The SNP's manifesto for the May 5 council elections proposes a congestion charge at the city boundary in a bid to discourage commuters from outwith Edinburgh from bringing their cars into the Capital and persuade them to switch to public transport instead.
And now Neil Greig, director of policy and research at IAM Roadsmart, has criticised it as an extra tax and warned it would affect the city’s economy.
He said: "We've always been against a congestion charge for one or two cities in Scotland because it would be an extra tax on top of all the other UK-wide taxes that drivers pay. Our position is if you're going to have a congestion charge or road pricing system you need to reduce other forms of tax so it doesn't become an unfair burden on drivers. The council doesn't have the power to reduce petrol tax or vehicle tax, so the congestion charge would just become an extra tax.”
A congestion charge was proposed in Edinburgh in 2005 but rejected in a city-wide referendum by three to one. Mr Greig said without the council being able to show any specific benefits, including improvements in public transport, the idea had not been attractive then. “And I don’t see it being any more attractive now because people still don't see public transport and cycling as a viable alternative to their use of the car.”
He said most people going into the very centre of Edinburgh did use public transport, but for people going around the suburbs or across the city public transport was not really a serious option yet.
And he said: “Anything that makes it more expensive and more difficult to get into Edinburgh, people will go elsewhere – you're ultimately going to affect the economy. And there are already a lot of things happening in Edinburgh with the tourist tax and so on that will make it more expensive.
“People will be spending money on the congestion charge and therefore that money doesn’t get spent in the Edinburgh economy.”
But walking campaign group Living Streets is backing the congestion charge proposal. Director Stuart Hay said: “Something needs to be done about congestion and air quality in Edinburgh and this is a proven way of dealing with those issues. You need to bring in public transport improvements alongside a congestion charge, but you need the budget to bring in the improvements and that’s one of the only ways you can fund improvements given the lack of resources within councils at the moment.”
And responding to fears about damage to the city economy he argued that in the longer term a congestion charge would give a boost. “The most successful cities have great public transport systems; and poor environments that are polluted and congested are very bad for the economy. So overall, once improvements are made and the congestion is reduced it’s going to be really good for the economy.”