ROAD pricing for commuters using cars to travel into cities could help solve traffic congestion, John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, said yesterday, writes Colin Brown.
Mr MacGregor's remarks, before the publication today of a Department of Environment White Paper which gives further support to road pricing - tolls for car commuters - will be seen as a strong hint that the ground is being prepared for its introduction.
'Because of that increase in traffic . . . you have to look at a range of policies and road pricing may give one of the answers,' Mr MacGregor said on BBC radio. 'We haven't made any decisions on it. We are doing a very massive study on it over the next three years. We are about a third of the way into it, looking at all aspects of it, including the technology, before we take any decisions.'
However, Mr MacGregor also gave a clear warning that those who switched to rail travel would be facing substantial fare increases, although he did not accept the 142 per cent rise predicted by Jimmy Knapp, leader of the railwaymen's union.
Mr MacGregor said: 'We do have to look at increases in rail fares to reflect the very substantial investment that is going on. That has to be paid by the taxpayer but also by the rail users.'
The review on road pricing is looking at using new technology to charge drivers electronically for entering cities, rather than conventional toll booths which would cause queues. Charges would have to be sufficiently high to persuade some drivers to switch to public transport.
Critics of road pricing on Labour's front bench say it would penalise less well-off drivers while companies would pay for business people. City residents would also protest if forced to pay.