Sunday, 21 September 2003

Why Edinburgh's road pricing scheme may not work

I like to get the weekly supermarket trip done early on Sunday morning when the roads and the store are quiet. Although it is further than its rivals the prices at Asda are less than elsewhere and there is also the opportunity to call in at Borders on the way home.

And so at nine this morning I found myself driving up Lothian Road, through Tollcross, across the Meadows (remembering the new speed camera) and over South Clerk Street ready for the right turn. But there was no right turn: I had to go left, and along St Leonard’s Street I went with no opportunity for turning back. There was still no explanation as to why the roads were being blocked.

Eventually I reached the Royal Mile, expecting to continue ahead and make an easterly turn beyond Waverley Station. But that road was closed as well. I had begun to notice large numbers of traffic wardens and police motorcyclists. Could there perhaps be a large demonstration? It seemed unlikely: the protests against the Iraq intervention hadn’t produced this degree of traffic "management". In the clogged-up Royal Mile taxis were doing u-turns and I did the same. Back along St Leonard’s Street I went, past the home of Inspector Rebus, and on to Cameron Toll.

Eventually I reached Asda and then Borders. I decided it might be better to return by the alternative route, but where the A1 does a ninety-degree left turn at Jock’s Lodge the road was blocked again. After a lengthy detour through previously undiscovered and extremely congested back streets I eventually reached Leith Walk and headed for the City Centre. By now it was after ten and Queen Street was amazingly busy for that hour on a Sunday morning in Edinburgh. Residents’ cars had received parking tickets and more police were in evidence. Then I saw the sign that explained why there was so much chaos on the roads. It was the day of Edinburgh’s “Car Free Festival”, which:

gives us some quiet time to reflect on these issues, and a tantalising glimpse of what our town centre streets could be like with less motor traffic.
Well, on "reflection", I have come to the conclusion that our City Councillors' plans for road pricing in Edinburgh will produce total chaos. In principle I accept that road users should pay the economic cost of their use but this morning showed that local politicians are the last people on earth to be trusted to have anything to do with transport.