Plan to make drivers pay for congestion

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The Independent Online
The Government will produce a consultation paper this autumn on road pricing for motorists in large towns and cities, to tackle pollution and congestion.

A Department of Transport working group has produced a paper which proposes a charge of pounds 4 per vehicle.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister who runs the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, is keen to make the scheme part of a White Paper on the Government's plans to get people out of cars and on to public transport.

The consultation exercise will invite local authorities to produce schemes to reduce traffic and provide money for public transport. The paper would pave the way for wide-ranging powers to be outlined next spring in the transport White Paper. This could be used by local authorities to implement congestion-charging.

A government-funded study in 1995 produced a road pricing study in London that could reduce traffic in central London by 17 per cent, cut accidents by 5 per cent and pollution levels by up to 20 per cent. The report calculated that a city-wide scheme would fund nearly pounds 6bn of public-transport schemes.

However, ministers backed away from the idea, as business and freight operators opposed the plans.

Mr Prescott believes industry could be won over with the promise of quicker journeys.

Making people pay to get off the road is likely to be the only way motorists will leave their cars at home.

Yesterday's "Car Free Day" flopped, as motorways and town centres ended up more congested than usual, in spite of pleas to motorists to leave their cars at home and use public transport or cycle to work.

In the South-east, a rail dispute also played a part in the build-up of traffic. One in five trains was cancelled from Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire into London Bridge and Victoria and the disruption on Connex South Central looks set to continue.

An AA spokesman said: "The rush hour started earlier than usual, and by 7am the M25 through Sussex and Surrey was awash with cars, most of them occupied only by a driver."

Commuters also faced congestion in the North-east, where the AA reported 56 "travel flashes", instead of the usual 47.

Not all areas were choked by congestion. Some areas, such as Leeds, were a quieter.

The Midlands, Wales and the West Country saw no change and the rush hour in Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff was a busy as ever, with travellers in Exeter facing extra-long journeys after a spate of accidents.

The aim of "Car Free Day" is to persuade people that the quickest, cheapest and most environmentally friendly way of getting from A to B involves cutting the number of vehicles pouring on to the roads.

The Government supported the measures. Glenda Jackson, the transport minister, told BBC Radio 4 Today programme that "there are alternatives to an over-car dependency".

She then launched a park-and-ride scheme in Reading, Berkshire, part of the town's integrated transport system, which allows commuters to leave their cars on the outskirts and take the bus to the centre.

Ms Jackson said: "These are schemes which the Government strongly support. It has come on stream by a partnership between the local authority and private business ... 97 per cent of the people who live in the area strongly endorse the proposals.

"There are obviously other things - like facilities for cyclists and pedestrians, making car parking in the city centre either very expensive, or simply not possible."

Tolls for roads

Singapore road-pricing was introduced in 1975 with draconian monitoring of the pounds 1-a-day permits.

Oslo is ringed by 17 tolled entrances which allow permit holders to use fast lanes, raising money for public transport.

Germany was thwarted by windscreen smart-cards being affected by the sun. Joined France and Italy in investing in a Leicester-based scheme, Eurotoll, under which prices vary according to pollution. Also, motorists save money if they use public transport.