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The Dragon Says: A Congestion Charge For Guildford Should Be Considered

Published on: 24 Jul, 2014
Updated on: 28 Jul, 2014

Dragon Says 470Should planners consider the introduction of a congestion charge for Guildford? In a letter Bernard Parke, a former mayor, has suggested that it should. The letter has sparked some interest.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS is not surprised. Traffic congestion is one of our town’s most chronic problems and, whatever the new housing number is agreed for Guildford borough, it is certain that more houses will mean more people, with more cars, creating even more pressure on our roads.

Traffic 4 470The Guildford Dragon NEWS believes that congestion charging should be seriously considered. A scheme where those from outside the borough are charged a reasonable amount for using our congested town centre roads is not unfair. It is exactly what happens if we want to drive a car into central London, something we now, however reluctantly, accept.

But if a scheme were to be introduced the money raised from the charges should be used exclusively on further traffic congestion alleviation. As an example, public transport discount cards for Guildford borough residents with subsidies payable to bus and rail companies payable each time they are used for journeys to the town centre.

We should not be deterred by the those who can only see the problems and the risk averse. Of course such a scheme will not be a panacea. A silver bullet solution to Guildford’s traffic problems does not exist. But too often we let the best be the enemy of the good. Schemes elsewhere have worked to reduce traffic levels. Why shouldn’t they here?

Following are excerpts, in italics, from the comments received on Mr Parke’s letter and the Dragon’s responses:

From Brian Miller
It will be very brave if the council even suggested it – but why not as part of the debate on the Local Plan?

Opinion Logo 2Remember it was Durham City that was the first in the country to introduce a congestion charge, not London as popularly thought.

Brian Miller is correct of course some courage will be required. No doubt some risk averse council officers and councillors will come up with 101 reasons to refuse to even consider a congestion charge, they would do the same with any new idea, but it does not mean they are right.

Bravery would be required to propose such a solution but isn’t that what we should expect from our councillors. We need to include new thinking in our formulation of a Local Plan and Durham seem to be finding their congestion charge scheme a success. As Mr Miller says: “…why not…?”

Bibhas Neoghi
Congestion charging is only possible when there are alternative routes the traffic could take. It would achieve nothing except bringing in some revenue for the councils and a lot of irate motorists stuck in traffic jams just the same.

We think Mr Neoghi, a valued, knowledgeable and regular correspondent, has mixed up “possible” with politically attractive. Of course it is possible to introduce a congestion scheme here, all the technology etc. exists. And congestion charges are not only justified where alternative routes exist. There is no alternative route to Westminster that avoids the C Charge in London.

Bringing in revenue to help fund further congestion relieving schemes should be a highly desirable objective. And if irate, charge paying motorists are stuck fuming, literally, in Guildford town centre then perhaps they will find another route next time.

Jim Allen
This was a question on congestion charging in the Burpham Forum Survey – it didn’t get much support when proposed.

We don’t know what question was asked of Burpham residents so it is hard to measure whether that is a valid measure of public opinion. We don’t think that any residents of Guildford borough should have to pay such a charge in Guildford; it is, after all, their town too.

Dennis Harvey-Hepherd

Much of the traffic coming into Guildford is actually trying to get somewhere else.

In reality, no such scheme would get off the ground because of local politics, Nimbyism and ultimately cost. Sadly, big insoluble problems can never be solved by twiddling around the edges.

Big problems need big brave solutions that will solve not complicate the situation.

We are not sure if anyone knows how much of the traffic that comes into Guildford simply wants to pass through but a congestion charge would either encourage them to avoid the town centre or, if impossible, charge them a small fee for using congested roads.

Why should local politics be an obstacle? Tory Boris Johnson has not scrapped the London charge which was introduced by Labour’s Ken Livingstone. Livingstone said, ten years after it was introduced, that it was the only thing in his entire political career that “turned out better than I expected”.

And why would Nimbyism apply if only those from outside the borough would be charged? Costs were not found to be prohibitive for Durham, a city of just 87,000.

A congestion charge would be quite a big and relatively novel solution and as Brian Miller said it would be “brave”. Good. Effective solutions will need to be.

Brian Holt

I think a congestion charge will stop visitors and shoppers coming to Guildford, the town would end up with many more empty shops, and already has one of the highest parking fees, compared with other towns.

Mr Holt, a former coach driver who has lived his whole life in Guildford, has a valid point. There is some evidence that congestion charging can affect retail businesses but given the expense of parking in Guildford we think it is unlikely to put many off. Shoppers might be more likely to be deterred by the existing congestion than paying a small charge.

Our car parks are expensive, it is true, but they are often full too. The simple rules of supply are demand dictate the prices, to a large extent at least. In any case, we should not be a slave to our retail sector, very important though it is.

C Stevens
A congestion charge is simply a non-starter, I would have thought. Who has the legislative powers to introduce it? How would the charge be paid? Who would pursue those who don’t pay?

Everyone seems to accept that congestion round the gyratory is a nightmare, made worse by the closure of the pedestrian subway at Debenhams.

The Road Traffic Act 2000 gives provision for “road user charging” schemes. A Legal Order and approval by the Secretary of State were also required by the Durham scheme – but if Durham can do it why not Guildford?

The required technology, such as automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), is now mature and readily available. It has been refined over the years by the schemes in Durham, London and many other cities throughout the world. Enforcement schemes used elsewhere could be imitated too, perhaps even improved.

The closure of the Millbrook subway has exacerbated the our traffic congestion but it was a nightmare before. A congestion charge could be one of a range of measures that could help and should be seriously considered, not dismissed out of hand.

David Smith

This would be a great idea – perhaps just for the Bridge Street ring road between 8am to 6pm Mon to Fri.

I always try and car share when I commute into Waterloo and when I get so frustrated when I’m stuck in traffic leaving Farnham Road car park and every car you look in just has one person – a congestion charge will change the way people drive and may help improve our public transport system.

Yes, a good idea.

Here is a man who regularly suffers the problems of our congested roads. The Guildford Dragon NEWS says: “Hear, hear!”

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Responses to The Dragon Says: A Congestion Charge For Guildford Should Be Considered

  1. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    July 24, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    I see the same photograph of four lanes of traffic is still being used to portray congestion as horrific. I would like to know please where this road exists in Guildford area.

    If measures are taken to reduce congestion and pollution by easing the flow of traffic rather than constricting it by physical or artificial means of charging, what would the motorists and Guildford businesses prefer? Have the Guildford businesses consulted?

    I believe congestion charging would adversely affect businesses in Guildford. Ample parking with reasonable charges is necessary for a thriving town like Guildford. Woking Peacock Centre is a good example.

    Where public transport is excellent, for example, in London, it is a different matter.

    Of course it is possible to operate such a scheme as far as technology goes. That is not what I meant. I think a business case for operating a congestion charging scheme would be difficult to make.

    Unless there is blockage due to an illegally parked vehicle or a broken down one, traffic could flow reasonably well if the gyratory is modified sensibly and the crossing opposite Debenhams is redesigned as I have suggested in my previous comment.

    The point I made was that there are no viable alternative routes for through traffic and therefore congestion charges would not be fair. Such charges would also deter many shoppers from driving into Guildford and businesses are likely to suffer as a result.

    • Martin Giles Reply

      July 25, 2014 at 8:24 am

      The photograph is just for illustrative purposes but similar queues can be seen locally. Ed

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    July 25, 2014 at 1:48 am

    I still think removal of bus lanes, re-phasing traffic lights and clearing breakdowns more quickly would be a far cheaper and more effective method of curing the congestion in Guildford.

  3. Bernard Parke Reply

    July 25, 2014 at 9:59 am

    I notice the comment that many people would be deterred from driving into Guildford. Surely this is why we have park and ride facilities.

    My wife and I, like many of us who live in central Guildford, think twice about driving into the town centre and prefer, when possible, to use the Ladymead retail park and even on-line shopping, which is more customer friendly.

    Through traffic is killing any pleasure in shopping in the town centre and must be discouraged.

    There are alternative routes around central Guildford but perhaps these would not find favour with the controlling councillors who create council policy.

  4. C Stevens Reply

    July 25, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    The congestion charging zone in Durham has absolutely nothing in common with Guildford. It operates in a very small area known as the Durham peninsula.

    In contrast, in Guildford we have the A31, A3100, A281, A322 and A25, all a part of our town’s road system.

    So I don’t think we can learn anything from Durham, but what we already know (but don’t seem fully to understand) is the law of unintended consequences. So,for example, if you close the Debenhams subway, you make worse the Bridge Street congestion.

    I’m with Jim Allen: let’s go for the simple solutions first. Why do we have all day bus lanes? Why not just have them for morning and afternoon peaks? Like, for example, London.

  5. Brian Holt Reply

    July 25, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    Bus lanes are essential to keep the buses running on time, instead of being stuck in traffic jams and adding more pollution.

    There have been suggestions. For instance, the park and ride sites do allow many to park outside the town and travel in by bus. But the problem is Guildford’s biggest bus operator is always short of drivers and cannot run full services. There are hardly any buses to the villages evenings and Sundays. Additionally, their buses are old and keep braking down. So where would Guildford get a good reliable bus service from?

    When planning for Guildford future public transport system the people involved need to remember no one wants to drive buses nowadays.

  6. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    July 26, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    Promoting the use of buses, establishing a Rapid Transit System and inroducing electric buses are part of sustainable transport strategy. I cannot understand why bus drivers are in short supply when there is so much unemployment and many EU citizens are seeking jobs in the UK.

    Extending bus services into rural areas and extending hours of service depends on demand and therefore not viable if uneconomic to run. The council could be urged to consider subsidising such services provided funding can be secured from either revenues or taxes. Alternatively communities could form groups operating a voluntary service with some kind of rota or points system among the willing participants/drivers.

    All day bus lanes are perhaps not necessary. There are suggestions on my web site for improvements to the gyratory and redesigned bus routes coupled with relocated bus station in Mary Road car park site. The web site could be found by searching for ‘revamp Guildford gyratory’.

    Routes bypassing the town centre connecting the A31, A3100, A281, A322 and A25 would have to be suitable for all traffic and should have the capacity required for the volume of traffic. Rat runs are not acceptable routes. There are no such alternative routes at present.

    As far as I am aware, traffic signals in the town centre are controlled by SCC using SCOOT system. The system cannot work efficiently if the inherent network capacity is grossly exceeded or becomes inadequate because of congestion created not due to volume of traffic but by constraints like the Debenhams crossing.

    Debenhams crossing could be redesigned as a two-stage crossing with an island in the middle created by introducing a chicane for the two northbound lanes. The southbound lane would then take 1/3rd the time now taken by pedestrians and thus giving more time to traffic in each and every cycle. If the gyratory is sensibly modified together with this measure for Debenhams crossing, I believe congestion would be reduced to a tolerable level.

    PS I wonder how many readers have spotted that the picture is not of any road in the UK. Left hand drive cars are clearly visible.

  7. John Cooke Reply

    July 28, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    I avoid driving to Guildford because the congestion is so bad, and, coming from Woking, the train service is pretty good.

    I cycle to Worplesdon to work and often have to go to Guildford, but neither the A320 or A322 are bicycle friendly; where cycle lanes do exist they are poor and have overgrown vegetation.

    We need to reduce car use. A congestion charge would be a fair way of doing it, but you need a good and reliable public transport alternative, and a decent cycle route to dissuade all the MAMILs [middle aged man in Lycra] from blocking the roads.

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