In a move that is likely to stun cycle commuters across the city, Bristol City Council (BCC) has revealed that it is beginning the consultation phase of a plan to apply a congestion charge to the use of bicycles in the city centre.
Following the implementation of the proposed toll for motor vehicles, the plan is to introduce a 'Wheel Zone' across the centre of the city, expected to cover an area of approximately four square miles, and encompass commuter routes throughout the city centre. The charging would be calculated and administered through the use of RFID technology, where radio devices the size of a grain of rice can be attached to bicycles, allowing the Council to monitor their entry into the zone. Radio receivers affixed to traffic lights would record the movement of the devices. All bicycles in the city would be expected to have the devices fitted, with fines levied against bicycle owners refusing to comply. The cost of introducing the scheme, expected to be in the region of £8m, would be met in part by the government's Transport Innovation Fund (TIF). The proposed cost for entering the zone has yet to be finalised, but a charge of £1 each time a cyclist enters or exits the zone is rumoured.
A spokesperson for BCC's Traffic Management department, Paul Burroughs, said yesterday, 'This is part of the Council's ongoing drive towards sustainable transport throughout the city. Once drivers have been encouraged to leave their cars behind in favour of bicycles through taxation, the aim is to continue the process so that cyclists will then be encouraged to walk. We believe that this will significantly impact on the level of road traffic in the city centre, making it safer and less congested for both motorists and cyclists who choose to pay the charge. Additionally, the toll will go some way to defray wear and tear on the roads caused by cyclists, who are currently exempt from road tax.'
He added, 'It is also a well observed fact that walking is far more sustainable than cycling in the medium to long term, as there are many areas of cycling that are simply not sustainable. Of particular concern is the production of toxic waste materials in the construction of bicycle frames and components, and the use of finite resources such as oil in the manufacture of tyres. In addition, Bristol suffers especially as a city from bicycles that are thrown in the river at the end of their useful life, or simply left chained to railings. We estimate that over 40% of all bicycles in the city are disposed of in this way.'
Guide2Bristol contacted Joe Occi, senior editor at www.commutegreen.com. He commented, 'It's not widely recognised, and we often refer to it as 'cycling's secret shame', but in many ways cycling can be seen as being environmentally unfriendly. There is often an urge amongst serious cyclists to continually upgrade their bikes with newer components. Some of the old components are re-used by other cyclists; some merely end up as landfill. Many are sold on EBay. From research that has been conducted by other organisations, it seems that over sixty percent of components sold online end in up in Asia, where they are stripped and melted down for their metals, sometimes by children as young as five.'
Avril Foley, Municipal Liaison Officer at Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity based in Bristol, commented on the plans: 'We are not entirely surprised that the council is planning this move, and in a very broad sense we support it. Since Bristol was chosen as England's first 'Cycling City', we have helped BCC to allocate £11m for improvements to the city's cycling infrastructure. Whilst this is a considerable sum, we believe that further funds are necessary to complete the work, and look forward to partnering with the Council in administering the revenue from the charges. It is also part of our remit to encourage sustainable transport in all its forms, and walking to work is something that we support.'
There is some good news for local cycle commuters, however. The council is proposing that cyclists who are prepared to participate in a scheme to make their bikes 'carbon negative' will be able to travel throughout the 'Wheel Zone' free of charge. In conjunction with French energy company EDF, they are offering to attach a new device to the bikes of cyclists opting out of the toll scheme. The idea is that this device will enable the rider to generate and store electricity whilst commuting.
A representative from EDF explained, 'It works like a traditional dynamo light. About the size and shape of a large water bottle, it clips to the underside of a bicycle frame and stores the electricity generated by the dynamo unit as the bicycle wheels turn, in the same way one might charge up a battery. It's an unobtrusive device, weighing just over three kilograms.'
The Council plans to set up stations around the city where the electricity can be transferred directly from the devices into the local grid. The hope is that the energy generated will help to power communal projects such as the fountains in St Augustine's Parade, as well as lighting Council buildings and car parks across the city.
Guide2Bristol are registering our objection to the scheme, as we see it as an unfair imposition on green commuters. Or are we just giving cyclists an easy ride? Tell us what you think by completing our quick feedback form below - we will be informing BCC of our readers' views.