Despite the endless problems that have plagued Boris’s administration so far, today he found time to deliver one of his rare concrete manifesto promises: a consultation on the Congestion Charge Western Extension.

Now, it may be good that he’s delivering a pledge, but whether it’s a worthwhile pledge is another matter entirely.

The previous Mayor also consulted before introducing the Extension, and while a majority of respondents in the proposed zone were opposed to the change, the Mayor’s opinion polling apparently showed that a majority of Londoners as a whole were not. Those in the zone complained that their voices were ignored, but in truth of course a strategic, London-wide Mayor determines strategy in one area based on the needs of London as a whole, so it wasn’t as simple as that. The point of a London-wide strategic authority is to address ‘nimbyism’ and push through things which may be unpopular in a particular area but popular overall, so it could be argued – and certainly was by Mr. Livingstone during May’s election – that that was what was happening here.

Anyway, what we’re most likely in for now is a repeat of that consultation, which doesn’t sound to me like a particularly good use of money, but then what with shovelling money into the Venezuelan state oil company, pouring cash down the drain into an unnecessary (and seemingly poorly responded-to) bus competition, lavishing dosh on Porsche, and so forth, it’s not exactly out of line with the rest of Boris’s ‘value for money’ administration.

Interestingly, in typical Boris “I don’t want to fall out with anyone” fashion, a third option – beyond the obvious “Keep the extension as it is” and “Get rid of the extension” – has appeared in the consultation: “Change the extension”. The full description of this reads:

Change the way the scheme operates by introducing account based payment, by introducing a charge free period in the middle of the day in the Western Extension, or by increasing the residents’ discount to 100%.

Account-based payment was a key, but separate, pledge of Boris’s during the election, for the Congestion Charge as a whole, so it seems disingenuous to bundle it in with this consultation, particularly when the paragraph immediately below the options reads:

With all these options, unless it is explicitly stated otherwise, the original central London Congestion Charging zone will continue to operate as it does at present.

This suggests that particular election pledge has been kicked into the long grass, even while he fulfils this other, arguably less important pledge.

It’s pretty clear, though, that some sort of ‘third way’ option is the one favoured by Boris, after he’s heard from people on both sides of the argument and been unable to reconcile their equally passionate opinions in favour of and against the Extension.

Tonight’s BBC London also showed Boris unable to maintain his impartial front as he launched the consultation with a walkabout in the zone, giving a triumphant miniature fist-pump in response to one woman plumping for the third option, which he’d presented in a pretty leading way anyway – something like “D’you want to keep it, get rid of it, or change it and make it work better and be easier to pay and cheaper and brilliant and fantastic and marvellous?” (I may have exaggerated somewhat but I’m not sure at what point I strayed from what he actually said to his underlying implication…)

Anyway, what are you waiting for? There are five weeks to respond to the consultation (it closes on 5 October), so I would strongly encourage all Londoners to do so, whatever your views. Every reply counts in this consultation and there will be a lot of focus on what the results are and what Boris does in response: the mere launching of the thing was the second-from-top story on BBC London this evening.

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