Headlines: August 8th, 2006

COMMITTEE SUPPORTS ROAD CHARGING BUT COUNCILS ARE LUKEWARM

 

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has come out in strong support for the introduction of a national road user charging scheme which it believes is vital in reducing carbon emissions as well as congestion. The response from councils invited to bid for funding from the Transport Innovation Fund to support road charging and other measures was disappointing.

The Department for Transport has launched a demonstration programme to find out whether it is feasible to apply time, distance and place charging to all vehicles and all roads. Systems and technologies that could support charging are now becoming available in the market and suppliers have been invited to present proposals to the DfT for carrying out trials.

Prior to the invitation for proposals seven councils were successful in bidding for funding to support preparatory work. They are Bristol, Bath, Cambridgeshire County, Durham County, Greater Manchester, Shropshire County, Tyne and Wear, and the West Midlands conurbation. The DfT more recently invited bids from other councils to take part in the demonstration programme, but only 22 councils have made bids.

Current legislation introduced six years ago gives councils the power to introduce local road charging schemes. A report in the Sunday Times claims that Government thinking has now changed from a locally driven approach to one that is centrally driven. The article quotes a letter from Transport Minister Douglas Alexander indicating that a bill will go before Parliament as early as next year to pave the way for motorists to be charged on a pay-as-you-go basis. The effect of the bill would be to cut congestion in the major cities, but it would also prepare the way for a national road charging scheme.

The Sunday Times article is entirely consistent with the DfT demonstration programme.