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2/16/2008
UK: Anti-Toll Ad Gets OK
UK Advertising Standards Agency rejects an attempt to stop an anti-congestion charge poster campaign.

ABD poster
An independent UK agency on Wednesday rejected an attempt to silence a poster campaign designed to stop Manchester's plan to impose a London-style congestion tax on motorists. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), a body charged with enforcing regulations against false advertising, upheld two of the three posters designed by the Association of British Drivers (ABD) and Manchester Against Road Tolls (MART).

"Overall the ABD and MART are pleased with this ASA ruling," an ABD representative said in a statement. "The only complaint which had substance and relevance to our campaign against road pricing in Manchester was soundly rejected."

The first complaint was lodged against a poster with the slogan: "Just pay up and keep quiet. We know best." A tolling advocate claimed that this ad was misleading because there had been "extensive public consultation" about the tolling effort. The anti-tolling coalition pointed out that only 5000 of the 2.5 million motorists who would be affected took part in a survey. ASA concluded the polemical ad was not misleading.

A second complaint lodged against the slogan: "Tagged, Tracked and Taxed" suggested that those who saw the poster would assume they would be continuously monitored in Manchester. The ASA rejected this complaint.

"Because we considered the term 'tracked' indicated both that vehicles would be recorded at points where they entered and left the congestion charge zones as well as, in some instances, being continuously monitored by satellite, we concluded that ads (a) and (b) did not mislead," the ASA ruling concluded.

A final complaint against a poster with the slogan "£5 a day won't even buy me a cigar" was upheld on the grounds that the congestion tax would be phased in and not everyone would pay £5 (US $10) immediately. ABD pointed out that there was not room in the poster to add the legalese required to explain the finer details of the charging scheme. It also pointed out that London's congestion charge similarly started at a £5 maximum and is now £25 (US $50) for politically unfavored vehicles. View the ads and the full text of the ASA ruling here.

Article Excerpt:
ABD Poster 1
ABD Poster 2
ABD Poster 3
ASA Adjudications

Manchester Against Road Tolls t/a MART
PO Box 205
Manchester
M41OWR
Association of British Drivers
PO Box 228
Kenley
Surrey
CR8 5ZT
Number of complaints: 1

Date: 13 February 2008
Media: Poster
Sector: Non-commercial

Ad
Four posters for an organisation, Manchester Against Road Tolls, that were opposed to the proposed introduction of a congestion charge in the city of Manchester.

a. One poster stated "Just pay up and keep quiet. We Know best. Tagged, Tracked and Taxed. The Toll Tax";

b. A second poster stated "On Yer Bike Nurses, Firemen, Teachers. Manchester Motorists: Tagged, Tracked and Taxed";

c. A third poster stated "STOP MOANING. WHAT'S £5 A DAY. The Toll Tax: Keeps the roads free for the rich";

d. A fourth poster stated "£5 a day won't even buy me a cigar. The Toll Tax: Keeps the roads free for the rich."

Issue
A member of the public objected:

1. that the phrase "Just pay up and keep quiet. We know what's best!" was misleading as it implied the proposed charge was to be brought against the wishes of motorists and without their views being taken into account, whereas he believed there had been extensive public consultation;

2. that the phrase "Tagged, Tracked and Taxed" was misleading because he understood that although cars would carry a tag, which would register when they entered or exited congestion zones, there would be no continuous monitoring of position, something the complainant believed this phrase implied; and

3. that references to a £5 charge were misleading because whilst some might pay this under the proposed scheme, he understood that a sliding scale was proposed which would include a discount for those on low incomes and that £5 would not be typical.

The CAP Code: 3.1;3.2;7.1;8.1

Response

1. Manchester Against Road Tolls (MART) said motorists had never been specifically consulted about the proposed scheme, and as drivers would make up more than 90% of people expected to pay the charge they believed a very important voice had been ignored. They said that the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) had ignored a number of independent surveys indicating that a majority were opposed to the scheme. They also told us that both Trafford and Stockport Borough Councils had rejected the plans and voted against the scheme after extensive public consultation. MART said AGMA surveyed just 5000 people from a population of 2.5 million across greater Manchester and they did not believe this was a large enough sample to be representative. They also said that the people of Edinburgh had been given the opportunity of a referendum on the issue of a congestion charge whereas this had not been offered to the people of Manchester.

2. MART said the proposal for the scheme indicated that satellites would be considered as an option to pilot distance based on road pricing. They said they understood this would involve the continual tracking of vehicles so that accurate billing of motorists could take place. They referred to a Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority report on the progress of the transport innovation fund bid to support this. They also said they believed vehicles would need to be monitored whilst in the designated congestion zones so that charges could be levied when they entered and left.

3. MART said all information on the scheme had consistently referred to inner and outer rings of the city at peak times. They said given the number of people who worked in the city centre and who would be unable to change their working hours, £5 would be a typical charge for a return trip to work. They also said the exact boundary location of the proposed inner ring had not been revealed and nor had AGMA answered questions about proposals to expand the charging zones, which they understood to mean that many people might pay more than £5 to journey in and out at peak times. With regard to low-income workers, they said AGMA had indicated they might be entitled to a 20% discount, meaning they would have to pay £4 to travel in and out of the city centre (at peak travel times) but that this had not been approved.

Assessment
1. Not upheld
The ASA acknowledged that the phrase "Just pay up and keep quiet. We know what's best" that appeared in ad (a) was intended to make the point that there had been a number of local independent surveys with results indicating that a majority of the people polled in them objected to the proposed congestion charge in Greater Manchester. However, we also noted the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities had carried out public consultation exercises with respect to the proposed charge, including a survey of the general public which found 53% in agreement with the principle of road pricing. We understood that there was local controversy about the nature of the public consultation undertaken. We concluded that ad (a), which also included an image of an angry clown, was polemical, and its partisan nature was likely to be clear to viewers of the ad. Because we considered that local residents were likely to understand the claim "Just pay up and keep quiet. We know what's best!" in ad (a) as an expression of MART's point of view on a matter of public controversy, we concluded that the claim was unlikely to mislead.

On this point we investigated ad (a) under CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 8.1 (Opinion) but did not find it in breach.

2. Not upheld
The ASA considered that the phrase "Tagged, Tracked and Taxed" which appeared in ads (a) and (b) referred to both the fact that vehicles would be tracked when leaving and entering the congestion zones and to the proposed use of continuous satellite tracking of some vehicles as part of the scheme. We acknowledged that the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) Bid for Greater Manchester interim reports proposed a range of charging options initially and that not all of them would involve continuous monitoring of vehicles, although these reports indicated that a move to satellite as the main form of monitoring in the long-term was also ideally envisioned. We noted a "tag and beacon" system was proposed as the majority initial method of charging, and this was intended to involve the registration and tagging of vehicles and the recording of every passage through a charge point by a beacon. Because we considered the term "tracked" indicated both that vehicles would be recorded at points where they entered and left the congestion charge zones as well as, in some instances, being continuously monitored by satellite, we concluded that ads (a) and (b) did not mislead.

On this point we investigated ads (a) and (b) under CAP Code Clauses 7.1 (Truthfulness) 3.1 (Substantiation) 3.2 (Division of Informed Opinion) and 8.1 (Opinion) but did not find them in breach.

3. Upheld
The ASA understood from TIF Bid interim reports that the phase one charging scheme would involve two charging points on corridors to the Regional Centre with outer points at or close to the M60 and inner points at an Intermediate Ring and would be applied Monday to Friday 7.00 am to 9.30 am and 4.00 pm to 6.30 pm with pricing for each part of the journey as indicated by MART. We understood that the maximum daily charge applied for anyone travelling all the way to the Regional Centre from outside the M60 would be £5. We also understood that a similar round trip from the Regional Centre that began and ended within the M60 would pay £2 and one that began and ended outside the M60 but to a destination outside the Intermediate Ring would pay £3. We noted that the TIF Bid interim reports stated that the range of methods and concerns which together were termed "smart charging", did include the promotion of social inclusion and to that end the provision of alternative means of transport to private cars as well as discounts for low income commuters, for an interim period, of one day's charges per week for those in the lowest 20% of income brackets. We further noted that MART were correct in pointing out that AGMA intended additions to the charging regime, following phase one, to be part of the scheme's possibilities, such as extending it to a new corridor. We concluded that £5 was the current maximum daily charge proposed under the scheme and although it could also be the average charge in practice, and could also be subject to price increases, it was not possible to determine this yet, because there were no supporting statistics. Because ads (c) and (d) did not make clear that £5 a day was the current maximum proposed charge under the scheme we concluded that the ads could mislead.

On this point, ads (c) and (d) breached CAP Code clause 7.1 (Truthfulness). We also investigated under clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 3.2 (Division of Informed Opinion) and 8.1 (Opinion) but did not find them in breach.

Action
Ads (c) and (d) should not appear again in their current form.


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