Headlines: June 9th, 2005

Only 16 per cent of people are strongly opposed to the principle of charging drivers for using roads according to the results of a survey released today in advance of a speech on road pricing by the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling.The results, from a MORI survey for Detica, also show that while only 8 per cent of people think the roads are too congested, almost half support the principle of a road pricing scheme, if all the revenue raised is returned to motorists through lower road tax.

The RAC foundation says the results will be encouraging for the Government but it believes the key challenge for its ambitious road pricing plan is not about the technology needed to implement the scheme but about gaining public trust.

The government proposal would involve all vehicles having a ‘black box’ so they could be tracked using satellite technology. Charges would be based on the time and location of a journey and the types of road used. The busiest routes would be the most expensive, with charges of more than a pound a mile while for people using remote rural roads journeys would be free or possibly charged at 2 pence a mile. Fuel duty would be reduced or scrapped so drivers in rural areas could find themselves paying much less for motoring than they do currently.

Congestion now costs the British economy 20 billion pounds a year so the Foundation is giving a cautious welcome to the principle of road pricing and the opportunity to debate the idea more fully. But it says it would not support road pricing if it were a way of introducing another tax on drivers who already pay 42 billion pounds in motoring taxes a year, with only 6 billion being spent on roads.

The Foundation believes that to gain public trust the Government should announce that an independent regulator will oversee and monitor the scheme and that a proper appeals procedure will be in place. Edmund King, Executive Director of RAC Foundation said pricing must be targeted to affect the timing and routes of particular journeys and motorists had to be protected from excessive charges set by central or local government.