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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 February 2007, 09:03 GMT
PM denies road toll 'stealth tax'
Traffic on the M42
Downing Street set up online petitions in November 2006
Road pricing is not a "stealth tax" on drivers, Tony Blair has said after 1.8m people signed an anti-toll petition.

In an e-mailed reply to the signatories he wrote that no decision had yet been made on pricing, but the aim of a scheme would be tackling congestion.

Funds raised by pilot projects would be spent on local transport, he added.

The prime minister's reply will be sent to all the 1,792,116 people who signed the petition on the Downing Street website - which closed at midnight.

I fully accept that we don't have all the answers yet
Tony Blair
Prime Minister

It was set up by Peter Roberts, a 46-year-old account manager from Telford, Shropshire, who says tolls are "sinister and wrong" and unfair to poorer people.

Mr Roberts said he welcomed Mr Blair's response but would have preferred a moratorium on road pricing while alternatives are considered.

The petition appears on a section of Downing Street's website set up in November to allow anyone to address and deliver a petition directly to the prime minister and calls for the scrapping of "planned vehicle tracking and road-pricing policy".

'Bad for business'

In his e-mail response, the prime minister said: "Congestion is a major problem to which there is a no easy answer.

"Let me be clear straight away: we have not made any decision about national road pricing. Indeed we are simply not yet in a position to do so."

Pie chart: Results of BBC/ICM survey

But he said that allowing congestion to grow unchecked "would be bad for businesses, individuals and the environment", costing an extra 22bn in wasted time in England by 2025.

He goes on to say: "I know many people's biggest worry about road pricing is that it will be a 'stealth tax' on motorists. It won't. Road pricing is about tackling congestion."

He said local schemes would "teach us more about how road pricing would work and inform decisions on a national scheme", adding that "funds raised from these local schemes will be used to improve transport in those areas".

On Tuesday, Mr Blair's spokesman said the government would press ahead with 10 road-pricing pilot schemes in 10 locations around the country.

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

HAVE YOUR SAY
We should beat congestion by making it viable for more staff to work from home
Peter, Croydon

His successor, Douglas Alexander, has since suggested that road pricing could be brought in within a decade.

"We've got two policies, the first in terms of a national system of road pricing is that we have a debate ahead of a decision which lies some years away," Mr Alexander said.

"What we are planning on taking forward in the mean time, however, is a number of local pilots of congestion charging and we've already made clear that every penny of the money raised by those local congestion charges would be used to improve transport within those communities."

The e-mail comes after 74% of the 1,006 people questioned for a BBC-commissioned survey said they were opposed to charging motorists by the mile.

But 55% of those spoken to said they would change their minds and support such a scheme if the money raised was used to improve public transport.

More than 25% said nothing would make the policy acceptable to them.

Those most in favour of a charging system were 18 to 24-year-olds with 28% of those asked saying the government should introduce one.

Mr Roberts said the poll was more evidence that people were wary of road charges.

He also said investment should be made in the transport network without a road-charging scheme.

"Road pricing as an idea has got some merit," he said.

"But the cost of the technology and the infrastructure would be far better spent on improving the railways and the public transport system".

ROAD PRICING VIEWS
Which if any, of the following, would make the policy acceptable to you?
Total %
If money raised was used to improve public transport... 424 55
If money raised was used to cut other road taxes... 407 53
If the money went to the treasury... 56 7
Nothing would make that policy acceptable to me... 202 26
Based on responses of 768 people
Source: ICM survey commissioned by the BBC

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VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Tony Blair puts his case for road pricing in an e-mail



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