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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 09:55 GMT
Drivers face threat of monthly bill
Traffic congestion
The government wants to tackle congestion
A controversial plan to tax motorists according to the distance they drive and send them a monthly bill is to be handed to ministers on Monday.

Under the scheme, which is designed to ease congestion, drivers in some busy areas would pay up to 45p a mile for being on the roads at peak times.

But if it goes ahead, drivers will be able to claim discounted fuel and may see their car tax levy scrapped in order to offset the new charges.

We have to come up with a mechanism which discourages some people who do not really have to be on the busiest roads

Professor David Begg
The Commission for Integrated Transport says its plan would cut jams by nearly a half within 10 years and replace existing road taxes.

If the scheme does get the go ahead, the government has said it will not be introduced before 2011.

Commission chairman Professor David Begg told the BBC: "It's good for Britain. There will be significant reductions in congestion and there will be less pollution because a lot of pollution is caused by queuing traffic."

But the Conservatives have condemned the plan as another "stealth tax".

Vehicles 'tracked'

Shadow transport secretary Theresa May said it was "another attempt at a sort of stealth tax trying to price the motorist off the road".

Details of the plan have been released in the same week as London Mayor Ken Livingstone is expected to announce proposals to introduce a daily 5 congestion charge to travel into central London.

The commission, which provides independent transport advice to the government, said Global Positioning System satellites would track vehicles via electronic black boxes fixed to the dashboard.

Average charge proposals per mile
Top charge: 45p, central London, rush-hour
Motorway weekday: 3.5p
Other roads weekday: 4.3p
Rural roads busy times: 1p
Rural roads off-peak: free
Birmingham to Manchester - 7.40
Leeds to Liverpool - 6
Road tax scrapped
Fuel duty cut by between 2p and 12p

Information on their whereabouts could be beamed back to computers at highway authorities or to a private company contracted to the government.

Monthly charges would be levied according to the time of day the car is travelling, and the type of road used.

But the proposals also recommend getting rid of vehicle excise duty and reducing fuel prices to render the change "fiscally neutral", meaning there would be no extra cost overall to the road user.

Professor Begg said motorists using only minor roads or driving short distances outside peak hours may not be charged at all.

He added: "We have to come up with a mechanism which discourages some people, who do not really have to be on the busiest roads during the peak hours, to travel at different times and that's where congestion charging comes in."

Public transport plea

Professor Begg called on the government to implement its 10-year plans to improve public transport and provide the alternative people need to leave their cars at home.

But the government is already playing down the prospects of the scheme being developed in the foreseeable future.

A Transport Department spokesman said: "There is no prospect of introducing road user charging for vehicles other than lorries in the present decade."

It won't happen before 2011

Stephen Byers
Transport Secretary

And Transport Secretary Stephen Byers told ITV1's Dimbleby programme: "The report says that this is not to happen during the period of the 10-year programme, so it won't happen before 2011."

One early supporter of a national system of congestion charging is the Freight Transport Association.

It said it would support the plan and predicted the technology could be ready in eight to 10 years.

Geoff Dossetter, head of external affairs, said: "As far as we are concerned, this is a proposition with many attractions, and we will be smiling favourably on it."

The RAC and the AA both insist public transport must be radically improved before any scheme can be introduced.

The BBC's Kevin Bocquet
"Motoring organisations say public transport must improve if this scheme is to work"
David Begg, Commission for Integrated Transport
"There's nothing as painful as the birth of a new idea"

Traffic jamRoad pricing
Should UK motorists pay road charges?
See also:

25 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Pay-per-mile Singapore style
18 Feb 02 | England
Road toll could be delayed
06 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Tories attack 'traffic stealth tax'
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