Mixed reception for road pricing trials

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Government plans to give local authorities the opportunity to trial road pricing schemes have received a mixed reception from industry groups.
The Freight Transport Association has welcomed the publication of the draft bill but says that road pricing must not be proposed as a panacea to solve the nation’s congestion problems. Before road pricing is introduced there has to be a whole range of positive investment and policy decisions on the operation of the roads network. FTA says that road pricing must not be used as an excuse to abandon the further, and substantial, construction of new roads capacity.
Chief executive Richard Turner said: “Road congestion is a major blight on the efficiency and the economics of UK industry. Each year congestion wastes millions of man-hours and billions of pounds, to the disbenefit of road users, consumers and the environment. Doing nothing is not an option, and a fair and equitable means of managing road space by cost and demand is an inevitability.
“However, there are many things which must be done before the government should pull the trigger on that option. We need new road building to ease congestion blackspots, we need motorway widening on our key trade routes, and so many towns and villages continue to need bypasses.
“And, as well as better management of the network we presently have, we need social changes to reduce peak demand on road space including night deliveries, varied school hours, home working and better public transport.’
Turner said that there had been considerable confusion about the likely costs to road users of a road pricing scheme. He said, ‘If we all end up paying the maximum sum because, in the absence of any alternative, we are all on the same road at the same time, then the scheme will have been a waste of time and would not work. The intention of road pricing is not to raise money but to spread out demand.
Turner warned the government that it had to ensure that the proposed trials allowed for inter-operability of the various schemes. For lorry operators, with vehicles visiting many different locations, uniformity is required and it would not be viable to have a range of totally different schemes applying in different locations. Turner said, ‘The first test of the Government’s commitment to a practical scheme of inter-operability would be to start work right away on a process to make all existing toll schemes. In that way it would demonstrate commitment to recognising the realities and problems of companies and vehicle operators working on a national basis and dealing with them.’
The Federation of Small Businesses has called on the government to put the policy to the vote before implementation.
The Federation said it was not convinced of the fairness of the scheme and believes that if the government were sure of its argument then it must win over the public in the chosen local areas before imposing road pricing on them.
Steve Collie, FSB transport chairman, said: “These proposed local congestion charging schemes are to be run by local authorities in their clearly-defined areas. Councils already have mechanisms in place to run elections. They should therefore have local referendums to get popular approval for these schemes. Without it road charging is completely illegitimate, as it would be for a national scheme without a public vote on the issue.”
Adrian Elmer, a director at Smarthaul International, an online information portal for the haulage industry, said he was disappointed at the publication of the draft bill.
“The Government is clearly pushing ahead with road pricing scheme plans in England and Wales despite a major public outcry. Almost two million signatures were collected petitioning against the draft bill which was ignored by the government as it pushed ahead with the bill, moving the UK one step closer to a ‘pay as you go’ scheme on our roads.”
“This is a clear example of the UK government introducing a national transport pricing policy by stealth. Even this small move was met with outcry among the public but their views were not even considered. How will it be any different when the legislation is being considered later on? Instead of increasing taxes, the government should invest in the transport network, as it promised to when it was elected 10 years ago.”

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