Transport bill to include city centre car charges

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Jam-buster measures to charge motorists for entering city centres and for parking at work are included in a new Transport Bill announced in the Queen's Speech.

Jam-buster measures to charge motorists for entering city centres and for parking at work are included in a new Transport Bill announced in the Queen's Speech.

The Bill would also provide powers for charges to be introduced on some trunk roads, and on trunk road bridges and tunnels more than 600 metres long.

Also, the Bill will allow for the part-privatisation of air traffic control services, but with safety regulation of the new set-up remaining in the public sector.

The Bill will establish a strategic rail authority - a body which has been operating in shadow form since April. The plan is to make railway regulation more effective and accountable.

The Government has already announced, in the aftermath of the Paddington rail crash, that is minded to transfer Railtrack's safety and standards directorate functions to an independent body.

The Government said that the Transport Bill "could provide a suitable vehicle" should recommendations emerge from the inquiries into the Paddington and Southall crashes require legislation.

Also in the Bill will be a package of measures to regulate local buses properly and provide improved services.

The road charging plans would give local authorities powers to help tackle urban congestion. These authorities would be able to retain the money raised by such schemes for at least 10 years' investment in the improvement of local transport.

Individual councils would be free to decide whether or not they wanted to introduce charges. They could design schemes to suit local conditions, subject to Government approval.

Earlier legislation has already paved the way for congestion charging and workplace parking charges to be introduced in London next year should the capital's new elected Mayor so decide.

A recent RAC survey showed that 75% of motorist thought congestion charging was unfair, but that about 51% would accept it if the money raised went into transport improvements.

The air traffic control sell off will see 46% of National Air Traffic Services, currently a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Civil Aviation Authority, being offered to the private sector.

A further 5% of shares will go to NATS' employees. Pilots' and traffic controllers' unions are opposing the part-privatisation on safety grounds, and more than 100 Labour MPs are also unhappy with the plans.

The Government said today that safety was paramount and that NATS' safety regulation would be separated from the body chosen to provide the service.

The sale is expected to yield £1 billion - money which is likely to be made available to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott for transport improvements.

Taking NATS into the private sector will free it from the burden of having to compete for funding with public sector priorities such as schools and hospitals.

The NATS' privatisation controversy has been played out against the backdrop of continuing delays to the opening of a new state-of-the-art control centre at Swanwick in Hampshire.

The £350 million centre, originally meant to open in 1996, is still some months away from being ready following computer software problems.

The delays have put extra pressure on the main south east England control centre at West Drayton, west London, where controllers have had to contend with an ever-increasing number of flights.

The rail elements of the Bill are already going through Parliament as a free-standing Railways Bill.

The new strategic rail authority will have a mission to promote the use of the railways for passengers and freight and to expand the network.

The authority, under the chairmanship of former Eurotunnel co-chairman Sir Alastair Morton, will also mastermind the award of new franchises to train operating companies.

The bus plans aim to tackle problems which have arisen from the decision in the mid-1980s to deregulate services outside London.

Buses in London are privatised but still regulated by London Transport. Passenger numbers on these buses have risen, but outside the capital, bus usage declined steadily until last year, when there was a small rise.

The Bill will give local authorities powers to require bus operators to co-operate in providing joint ticketing arrangements, and to improve passenger information.

The Government wants "quality partnership" schemes whereby bus companies agree to invest in new vehicles and upgrade service quality in return for action by councils to introduce bus priority, and other, measures to promote bus travel.

Also, the Bill will introduce a national minimum half-fare standard concession for pensioners on the buses.