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One in four London drivers will swap four wheel for two

Published: 04 March 2002

Almost one in four drivers in central London say they’ll swop to bikes to avoid paying a £5 a day congestion charge next year, MCN can exclusively reveal.

It’s the best way they can find to beat the predicted £1100-a-year bill to enter the capital – because bikes are exempt from the charge.

We stopped drivers entering the proposed charging zone in central London last week and simply asked: " Would the £5-a-day charge tempt you to swop your car for a bike? Twenty-two per cent of them said yes.

Around 137,000 cars enter central London daily between the peak hours of 7am and 10am. That means the number of motorcycles and scooters entering the city centre between those hours is set to increase by more than 30,000. That’s 10 times the current level and will bring the total to around 33,000.

It’s not just commuters who’ll be ditching cars in favour of bikes, either. Whole businesses are planning to do the same.

One of the people we spoke to as he stopped at traffic lights was John Murphy, boss of electrical engineering firm RTT. He said he’d already bought Honda Deauvilles for his staff of four electricians, who regularly work in central London. The bikes will replace the vans they currently use. It will save him around £4700 a year. He said: " Hopefully, other firms will see the benefit of bikes and follow suit. "

Westminster City Council is already evaluating what measures it will have to take to provide parking for the masses of extra two-wheeled traffic.

Charles Cronin, cabinet member for transport at the council, said: " I see the way forward as providing more motorcycle parking in off-street car parks. "

And bike manufacturers are gearing up to deal with the extra riders. Honda UK’s Scott Grimsdall said: " It’s the most exciting development for years. We’ll be looking at how we cope with an increase in demand, particularly for scooters and commuters. "

London mayor Ken Livingstone announced last week that riders would be exempt from the swingeing charge for cars, intended to tackle congestion on gridlocked streets, from next February. The news has been welcomed by the motorcycle community. The Motorcycle Industry Association even predicts it will turn London into a city more like Milan, where scooters and motorcycles take to the roads in droves.

The long-term savings for drivers who swop to bikes are huge. The charge adds up to around £25 a week – more than enough to pay for a new bike or scooter. A brand-new 2001 Suzuki Bandit 600 cost £22 a week over four years, with a £100 deposit, while a 50cc scooter can be bought for around £12 a week over three years, including insurance.

And it may not just be the capital that’s affected by new charges. Manchester and Bristol are both looking at ways to solve their own congestion problems, and neither rules out following London’s example.

Manchester councillor Val Stevens said: " We’ll watch with interest the impact the scheme has in London. "

And just days before Livingstone the London charge, a Government think-thank proposed charging drivers to use every congested road in the country. That could make a journey from Maidstone to Luton cost £9.50 and push up the cost of driving by hundreds of pounds a year for thousands of people.

The proposals include cutting fuel tax and abolishing road tax as a concession to drivers. And while there’s no mention of making us pay the charges, we’d still benefit from the concessions.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which represents the British car industry, there are 27.5 million cars on the road. So if the rest of the UK reacts anywhere as strongly to congestion charges as Londoners, the number of bikes could increase by millions and easily double the 800,000 already registered.

According to the MCIA, not only does that mean we’ll have greater influence on transport policy, but motorcycle manufacturers will invest more in the UK market, leading to more bikes developed specifically for us and lower prices.

MCIA spokesman Craig Carey-Clinch said: " If the charge reduces congestion in London, we’ll see similar schemes cropping up all over the place. Unless the Government is just anti-motorcycles, which recent policy seems to suggest isn’t the case, it will have to take us more seriously.

" A massive increase in rider numbers could lead to more dealerships, more jobs in motorcycling and even a greater diversity of models and lower prices. "

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