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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 February 2007, 16:30 GMT
Roads petition breaks a million
M6 Toll Road
Ministers are mulling plans for "pay-as-you-drive" scheme
More than one million people have signed an online petition against plans to introduce road charging in the UK.

The petition, which is the most popular on the Downing Street website, calls for the scrapping of "planned vehicle tracking and road pricing policy".

But No 10 has insisted that doing nothing would lead to a 25% increase in congestion "in less than a decade".

The petition was posted by Peter Roberts, from Telford, Shropshire, who said it was an "unfair tax".

Mr Roberts - whose petition broke through the million signature-barrier by 1045 GMT on Saturday - believes charging is unfair on poor people and those who live apart from their families.

He said the numbers signing his petition were "unprecedented".

It is time for the government to listen to the people rather than dictate
Peter Robert, campaigner

"There certainly hasn't been an electronic petition that has been this successful. I think it is one of the biggest petitions in history."

He said the only way road pricing could work would be if people were constantly monitored.

"That is an invasion of your privacy and I think it is a very sad day when a democratic government wants to track your movements.

"It is time for the government to listen to the people rather than dictate to the people."

Regional trials

The next-most popular transport petition on the Downing Street website has little more than 5,000 signatures.

The petitioner has been a member of the Association of British Drivers (ABD) since 2001.

The ABD, which is calling for a referendum on the issue, has been running a campaign to encourage people to sign but insisted Mr Roberts acted as an individual.

It makes me more determined to debate the real issues about how we tackle growing congestion
Douglas Alexander, Transport Secretary

The Department for Transport is planning regional trials of road pricing.

The ABD's Nigel Humphries said the government "ought to reconsider their whole position, they ought to scrap the whole idea of road-pricing and actually go back to working out what transport people need".

'No substitute'

Plans to introduce a nationwide "pay-as-you-drive" system were unveiled by former Transport Secretary Alistair Darling in 2005.

Mr Darling's successor, Douglas Alexander, has since suggested that road pricing could be brought in within a decade.

Peter Roberts
Peter Roberts believes road charging could impact on families

He said the scale of the response to the petition showed more debate was needed on congestion charging for motorists.

"The response to this petition makes the case for more debate, not less, on the issue of road pricing," he told the Times.

"It makes me more determined to debate the real issues about how we tackle growing congestion.

"I understand there are strong feelings on this issue but strong feelings alone are no substitute for considering how we tackle the challenge of congestion."

According to Edmund King of the RAC Foundation, the government needed to rethink its strategy.

"They need to be setting up a scheme overseen by an independent body, they need to guarantee that there will be other tax reductions on fuel tax or vehicle excise duty and they need to guarantee that the road network will be improved," he said.

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Alistair Carmichael said the petition "misrepresents the case for road user pricing".

But he said it showed the government needed to be open with people about their plans.

"If the public feels that road user pricing is just another cash cow for the Treasury, then it will meet stiff resistance, and a real opportunity to reduce congestion will be missed," he said.

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