UK government proposals to introduce pay-as-you-go road charges within 10 years have produced a mixed reaction. The scheme would replace road tax and fuel duty with variable charges for using Britain's roads, with satellite tracking technology used to calculate bills.
Travelling on the busiest routes, such as the M25, at rush hour, would cost up to £1.43 a mile but travel on rural roads could cost as little as 2p per mile at off-peak times. If implemented, the programme would become the world's most advanced road pricing scheme. But a far less ambitious scheme to introduce road pricing for lorries is already behind schedule raising questions about the feasibility of a programme to tag, track and tax all UK vehicles.
Vehicle numbers have swelled to 30 million, from 20 million in 1990, and the government is looking for radical schemes to control future traffic levels. Simply building more roads is thought unlikely to reduce congestion.
Last year, a Department for Transport (DfT) feasibility study concluded that a UK-wide road pricing scheme had the potential to halve congestion. But experts warn that road pricing would simply displace cars onto smaller roads rather than encouraging people to take alternative forms of transport. Even if technical barriers could be overcome road pricing remains highly controversial politically.
Terence Bendixson, secretary of the Independent Transport Commission (ITC) at the University of Southampton, warned of a Poll Tax-style revolt if the government fails to convince drivers that the charge is "fair and reasonable".
Sue Nicholson, of motorists group the RAC Foundation, told the BBC that the government's plans were worth considering. "It's potentially a way forward out of the congestion problems that we face. Providing this tax was substitution to fuel tax and road tax rather than additional and provided we had some other guarantees then I think, for a lot of people, this would be a tempting option," she said.
Transport Secretary Alistair Darling is due to detail the government's proposals in a speech on Thursday, 9 June. ®
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