No but it is probably the best opportunity to reduce the gridlock we are currently heading for. Road pricing is a move away from the current system of vehicle taxation to paying for road use on the basis of distance travelled, the rate varying with congestion. Low densities of traffic out of peak hours equals a low rate per journey: rush hour slow traffic will mean a very high rate per mile. However, the case for road pricing hasn’t yet been made but it is being debated and considered.

The problem is that as we all become better off we need to travel more and to travel further, and more of us become independent travellers with our own vehicles. We cannot build our way out of the problem. More and better roads make for easier travel so more people use them and they soon become congested (twenty years in the case of the Orwell Bridge). This doesn’t mean that no new roads will be built or existing roads improved, but they will have to have a strong economic case and a low environmental impact.

People need to travel (although cutting your personal carbon footprint is probably easiest achieved by reducing your annual private car mileage), and goods need to be delivered on time (and again reducing food miles on what you eat helps.) The target is to cut congestion in half, which will bring environmental benefits, and allow the UK to continue to compete in the global marketplace.

There is widespread support for road pricing, particularly for the business community who cannot operate with an unknown (journey time). They are likely to pay more than their current Road Fund Licence but if road charging reduces delays, enables people to move to their destination on time and goods delivered as required then the advantages will outweigh the costs.

Road charging needs support from other new technologies for improving traffic flow, variable speed limits of congested roads, traffic lights linked by computer to reduce stop-start motoring, and increased use of public transport by the majority of us (particularly for short journeys). The latter will need to be achieved by better quality vehicles, a frequent and regular service and a smooth journey that is not delayed by single occupancy private cars.

The difficulty will be in deciding the system used for road charging. DART on the Dartford Crossing uses microwave technology for frequent users. On the M6 toll motorists stop at a pay booth; and an increasing number of cars have satellite navigation systems that know vehicle location and can calculate its speed and direction. Some drivers even pay their insurance on a distance-travelled basis. But any system must be robust and trusted; we’ve all heard stories of Norfolk tractors not paying the congestion charge when they’ve been ‘seen’ by CCTV cameras travelling through central London.

The system will need to be simple, the charges reasonable but effective and journey costs will need to be understood in advance. All of which will take time -as does my car journey to work every rush our morning!

John Norman


Editor – noted in the press, and providing much food for thought!

‘Motorists’ groups have warned that any policy to limit driving or make it more expensive would be politically dangerous. Nearly 2 million people signed an online petition calling for pay-as-you-drive schemes to be dropped.’

‘According to Government projections, a further 5.7 million cars will be on British roads over the next twenty years, increasing traffic load by 30%.’

‘The average adult mileage for shopping was 125 in 1989, but had soared to 444 in 2005.’

‘City bouses have increased to a record £1.4 bn this year. Bonuses across the economy rose this spring to £26.4 bn, comfortably exceeding the country’s entire transport budget.’