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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 May 2006, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
Minister to favour road charging
Douglas Alexander
The new Transport Secretary takes on a daunting department
New Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander has announced a 10m fund for the development of nationwide road charging schemes.

He hopes new technology will allow drivers to be charged by the mile.

Mr Alexander, promoted in last week's reshuffle, used a speech to outline how he intends to improve UK infrastructure with minimum environmental impact.

His predecessor at the department, Alistair Darling, announced several pilot road charging schemes.

'Time to face facts'

Cambridge, Durham, Bristol, Bath, Greater Manchester, Shrewsbury, Tyne and Wear and the West Midlands were among the authorities developing road charging proposals.

Conservative transport spokesman Chris Grayling said: "Yet again we have a secretary of state whose only solution to our transport problems seems to be a road pricing system which couldn't be introduced for a decade.

"It's time ministers realised that we need action now to improve transport and not vague ideas for the distant future. They could start by keeping some of the transport promises they've made in the last few years and then quietly dropped."

Lib Dem spokesman Alistair Carmichael meanwhile said the 10m was "simply the first slice of the 18m" promised by Mr Alexander's predecessor in July last year.

Mr Carmichael backed road-user pricing as key to cutting down on congestion and therefore pollution but went on to ask what had happened to a "further 200m a year promised from the Transport Innovation Fund".

"The government has always talked a good game on road-user pricing, but the time has come for them to put their money where their mouth is," he said.

A spokesman from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport welcomed Mr Alexander's commitment to road pricing adding there was "no other long term solution to congestion".

Mr Alexander said road pricing was one of several measures that had been looked at to tackle congestion.

If we do nothing we simply face eternal gridlock
Douglas Alexander
Transport Secretary

He said that it was time to face "certain basic facts" that as the nation's prosperity improved, people would want to travel more and to travel further.

"And as we travel more, because we live on a crowded island, congestion is set to grow, so if we do nothing we simply face eternal gridlock," he told BBC News.

The debate now was not so much about "why road pricing?", but "how it would be implemented", and the prize for motorists would be "better value out of the road network".

Investment in road capacity would continue where it was justified, Mr Alexander insisted.

Air travel

And he said speed cameras had a role to play, adding: "I've seen it as a driver myself, there is absolutely no doubt where you have cameras, for example where there are tight bends in the road, it makes sense to slow drivers down."

Mr Alexander was in York on Wednesday, where he was opening a new bus service operated by transport giant First.

He also announced the extension of the Oyster smartcard scheme in London, which will see the cards being accepted in the capital's mainline stations.

Earlier, during a BBC Radio 4 Today programme interview, he said that while he did not want to prevent people enjoying the benefits of cheap air travel, he was concerned about the environmental impact.

"This is not simply a domestic problem, this is a challenge we need to meet internationally," he said.

"We believe the right way to address those environmental concerns is to bring aircraft within the emissions trading scheme we are trying to get established at the European Union."

Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander on road pricing

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