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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 17:39 GMT
Road charging gets MPs' backing
The M6 Toll motorway, which was opened in December 2003
The MPs warn against private schemes such as the M6 Toll
Gridlocked roads or paying by the mile is the stark choice facing British motorists, says a group of MPs.

The influential Commons transport committee says national road charging should be introduced as long as the benefits outweigh the costs.

Ministers suggest a national scheme is not feasible before 2014 but there can be local charges in the meantime.

The MPs say the government must not duck its responsibilities for cutting jams on motorways and trunk roads.

Their report says people travelled 5.2 billion miles more on the roads last year than in 2003.

By 2015, road traffic could be up 30% on 2000 levels, according to government estimates.

Satellite tracking

Some new roads are needed but the UK cannot build its way out of its congestion problems, say the MPs.

Instead, there must be new efforts to manage demand, with road pricing the idea with most potential to cut congestion.

The most radical vision for road pricing would see a satellite tracking-based system, with drivers charged variable rates per mile depending on traffic levels on the route they used.

Contracts are now being taken out for running a lorry user charging system - which is likely to be the trailblazer for a wider pricing system.

The MPs want thorough research of the business costs of congestion so it can be judged whether road pricing is worth introducing.

Local decisions

Committee chairman, Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, said: "Road pricing is not pie in the sky: the country's first congestion charging scheme has successfully reduced traffic congestion in central London.

"Local authorities should decide whether urban charging schemes would reduce congestion on local roads.

"But the strategic network - motorways and trunk roads - is under government control: the government must not duck its responsibility for charging on the most congested parts of the network.

"Road pricing will not be easy to implement, but we face a stark choice between a gridlocked road system or changing the way we pay for road use."

M6 lessons

The committee suggests small-scale charging should be phased in on trunk road and in urban areas. Those schemes could ultimately be linked to form a national system.

But the MPs warn against more privately operated toll roads, such as the M6 Toll, saying it is risky to give firms complete control.

A patchwork of incompatible road systems would be a "recipe for disaster", say the MPs.

And they call for a fully integrated transport system, including better public transport and road improvements where appropriate.

Premature?

The Road Users' Alliance warned road pricing was not a "magic wand".

Director Tim Green said: "We support the concept of road pricing if it is properly regulated and if it is to fund urgent new road provision.

"Talking about national road pricing when we have an incomplete strategic road network, is putting the cart before the horse."




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