TRANSPORT bosses have denied claims that the congestion charge zones could be expanded to cover a shortfall in revenue.

The group, Manchester Against Road Tolls, alleged the claim was made by two officials of the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive (GMPTE) at a congestion charge forum held at Altrincham Town Hall.

MART spokesman Sean Corker said: “The Yes campaign has pursued a ‘money no object’ ad blitz based on only one in ten paying, knowing full well that if the scheme fails in any way it will grow to catch more drivers and raise yet more tax. By omitting to inform people of the risks involved with TIF the authorities have forfeited the voters’ trust”

However, a GMPTE spokesman for TIF (Transport Innovation Fund) said: “There are no plans to place charging rings around local towns in Greater Manchester and this has been made clear on a number of occasions.

“This would be extremely costly to implement and would not effectively target and reduce congestion and is therefore not going to happen.”

More public transport improvements could be made if the TIF scheme comes in on budget. Alternatively, the amount borrowed to help pay for the project could be paid back in half the time.

Transport bosses say the bid contains a contingency fund of £600 million, more than 20 per cent of the scheme’s whole cost. This is supposed to cover overspends or shortfalls in the anticipated income: but they are confident that it will be on budget and on time.

The Bury and Radcliffe Times has also been told that more money could be freed up for investment, because the borrowing rate of interest will probably be less than the six per cent assumed.

The TIF bid needs the approval of seven out of the ten Greater Manchester councils, who will vote following a region-wide referendum next month.

If successful, the bid will bring in close to £3 billion for public transport improvements. Some £1.2 billion of that will be borrowed and paid back over 30 years through a weekday peak-time congestion charge.

It has also emerged that public transport will be used to pay back the loan as well as the C-charge. Subsidies paid to loss-making bus routes may be reduced if those buses fill up with people switching from the car.

Councillor Bob Bibby, Bury Council’s Conservative Group Leader, issued a statement on Tuesday saying his group were opposed to the C-charge: “Like many thousands of Bury taxpayers struggling with higher fuel, food and energy bills, we do not need another tax to allow our residents to go about their daily business. It’s a punitive tax too far!

“It’s government’s role through the billions already raised through taxes to fund schemes such as improving public transport. It’s not government’s role to impose further local taxes on already financially hard pressed communities”.

Residents could experience a little bit of life on the continent if the TIF proposals are approved.

Bicycle hire schemes similar to those in Paris, Lyon and Barcelona might be brought in to Manchester and Salford city centres, as well as Stockport.

People would hire the bikes from racks using a swipe or debit card, and return them to any other rack.

Lord Peter Smith, leader of AGMA (Association of Greater Manchester Authorities), said: “This is the kind of forward-thinking project that we hope to deliver through the TIF bid.”