November 15, 2006
The government will press ahead with plans to introduce trial road-pricing schemes across England, in an effort to cut congestion.
The draft Road Transport Bill gives councils more freedom to bring in their own schemes in busy areas and will look at the scope for a national road toll.
It also gives councils a bigger say in improving local bus services.
Ministers predict that, if no action is taken, congestion could rise 25% by 2015 – mostly in big towns and cities.
They intend to tackle the problem through road tolls, building or widening roads where necessary, and better management of existing roads.
Nine areas have been earmarked for road pricing trials by the end of 2009; Norfolk, the East Midlands, part of the Thames Valley including Reading, Cambridgeshire, Durham, Greater Manchester, Shrewsbury and Shropshire, Tyne and Wear, and the West Midlands.
The draft bill seeks to give councils more power to implement their own trials, while ensuring they fit with surrounding schemes.
If the trials are successful, a national scheme could be investigated – with drivers possibly paying Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£1.34 a mile to drive on the busiest roads at rush hour. Black boxes in cars could work out how far they travel on toll roads.
The government is also making Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£200m available to support innovative local transport schemes.
And it intends to reform passenger transport authorities, to give councils more of a say on them and develop a “more coherent” approach to public transport in English cities.
In August, a letter leaked to the Sunday Times suggested Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander had planned a bill for widespread tolls.
In a letter to Leader of the Commons Jack Straw, dated 20 July, he wrote “We are considering pilots on the trunk road network as an important stage towards national road-pricing.”
Simpler, national standards
Local authorities currently set charges – such as London’s – but in the letter Mr Alexander says he should be able to set simpler national standards to prevent confusion.
Motoring organisations gave a guarded welcome to the plans for simpler, national standards.
Paul Watters, head of roads and transport policy for AA Motoring Trust, said: “We can’t have charging schemes coming along without a degree of uniformity.
“It makes sense to have some sort of universal system.”
But Martyn Williams, a transport campaigner for Friends of the Earth, told the BBC in August: “If the money isn’t used to improve public transport and to provide alternatives people will just feel they’re being taken for a ride.
“It’s good that the new transport secretary is looking at this but he’s going to have to be brave to take it forward, and we do need some brave and some difficult decisions to be made because tackling transport is difficult.”