Whitehall to dent car culture

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Tough measures to hit private motorists are to be considered by ministers next month.

They include sharply increasing the cost of motoring, setting targets for shifting people and goods on to public transport, and getting manufacturers to produce smaller cars.

The measures, to be outlined in a report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, are aimed at burying the Thatcherite focus on "the great car economy".

The review, expected to be published on 18 September, follows up a block-busting report on transport by the Commission three years ago and marks the first time it has revisited a subject such as this. The 1994 report was so controversial that the last government failed to reply to it, setting another precedent.

The Commission says congestion and pollution have increased in the past three years and new research shows the fumes from car exhausts are even more dangerous to health than was realised.

Public transport has become less attractive since rail privatisation and the deregulation of buses outside London. Petrol prices are low and the cost of travelling by rail or bus has gone up faster than the cost of motoring.

The document will call for a thorough revolution in policy although, as it is officially only classed as a review, it will not make formal recommendations.

The Commission will insist that the cost of motoring will have to increase greatly. It wants tax increases big enough to bring about sharp rises in the cost of petrol.

It wants ministers to examine ways of charging people to use the roads and it has discussed controversial proposals for allowing people to buy only a certain amount of fuel each year.

It wants ministers to put pressure on car makers to produce smaller, more efficient vehicles in order to cut pollution.

It will call for greater investment in public transport and will press ministers to set targets for moving people from cars to buses and trains and shifting freight from road to rail and canals.