Alistair Darling: 'No other country in the world has road pricing'

From a speech given by the Secretary of State for Transport to the Social Market Foundation, in London
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The Independent Online

If you stopped 100 people in the street right now and asked them about national road pricing, I would be willing to bet that, until this week, most would say they hadn't ever given the issue much thought, never mind the benefits such a system might bring to them as motorists and to the country. Our objective is not to put people off the roads. It is to enable us to get more out of the network.

If you stopped 100 people in the street right now and asked them about national road pricing, I would be willing to bet that, until this week, most would say they hadn't ever given the issue much thought, never mind the benefits such a system might bring to them as motorists and to the country. Our objective is not to put people off the roads. It is to enable us to get more out of the network.

Now, it is true that there are big questions still to be answered on road pricing. That is because this is a radically different approach. No other country in the world has done this. But because of our geography, our growing economy, our demography, we will face increasing pressures on our roads over the next 20 to 30 years.

For those who would immediately balk at such a radical change as road pricing, think about the alternative. The prospect of a system becoming slowly but surely gridlocked, like you can see in many American cities every day of the year. Too often UK governments have had to spend their time fixing the problems of the past, instead of looking ahead to solve the problems we know we will face in the future.

And many cars are already fitted with technology which combines satellite positioning with mobile communications. It has a number of uses - from providing drivers with useful information on road conditions, to alerting rescue services automatically in the event of an accident.

The question we need to ask ourselves is how we could use technology like this to deliver national road pricing that would work for the UK.People say national road pricing is 10 years away - and it always will be - unless we examine the options and decide what we want. Once we've decided, we can get on with doing it.

Road pricing is not an easy option. There will be hard choices and difficulties along the way. But future generations will curse us if we fail to deal with the problems we will face very soon. And I think we owe it to them to begin to plan for the next 20 to 30 years, instead of constantly trying to fix the problems of the past.

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