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Last Updated: Monday, 6 June, 2005, 16:04 GMT 17:04 UK
'Pay-as-you-go' road charge plan
New charges could be used to tackle road congestion
Drivers could pay up to 1.34 a mile in "pay-as-you go" road charges under new government plans.

The transport secretary said the charges, aimed at cutting congestion, would replace road tax and petrol duty.

Alistair Darling said change was needed if the UK was to avoid the possibility of "LA-style gridlock" within 20 years.

Every vehicle would have a black box to allow a satellite system to track their journey, with prices starting from as little as 2p per mile in rural areas.

Governments will upset at their peril society's wish to do what it wants to do and that is to move around
Professor Garel Rhys
Centre for Automotive Industry Research

Mr Darling has outlined his proposals to the BBC - previewing a speech he will give to the Social Market Foundation on Thursday.

"The advantage is that you would free up capacity on the roads, you would reduce the congestion that we would otherwise face and you would avoid the gridlock that you see in many American cities today," he said.

"This is a prize well worth going for. We've got to ask ourselves: would it work. Could it bring the benefits that I believe it could bring, because it would make a real change to the way we drive in this country."

A satellite tracking system would be used to enforce the toll, with prices varying from 2p per mile for driving on a quiet road out of the rush hour to 1.34 for motorways at peak times.

'Big Brother' worries

The department of transport says the scheme would be fairer because those who travel greater distances would pay the most.

Concerns that the tracking system would lead to the state knowing where people were all the time, would have to be addressed, said Mr Darling.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was not trying to drive motorists out of their cars.

"It will mean taking some stick. There are a lot of difficult decisions to be taken," he said.

It is more likely to make people think about the cost of a journey before undertaking it
Giles, Hitchin, UK

"I honestly think road pricing could provide us with a way of managing our roads, of getting more out of it, which must be good for us as individuals as well as the country as a whole."

Shadow transport secretary Alan Duncan said he had concerns about the technology and implications for civil liberties.

But he also told Today: "I think it is a vision for the future ...We have more cars in the same amount of space so we do have a problem with congestion."

A pilot scheme could be carried out using volunteer drivers in a large British conurbation within five to six years, but a national scheme would be rolled out within 10-15 years.

The Environment Agency's Nick Rijke warned that shifting money away from fuel duty would take away the incentive for people to use green vehicles.

Price incentives?

And AA Motoring Trust director Bert Morris said there were a number of issues which needed to be addressed.

"Tourism is car-based in this country. Would we have empty hotels on summer days on the coast if people couldn't afford to drive?"

It was also important to ensure that drivers with less money were not penalised, Mr Morris added.

But transport policy expert Professor Stephen Glaister, from Imperial College, said: "I'm pretty confident that it will make a big difference ... people do respond to price incentives."

RAC Foundation spokeswoman Sue Nicholson said the plan could help counter a projected 45% growth in congestion problems by 2030.

No choice

"Providing this tax was substitutional to fuel tax and road tax and provided we had some other guarantees then I think, for a lot of people, this would be a tempting option," she said.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth broadly welcomed road charging but warned the transport crisis could only be tackled if money raised was invested in improving alternatives to car travel.

But the Disabled Drivers' Association's executive director, Douglas Campbell, urged protection for disabled people against increased costs in motoring.

"Many disabled people have no choice other than to use a car as public transport just does not meet their door-to-door transport needs," he said.

See how new technology would clock up the miles

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