Last minute changes to the giant Greater Manchester congestion charge scheme have been proposed in a bid to win over sceptical residents.
The changes come ahead of a referendum in December on the controversial plans.
The Government is said to be watching developments closely, as it hopes the Greater Manchester scheme will be the first of many similar ‘integrated’ transport schemes in the UK.
Early polling suggests the Manchester C-Charge will be rejected, however, despite the promises of investment in public transport. This would mirror a similar result for the Edinburgh road toll scheme in 2005.
The Manchester C-Charge scheme centres around two charging boundaries and is being promoted as part of a wider scheme of local transport upgrades.
These include extending the city centre tram system by 22 miles, introducing a high-speed bus ‘corridor’ to two outlying towns and introducing a fleet of US-style school buses.
The C-Charge plan would kick in during 2013 and would force drivers who cross the M60 ‘Outer ring’ in the morning peak (7am to 9.30am) to pay £2, followed by a further £1 to cross the inner ‘intermediate’ inner ring road. In the evening (4pm to 6.30pm) the fee would be £1 to cross each cordon.
The latest changes to the original plans include a reduction in the maximum total daily charge from £10 to £5, an exemption for lorries in the first year of the charge and an exemption for the Trafford Park business area until a new tram link is installed.
The scheme managers are also redrawing the C-Charge boundary and proposing additional local transport incentives.
But sceptics say the last-minute plans, such as lower bus and C-charge fares for the low paid, are unrealistic panic measures. The two groups trying to push the scheme through - the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive and the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities - are also faced with an anti-congestion charge group made up of local MPs from all three main parties.