Edinburgh congestion charge: Motorists may have to pay to drive into city if public transport is shunned

Drivers may be charged to travel into Edinburgh, the city’s transport boss has warned

Congestion charging for cars coming into Edinburgh could be on the cards if commuters shun improved bus links, transport convener Scott Arthur has warned. The city's minority Labour administration aims to increase the capacity of public transport from neighbouring areas over the next three years. And Cllr Arthur said if motorists then still insisted on bringing their car into the city they might have to pay.

As a major step towards the improved capacity, the administration wants to make permanent a series of temporary measures on key bus routes into the city introduced during the pandemic to speed journeys. Cllr Arthur said: "It fits into a bigger picture about our plans to improve and expand public transport links from surrounding local authorities, making it easier and more efficient and increasing capacity on those links to the city centre."

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At the council election earlier this year the SNP proposed a congestion charge of £2 or £3 a day at the city boundary in a bid to discourage commuters from outwith Edinburgh from bringing their cars into the Capital. But critics claimed public transport alternatives were not good enough and Labour said it would work with the neighbouring councils to make sure satisfactory bus or train routes were available before any charge was brought in.

A report to Thursday’s meeting of the transport and environment committee details where temporary measures would become permanent on bus routes into the city, including the A1 Milton Road, A70 Lanark Road and A90 Queensferry Road, as well as the A89 near the Newbridge roundabout and the A8 Gogar underpass. The measures typically involve sections of bus lane and associated parking and loading restrictions.

Cllr Arthur said: “Once we increase the capacity of those links coming in then we can say to the people in the surrounding local authorities 'There's capacity here, why don't you come on public transport?' And if it's efficient and working and we're sure of that, and the uptake doesn't look as if it's going to happen, then we can start thinking about congestion charging for people coming into the city centre.

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“We think maybe by 2025 there'll be capacity in these inward links into the city itself. The public transport will be there, it will be usable and efficient so at that stage we can start thinking about congestion charging.”

Edinburgh residents voted by three to one to reject congestion charging in a referendum nearly 18 years ago. The controversial plan, which would have seen thousands of motorists paying a £2-a-day charge, was put to a vote in February 2005. Turn-out was 61.7 per cent and the scheme was decisively thrown out by 74.4 per cent to 25.6 per cent.

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Bus services with enough capacity for commuters are expected to be in place by 2025. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The rejected plan involved two cordons, one around the city centre and one just inside the city bypass, both operating Monday-Friday. The inner cordon was going to apply from 7am to 6.30pm, while the outer one would only be in force during the morning rush hour, from 7am to 10am. Motorists would have been charged for crossing either cordon but would have paid only one charge per day even if they crossed the cordons several times.

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