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Monday, June 28, 1999 Published at 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK

UK Politics

Anger over road 'toll tax'

The M8: Scotland's busiest motorway

The government has announced details of the technology to be used in road toll tests on two roads in Scotland and England.

The trials will be carried out on the M8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh and the A61 into Leeds.

Simon Montague reports: "There's already strong opposition"
The Conservatives accused the government of deliberately staging a "low-key" announcement because its transport policies were "becoming an embarrassment".

The Tories' transport spokesman Bernard Jenkin said Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was not launching the trials with a big fanfare because he was becoming "increasingly marginalised" in government.

The plan has already sparked an angry reaction from the Scottish National Party, which has launched a campaign against what it describes as the "toll tax".

[ image: Sarah Boyack: Committed cyclist]
Sarah Boyack: Committed cyclist
But the Scottish Transport Minister Sarah Boyack countered: "We are trying to deliver an integrated transport policy to give drivers a genuine choice.

"We can't just simply add more roads to escape the congestion we are expecting over the next few years."

The project will involve the installation of a small unit in the vehicles of volunteer road users and road side equipment to detect when the vehicles drive past.

The government hopes companies will assist by allowing their car fleets to be fitted with the equipment. Commercial vehicles could also be used in the trial.

Technology test

The year-long trial will show how successful the technology could be on motorways and trunk roads.

The equipment will be placed on the M8 at Hermiston Gait on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Sarah Boyack: "We can't just add more roads"
Ms Boyack said: "It doesn't signal that we are going to be introducing charges on the M8 or any other road.

"It will take us about a year to get it up and running then another year to test the research."

SNP leader Alex Salmond described road tolls as "nothing more than a crude revenue raiser" and said the policy was the price of Labour's "dishonesty over income tax".

[ image: Alex Salmond: Labour
Alex Salmond: Labour "dishonesty"
"It is simply not possible to carry on a Tory income-tax cutting agenda and maintain standards of public services without hitting the public in the form of unfair taxes, which are wholly unrelated to ability to pay, such as road tolling," he declared.

"That is the lesson and legacy of Labour's Scottish election campaign.

"If Labour get their way, then the price of their penny tax bribe - worth just 30p a day to the average earner - will be a five pounds tax for every journey along the M8."

The AA's Head of Policy for Scotland Neil Greig said: "The AA aren't opposed to the concept of a trial as such but we are very much opposed to what this toll income might be used for.

Motorists 'overtaxed'

"We do feel that Scottish motorists are already overtaxed and paying some of the highest fuel prices in Europe so we feel it's unfair for them to be having to pay another tax."

The technology could also form the basis for congestion charging - a scheme whereby motorists have to pay to enter urban areas.

The new mayor of London could have powers to bring in congestion charging in the capital under the Greater London Authority Bill currently going through Westminster.

However, extending congestion charging nationwide would require fresh legislation.

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