Sheffield congestion charge: ‘We shouldn’t punish public transport’ 

Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of the Liberal Democrats
Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of the Liberal Democrats

Opposition councillors have hit out at Sheffield City Council’s plans for a congestion charge of up to £50 a day for buses, taxis, lorries, coaches and vans in the city centre.

It will apply in the ring road and inner ring road.

The council hope it will encourage drivers to upgrade their vehicles to Euro 6 engine standard, as well as reduce air pollution and ‘save lives’.

But Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of the Sheffield Liberal Democrats, said it will damage public transport.

He said: “We should be rewarding people who use public transport not punishing them.

“Let’s not mince our words, this is a tax on the least well off. We need to improve our bus network and lower fares. Not add a £50 tax on to each bus which will simply lead to higher costs and worse services.

“The Labour council haven’t thought this one through. It’s almost like they don’t want people to use public transport.

“The Lib Dems have consistently fought for a radical shake up of the bus network. We want to give people – not the bus companies – more power. This way we can build a bus network which works for everyone.

“Labour’s plan isn’t fair. It will hit the most vulnerable in Sheffield and the environment will continue to suffer. As the cost of public transport increases, those who can afford to buy a car will do so. Those who can’t buy a car will continue to pay extortionate bus fares. We need to demand better for Sheffield.”

The Green Party and Lib Dems recently criticised the council on buses and pushed for them to take more control by leaving the Sheffield Bus Partnership, through which things like fares are agreed.

The council have asked for £40 million from the government to implement the plans.

Coun Jack Scott, cabinet member for transport and development, said the money will go towards signs and cameras and around £10 million worth of loans, grants and advice to help taxi drivers and bus companies upgrade.

He added: “This absolutely won’t mean higher fares for taxis or buses, we have got some of the lowest prices in the country for buses and we want these to be even lower.

“What we want is to support bus companies and taxi drivers to upgrade their vehicles so they are compliant.

“For the last five or six years we have asked the government to take this issue seriously to improve air quality, and we are really disappointed and angry about that.

“Around 500 people a year die in Sheffield because of poor air quality, we don’t think we can just stand by anymore, we have been forced by the government to take action and set out these bold plans.

“We don’t want to charge anyone anything, what we want is for people to upgrade their vehicles so they don’t have to pay the charge.”

It comes after the government’s Clean Air Strategy announcement which demanded heavily polluted cities significantly improve their air quality within the next few years.

Other cities such as Leeds and Birmingham have also introduced congestion charges, some of which ask private drivers to pay.

Coun Scott said there are currently no plans to charge private drivers, but added: “If we don’t see the kind of improvements that we want to see then we will have to look at other options as well but, for the moment, this will be sufficient to get us to a safe level of compliance.”

The plans will be discussed by the council’s cabinet on November 27 and there will be a public consultation from January 2019.