SNP plans for Edinburgh congestion charge 'unfair' say Lothian council leaders

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A congestion charge targeted at commuters coming into Edinburgh from outside would be unfair without major improvements in public transport, neighbouring council leaders have said.

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The SNP is proposing the charge in its manifesto for the May 5 local elections, stressing that no-one within the city boundaries would have to pay it.

But East Lothian’s Labour council leader Norman Hampshire said a charge would be "very unfair" on people travelling into the city to work and would deter people from taking jobs in the Capital.

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And Derek MIlligan, Labour leader of Midlothian council, said: “Until such time as we get public transport right we couldn’t support, under any circumstances, a congestion charge.”Both said the possibility of such a charge, which would affect many of their residents, had not been raised with them before the Edinburgh SNP launched the idea in its manifesto.

The manifesto says many commuter journeys originate from the Lothians, Fife and beyond and the charge will “discourage those living outwith the city from driving in, encouraging them to switch to bus, tram, train, foot or cycle”.

Cllr Hampshire said: "If you had a much better public transport system, more people would use it rather than take their cars in, but currently going from East Lothian into Edinburgh the services are not at a level that would encourage people to travel that way. They need to put investment into public transport before they do anything to detract from people using their car.

"If you try and travel by rail from East Lothian to Edinburgh the trains are overcrowded. You can't get on, people are getting left on the platform so people are taking the decision to use their car rather than trying to cram onto a train. There's just not enough trains and the frequency is just not adequate.”

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The SNP's commuter congestion charge would affect drivers coming into the Capital from outside the city boundary.  Picture: Lisa Ferguson.The SNP's commuter congestion charge would affect drivers coming into the Capital from outside the city boundary.  Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
The SNP's commuter congestion charge would affect drivers coming into the Capital from outside the city boundary. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

He said a charge would discourage people who live outside the city from trying to get jobs in Edinburgh, adding that many from East Lothian had lower-income jobs in retail, hotels and restaurants. “They will not want to pay a charge to get in and out to work. And they're often working shifts that don’t fit well with public transport and the only option they've got is to use their car, so this could make their employment unaffordable.”

Cllr Milligan said public transport connections between Midlothian and Edinburgh were not good enough. “It's not two months ago there was an attempt to cut the train service by half on the Waverley line. And huge swathes of Midlothian are either not covered by bus services or only covered at peak times.”

And he said the congestion charge proposal came on top of plans for a Low Emission Zone and a Workplace Parking Levy. “If you take the three together, people will just think this is a tax on motorists to bail out a failing Edinburgh council.

“While we want to do everything we can to get cars off the road, the reality is that has to be linked to public transport being regular and affordable and being guaranteed.

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“A charge would make it more difficult for people to work in Edinburgh and also more difficult for businesses to operate in Edinburgh.”

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