Why congestion charging will put thousands more people on bikes

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We already know the best way to get through a busy city is on two wheels – and the latest plan for the English capital means thousands of London car drivers could see the light as well.

From 2003 a driver will have to hand over £5 per journey in congestion charges if he wants to drive into central London, but it won’t cost a penny if you’re on a bike.

Transport for London is the body which devised the congestion charging plan on behalf of Mayor Ken Livingstone.

It reckons there will be an extra 50,000 people per day looking for an alternative method of transport.

They could get out of their car and hop on the tube instead, or on a bus, but increasing numbers of Londoners are sick of public transport.

For those who have been using their cars for years, the best alternative is going to be a bike.

And as London commuter Darren Robertshaw, 30, puts it: ” I’ve been looking at getting a bike for a while. The tube is ridiculous – a trainload of passengers were stuck underground for two hours recently – and I can see loads of people going for bikes. It’s so easy to get around on one. ”

If you use a car, you’ll be blowing a fiver a day to get into the centre. If the tube can’t cope now, it’s going to hell if more people switch to it after the congestion charge comes in.

Benelli boss Dave Plumber is hoping his firm’s Adiva scooter – the one with a roof – will be a big seller with commuters. He said: ” This could double the market for scooters. If people have to pay £5 a day, they could easily buy and run a small scooter for that cost, including the depreciation on it.

” It’s a great option for people, they can avoid the congestion charge, not have to get the bus (italic) and (italic) have an extra half an hour in bed every morning. ”

The charge is expected to be attract an upturn in sales for big scooters, like the Piaggio X9 or Yamaha Tmax.

Commuters tend to end up on big scoots or traditional bikes after starting out on a smaller scooter.

Bernard Adams, a riding instructor in London and chairman of the Motorcycle Riders Training Association, said: ” There is a lot of scooter interest, and that is leading on to people getting larger bikes.

” The congestion charge will mean more people doing that, as they will feel it in their pocket. We are expecting more people to learn to ride as they can save money and time. ”

Adams believes firms will also be looking closely at bringing bikes into their fleet. If a company car for an employee is going to cost more, firms will be looking for an alternative.

Plumber has already put the Adiva scooter in front of companies at this year’s Fleet Show, where firms make their decisions.

He said: ” We’re already in talks with a supermarket chain about it putting its sales managers on bikes. They can visit more shops in a day – and a charge for cars will give the firm another incentive. The benefits are there already, this just makes it more attractive financially. ”

For now, London is the only city to set a date for introducing a congestion charge. But other cities will be keeping close tabs of how well it works.

And a leading authority on transport believes we could see the idea rolled out in other big cities if it is a success in the capital – and then in many towns as well.

Professor Phil Goodwin from University College London’s centre of transport studies said: ” There was a great controversy when the first parking meters were put up – and there were only three of those at the time. But now you can barely imagine life without them and most people see them as sensible.

” London will be a model for thousands of cities around the world. I would expect places like Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Glasgow to be in line for it first. ”

Leeds is working on a trial congestion charging scheme, which will be tested by volunteers, and could take five years to complete. No money will change hands, but it shows other cities are keen to introduce similar systems.

That could mean larger numbers of bikers nationwide – and more acceptance of our presence on the roads.

BMF spokesman Jeff Stone said: ” We hope this will mean more people on bikes and the beginning of a change in our culture, which is what we need.

” In continental Europe, the bike is accepted as a legitimate form of transport, whereas here people are wary of us. The more bikes there are, the better chance we have of changing that culture. ”

Motorcycle Industry Association (MCI) chief executive Mark Foster also leapt on the cultural change theme. He said: “This means London could become the Milan of the UK and why not?

” Riding a motorcycle, moped or scooter is the best way to travel around a city and avoid congestion. Driving a car in the capital is no longer viable and public transport is collapsing.”

Sean Stapleton is sales manager for bike shop Metropolis, in Vauxhall, just on the edge of the likely zone for charges. He said: ” This charge will be the final straw for car drivers. Effectively, they will be charged for the pleasure of sitting in a jam.

” We get people coming in the shop saying ‘please help me get off the tube’. And we get loads of business from car drivers who’ve seen our name on the plates of bikes and then looked us up.

” These people are reclaiming their time – and there will be more of them when the charge comes in.

” I think the big scoots will be popular and we could also see older guys dusting off their licences and getting a Bandit or a Fazer. ”

Even Transport for London staff seem to be converts to the cause. Spokesman Luke Blair said: ” A bike is one of the best ways to get into the city. It causes no congestion – in fact it eases it, because it gives car drivers a more efficient alternative for their journey. I’ve even considered getting one myself. ”

Read more in MCN, published July 25, 2001

MCN Staff

By MCN Staff