City road tolls not an option in short term

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The Independent Online
Plans for road charging in cities were firmly ruled out for the foreseeable future by Sir George Young, Secretary of State for Transport, yesterday.

He published the findings of a long-awaited study into road charging in London carried out by consultants and university researchers. It took three years and cost pounds 2.7m. It concluded that imposing such charges on vehicles as they drove into crowded urban areas could reduce congestion, noise and pollution, speed up the flow of traffic ''and could provide a rapid return on investment.'' Buses would travel more quickly and become more popular.

But, said Sir George, ''this research has made clear that congestion charging is not an option for the immediate future.'' It had shown that the technology needed to run an effective, reliable, and fraud-proof charging system ''is not yet proven to exist'' and the administration and enforcement measures needed would be highly complex.

The Government's enthusiasm for widespread motorway tolling, heavily touted in recent years, has also waned.

Sir George said the Government would keep an open mind on whether a charging system would be needed in the long term, and asked people and organisations to comment on the research findings.

Stephen Joseph, director of the pro-public transport pressure group, Transport 2000, said: ''We've never been particularly keen on road pricing, but if the Government isn't going to tackle traffic congestion through that method then they have got to do something else.

''Business as usual is not an option. We think restraints on car parking in city centres are a much better idea, through reducing the number of parking spaces or raising charges.''

Mr Joseph said he was disappointed that the Government had ruled out legislation to allow road charging. Local councils should be given the option to introduce it in urban areas.

The simplest charging scheme considered by consultants was based on a cordon around central London, with a charge of several pounds to cross into the centre. Setting this up with the cheapest, simplest form of automatic charging system would cost pounds 85m. If the charge was pounds 4, traffic in central London would fall by 15 per cent, speeds increase by 20 per cent and carbon monoxide would fall by just over one third, according to computer simulations.