On 17 February, Transport for London's (TfL) congestion charging scheme, brainchild of mayor Ken Livingstone, kicks off in central London. This is a mind-boggling exercise involving over 800 closed-circuit TV cameras, which is predicted to cut traffic levels inside the charging zone by ten to 15 per cent, and congestion by 20 to 30 per cent.
The plan, with a budget of £200m, will affect some 250,000 motorists who each day enter the area of central London that stretches from Hyde Park to Tower Bridge and from St Pancras to Vauxhall, during the peak hours of 7am to 6.30pm Monday to Friday.
All motorists are liable, except charging zone residents - who qualify for a 90 per cent discount - bus drivers, taxis, emergency or green fuel vehicles, disabled people, the armed forces, breakdown organisations and motorcyclists.
This was not the case in July 2001 when the new mayor launched his two-month consultation and unveiled proposed charges for mopeds, scooters and motorbikes.
Fearing a devastating dip in sales, the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) and its retained agency Grant Butler Coomber (GBC) Public Affairs launched an extensive public affairs campaign.
As a champion of sustainable, environmentally-friendly public transport, Livingstone is not known for his love of motorcycles. The public affairs team therefore wanted to fight off arguments about motorbikes being loud, dirty and dangerous and focus on the subject of congestion.
Its ultimate aim was to raise enough political will to ensure all motorised two wheelers were exempt from congestion charging.
Strategy and Plan
A major problem for the PA team was that the mayor's consultation period was held over the summer, the quietest time politically. This made it challenging for any lobbying campaign to create a groundswell of opinion.
However, MCIA and GBC Public Affairs used this period to define key messages that contradicted the mayor's automatic inclusion of motorcycles as a target for charges. These centred around motorbikes not causing the problem the charge was designed to address, namely congestion; the positive effect motorcycling has on encouraging drivers out of their cars and the economic success motorbikes bring to London in ensuring speedy, congestion-busting deliveries.
The second stage of the campaing focused lobbying activity on London, tapping into contacts at TfL and the London boroughs. MCIA and GBC Public Affairs ensured that all players in the debate, from the mayor and Derek Turner - TfL's man in charge of the system - to local councillors and other pressure groups campaigning against congestion charging, understood why motorcycles should be exempt.
This was backed by a Motorcycles for London media stunt, sponsored by Italian scooter manufacturer Piaggio, in front of the British Airways London Eye, where celebrity Gemma Kidd posed for a photoshoot.
The final phase of the campaign involved MCIA's technical team, which highlighted the inability of the proposed front-facing CCTV cameras to pick-up motorcycle number plates on a consistent basis. This meant that even if the charge was levied on bikes, the money could not be collected from defaulters.
Measurement and Evaluation
This campaign was a clear case of either winning or losing the argument.
Contacts were divided into decision-makers, influencers or FYIs (For Your Information - individuals who needed to be informed).
Decision-makers, including the team around Ken Livingstone and TfL, were heavily lobbied with extensive briefings and updates. Influencers, such as MCIA president Steven Norris, received briefings and were expected to share that knowledge. FYIs, including Westminster City councillors, were briefed by letter so that they could use MCIA's arguments for their own campaign activities.
Message delivery was measured through independent media tracking while political monitoring was conducted by the Parliamentary Monitoring Service.
By the end of the campaign MCIA had undertaken discussions with six decision-makers, 30 influencers and over 60 FYIs.
Following political pressure, the consultation period was extended to January 2002 and in February 2002 it was finally confirmed that motorcycles would be exempt from congestion charging.
However, this is not the end of the matter. On 20 January 2003, in an article in The Financial Times, TfL mooted that it may consider charging motorbikes in the future. This means the PA team has now resurrected its political campaign on why motorcycles should be exempt from the congestion charging scheme.