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Tuesday, 23 November, 1999, 09:27 GMT
Government 'parks' car tolls
John Prescott: Fears driver backlash

The government is to postpone for up to five years the introduction of charges for drivers entering city centres, according to reports.

The Daily Telegraph says the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, believes that public transport must be improved first, providing commuters with a credible alternative to road charging.

The paper says the forthcoming Transport Bill will grant local councils the power to put forward toll schemes, but ministers do not expect to approve any before 2005.

Existing tolls: New technology not yet ready
One reason for the rethink is said to be the Treasury's agreement that revenue generated by future fuel tax increases above the rate of inflation will go a new transport fund.

It is thought this could be worth up to 1bn a year and could finance the expansion of urban light railways and new public transport other schemes.

Another concern for Mr Prescott is that electronic tolling technology is not yet sufficiently reliable.

The deputy prime minister is said to fear an administrative nightmare of poll tax proportions if motorists are able to dispute charges.

Equipment is already being tested in Leeds and Edinburgh.

Ministers are thought likely to press ahead with the bill's other main provision - work-place parking taxes. Some may be in place by 2001.

Mr Prescott is expected to confirm the likely implementation timetable when the Transport Bill is published next month.

He previously promised that he would not force local councils to implement road and work parking tolls.

Transport Minister Lord Whitty on Tuesday morning said the reports of a new delay were misleading.

"The power for the local authorities to impose congestion charges and recycle that money into public transport improvements, including incidentally safety improvements, is in the London Bill already, and it will be there in the bill which we announced in the Queen's Speech last week," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"I think the five years relates to the fact that on motorways and trunk roads it will be difficult to envisage technically a system which could be introduced before that."

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See also:
17 Nov 99 |  Talking Point
Should motorists face city tolls?
17 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Mixed response for road tolls

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