A cleaner Britain?: Royal Commission warns ministers that unrestricted rise in traffic poses threat to nation's health; Global solutions to beat the traffic jams

Randeep Ramesh reports on how states intervene to curb pollution
Click to follow
Governments around the world are struggling to reduce traffic pollution and congestion.

The good burghers of Bern aim to reduce pollution levels by 60 per cent by 2005. One weapon used by the Swiss in their war against fumes is restricting parking. Bern uses a system of permits which effectively rules out parking for commuters. This has seen traffic volumes fall by 15 per cent since 1992.

Singapore is also touted as one of the best examples of state intervention. An alarming rise in car ownership in the late 1970s forced authorities to act. The Government implemented a twin-pronged policy: first, it charged motorists $3 (about pounds 1) to enter the city centre and then officials limited the number of new cars on the roads by auctioning off a set number of registrations every year. This saw traffic levels drop by 70 per cent in the city almost 20 years ago and since then it has only increased in line with the controlled rise in new cars.

Road pricing can also provide a valuable source of income. The world's most sophisticated road tolling technology is currently being used in Toronto. Highway 407 uses a series of overhead cameras which can "read" number plates and bill motorists the number of kilometres travelled.

The system, in place since the beginning of the year, costs drivers a few pence per mile and will raise $100m (pounds 60m) a year by 2000.

Experts say that the level of economic disincentives is a key to the solution. Keith Buchan, director of MTRU transport consultants said: "You have to be careful with road pricing. Either you are raising money to invest in transport or you wish to restrain traffic.

"That is where you decide how much you are going to charge the motorist."

Mr Buchan points out that Oslo has a road pricing scheme which had very little effect on traffic levels. "It was just designed to raise money."

The real worry for many Governments is that while developed countries belatedly try to ease global pollution, developing societies rush to embrace the motor car.

John Whitelegg, professor of Environmental Studies at Liverpool's John Moores University, wrote earlier this year: "car ownership in India is growing at 25 per cent per annum. In 1996 Ford opened their first Escort factory and Daewoo opened a car plant." Prof Whitelegg adds that these growth rates are not sustainable "on any level".