Congestion charge. What did the Romans do?
Will Cambridge have its own traffic congestion charge? It looks likely. A bit different from the London version, it would charge you (£3-£5) for driving around between 7.30 and 9.30 am; after that it would be free. One notch up from the London scheme, there would be no concessions for residents within the zone – and in fact the plan is that you will get charged even for driving out.
I’m all for this in principle, but can’t for the life of me see why someone should get charged for driving from where I live OUT of the city, and so relieving congestion.
What’s puzzling is exactly who is backing this. All the leaflets from the three main parties that have dropped through the letterbox in advance of the City Council elections on May 1 have come out against. The Lib Dems say that it is being introduced by the Conservative County Council, and object (like me) to the driving out charge, and to the fact that the profits are to be spent on a road in Ely, rather than improving cycling facilities etc in Cambridge itself.
The Labour leaflet had the nerve to complain about the civil liberties implications of all the cameras required to operate the scheme. There may well be a point here, but when the Labour party has enthusiastically spread CCTV cameras across the nation to make us the most photographed part of the planet, what idiot (or dissident) in the local Labour party thought we wouldn’t notice the inconsistency?
The Tory, on the other hand, claims that it is all being driven by the Labour party. And with a charming classical reference reassures us that “like all cities since Rome in 70AD, Cambridge suffers from congestion. It is part of being a city.”
So what would the Romans have done?
That’s easy. And the answer is not, I think, Tory policy – even in the hands Roman-loving Boris. I’m not quite sure why the local party thinks that the year 70 AD was crucial (the beginning of the Flavian dynasty). But from the period of Julius Caesar, more than a hundred years earlier, laws banned wheeled transport from the city of Rome during daylight hours.
There were exceptions of course. It was OK “for anything to be brought or conveyed for the purpose of building sacred temples of the immortal gods” or for rubble to be taken out of the city when “a contract has been let for public demolition”. It was also allowed for Vestal Virgins and other priests to use carts when going about their religious business. It was OK for triumphal processions and the games too.
That apart, all traffic went by night.
Was it a good solution? Well, it must have made for a nicer city by day. But just think of the night. As the Roman satirist Juvenal complains, it was impossible to get to sleep.
Still, it might just be a model for Cambridge.