Congestion “Commission” was an expensive gimmick

Although there has been no official statement from the new coalition rulers at the York Council, it seems likely that plans to establish a “congestion commission” will be scrapped when it holds its first Executive meeting on 25th June.

The Council leadership are right to get some of the detritus that it inherited, from the last administration, out of the way quickly.

Similar statements of intent would be welcome on issues such as the future of the Guildhall, the Knights rugby club, Coppergate fines. Oliver House etc.

Coppergate - Time to move on

Coppergate – Time to move on

The “Commission” idea was floated by a discredited administration which was desperately trying to recover from the Lendal Bridge shambles. Rather than face the criticism that is usually attached to taking any decision about transport in the City, Labour hoped to deflect the odium onto third parties. Hence the establishment of a Commission which would no doubt have agonised again about congestion charging and the like.

The debates would have been at a huge cost to taxpayers – £135,000 was quoted.

The Council already has a transport plan. It was agreed in 2011 and offers a balance of initiatives aimed at reducing congestion. It needs updating, not least because the decision to bring a trial cross river access restriction forward from 2025 to 2013 has seriously damaged its credibility.

But any transport strategy has to be affordable. With dualling of the northern by pass still elusively outside the resources of even the “combined authority”, talk of trams, tubes, extra river bridges and river buses would be just that – talk.

A1237 dualling still illusive

A1237 dualling still illusive

Any updated transport plan needs to build on what has been successful over the past decade when congestion levels have remained more or less stable.

There has been some modal shift to cycles and walking. Buses were becoming more popular until Labour made the grand gesture of evicting the ftr without having anything half as attractive to passengers to substitute, while new roundabouts on the A1237 have eased bottlenecks.

Now Labour have played an old – and discredited card – when claiming that “80 people a year” die in York as a result of poor air quality. This was the favourite claim of former transport chief Dave Merrett who – after much pressing – admitted that the figure was simply a local extrapolation of national respiratory death statistics.

No one knows how many local deaths, through respiratory diseases, are caused by the pollutants emitted by vehicles (or industry for that matter) but most would, no doubt,  support verifiable actions to address locations where pollution levels are sometimes high (mainly narrow terraced streets like Gillygate).

New electric bus fleet launched last week

New electric bus fleet launched last week

So some marks should be awarded to the last Council for beginning the roll out of the type of electric buses first trialled in the City in 2010.

More of this kind of thinking – making the best use of advancing technologies – will take the city forward in a measured and affordable way and with a reasonable chance of carrying the local population with it.