city’s reputation as a business and tourism destination overall.”

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Nottingham's workplace parking levy did not have a negative impact on investment, according to the study. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

The study also cited Stockholm’s congestion charge, which saw 24 per cent of commuting trips disappear – with most switching to public transport – along with 22 per cent of discretionary trips by car.

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A proposed £2-a-day congestion charge for Edinburgh was rejected in a referendum in 2005, but the study said the scheme was shown at the time to have viable business case and suggested developments in technology since then were likely to have reduced implementation costs. The Napier experts said the reasons for the rejection of the 2005 scheme were “lack of a political champion, disagreement on scheme objectives, scheme complexity, disjointed city-region governance and lack of clear promotion of benefits”.

And they said: “If such issues could be addressed then it may well be that Edinburgh could emulate the success of other schemes such as Stockholm in traffic reduction terms, in addition to providing a useful revenue stream for investment in transport infrastructure.”

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The study said Edinburgh was the Scottish city most likely to “yield positive results” in terms of a congestion charge, but Transform Scotland said business groups generally felt that a single, national road-user pricing scheme, perhaps with variable charging based on local circumstances, would be more likely to win business support. “They felt it might be better to focus on designing a well-thought out national scheme, rather than wasting political capital on a shorter term scheme such as congestion charging.”

‘Workplace parking levy could help pay for another tramline in Edinburgh’

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The Napier study also looked at Nottingham’s workplace parking levy and noted the revenue raised from the WPL had been used to fund a second tram line which had been a significant factor in attracting new businesses to the city. It said before implementation as many as 60 per cent of businesses threatened to relocate, but this did not happen.

Analysis suggested the scheme had led to a reduction in congestion and an increase in people using public transport to get to work, without any apparent impact on economic activity and no negative impact on investment. It also noted: “The workplace parking levy in Nottingham has successfully covered costs of implementation along with the system operating costs.”

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The study said Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen had population levels and economies similar to Nottingham and could achieve similar results if WPLs were applied. “Edinburgh and Glasgow already have long term plans for public transport improvement which could be part-funded from the revenue stream. Hypothecation of revenue to invest in public transport alternatives is associated with obtaining business and public support. In the case of Scottish cities, this would mean WPL revenue might contribute to schemes such as Edinburgh Tram Line 3 or the Glasgow Metro, for example.”

Transform Scotland said the approach to new charges to tackle congestion had to put business in the driving seat, proactively involving the business community in conversations and proposals for traffic reduction.

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‘Traffic gridlock costs businesses millions of pounds every year’

Rachel Cook, deputy head of policy at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Small businesses rely significantly on both their access to the road network, and to public transport, whether it is to make deliveries, keep the supply chain moving, or to get employees to the workplace. Therefore any measures designed to reduce traffic need to be undertaken with the full involvement and consent of local businesses. This is now more important than ever given that small businesses are currently navigating some of the most difficult trading environments in decades.”

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And Gareth Williams, head of policy at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, said: “Traffic gridlock costs businesses millions of pounds every year in higher costs and lost productivity. Business shares the government’s aim of tackling congestion, but Scotland’s 20 per cent car kilometre reduction target is simply not yet on their radar in the difficult economic climate. We agree that national road user charging which replaces fuel duty and vehicle excise duty is more likely to be seen as fair and user-friendly by businesses than a piecemeal patchwork of local measures. Traffic reduction can support business success and businesses can be a catalyst for change – but only if government steps up collaboration to make it work for businesses.”