Commuters 'should pay far more'

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The Independent Online

Rail commuters should pay far more to travel to work and most of Britain's motorists are being "grossly undercharged'', research commissioned by ministers has concluded. In a comprehensive study, transport experts call for "electronic pricing'' and tolls on congested roads near big cities.

Chris Nash, professor of transport economics at Leeds University, also argues that passengers on peak-time train services in particular are not paying enough. Professor Nash of the university's Institute for Transport Studies, says motorists and hauliers are not meeting the costs of the environmental and social damage they cause around major conurbations and that rail commuters are heavily supported by the taxpayer through subsidies to Railtrack and train companies.

The findings will infuriate leaders of last year's fuel protest who argue that the costs borne by hauliers and motorists in Britain are the highest in Europe.

Rail passengers' leaders also believe the level of fares for travelling in commuter "cattle trucks'' is already too high. The Department of Transport study found that taxes and charges paid by road users were, on average, insufficient to cover the additional costs they created.

Congestion, accident and environmental costs for roads in major conurbations and main motorway arteries, in particular, greatly exceeded charges paid by road users. The position in rural areas was more closely balanced, supporting the need for pricing methods such as tolls to reflect these differences, adds the report. It found that rail passengers were not paying the full cost of travel, while charges for rail freight companies more than covered them.

Professor Nash believes the gap has grown since 1998, when figures were collated, because of subsequent changes including the fuel duty freeze, the halving of vehicle excise duties on heavy goods vehicles and rises in rail infrastructure charges. It meant the gaps between taxes and charges and social and environmental costs had probably widened, he said.