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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 October, 2003, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
UK congestion charge proposed
London traffic
London's congestion charging has cut traffic numbers
A leading left-wing think tank is recommending congestion charging across the country.

The Institute for Public Policy Research says this would prevent an increase in pollution and congestion.

But motoring groups want any cash raised from future road pricing to be given back to drivers through tax cuts.

London's successful congestion charging has prompted ministers to investigate if road pricing can be made to work elsewhere.

With capital costs of any improvements in the Tube network prohibitive, congestion charging has reduced rush-hour traffic and allowed faster bus travel.

Surveys suggest most drivers in the rest of Britain would accept a new mileage-based charge so long as the chancellor gives back the money by cutting vehicle excise duty and fuel tax.

This would make driving cheaper in rural areas and more expensive in cities and the South East.

But the IPPR, which has close links to the government, says it would lead to more pollution and congestion in the countryside.

Their paper proposes scrapping vehicle excise duty altogether, keeping fuel tax at current levels and introducing road pricing on top.

"If you're going to ask motorists to pay more, which essentially what we are arguing, then you would need to give them something in return," the IPPR's Julie Foley told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"So, what we are saying is that government should abolish road tax in return, but also look to making a commitment to motorists that if they are going to pay more then they should see a tangible benefit through improvements in public transport."

The IPPR said its proposal would make an extra 11.5bn a year to be invested directly in transport infrastructure.

It would make the cost of owning and running a car cheaper for low mileage users but more expensive for everyone else.

London's 'special'

The IPPR said London's congestion charge was "definitely working".

"Traffic levels are down, pollution levels are down, and bus passengers numbers are up," Ms Foley said.

However, the AA Trust's John Dawson disagreed.

"London is a very special case where most people don't use their cars.

"The traffic engineering is working, but the cost to the economy is probably higher than the benefits to the traffic," he told Today.

He also said the IPPR research was misguided.

"It's basic thesis is just plain wrong: the C02 emissions from cars aren't growing, they haven't grown for ten years and they are actually going to fall."

"This isn't practical politics to talk of putting motoring taxes up when people are already at the end of their tether."

Campaigners in the countryside have been behind much of the anger of fuel taxes, with opponents arguing it is unfair because buses on rural roads are not regular enough to always be a realistic mode of transport.

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