Road Pricing Trials

Proposals must not leave public opinion in the dust

A rushed bidding process for Transport Innovation Funds threatens to leave public opinion in the dust, which could be disastrous for the success of the trials and road pricing as a whole, says the AA.

As a consequence of the July deadline, local authorities are putting forward proposals without the time to test the response of drivers and other travellers. This is likely to breed confusion and suspicion, getting the schemes off to the wrong start and making the job of convincing people of the benefits even harder for local authorities.

Other problems local authorities face include:

  1. Motorists are still unclear of the general principles the Government is applying to road charging, such as reducing road taxes to balance out road tolls for the average driver.
  2. With the Department for Transport (DfT) stepping back from approving local schemes, there risks being no overall watchdog and uniform guidelines may be ignored. This may create confusion, particularly for visitors to the trial cities. Neighbouring local authorities in TIF partnerships may also have clashing interests.
  3. Removing the Secretary of State and DfT from local schemes rules out any flexibility in balancing road charges with reductions in other taxes. This will give local authorities a mountain to climb in convincing drivers that road pricing is in their interests.
  4. Reform of local transport governance may increase efficiency and attractiveness of alternatives to the car, but this must not be done at the expense of drivers.

What the AA says

"The local trials are make or break for the Government's road pricing plans: if drivers feel they are significantly worse off and paying to sit in the same jams, the whole initiative will lose credibility," says Paul Watters, head of roads and transport policy for the AA.

"Restructuring local transport governance runs the risk of local road charging schemes being used to force people onto public transport because the transport operators hold sway. The AA says these schemes must be accountable to local people first.

"With Transport Innovation Fund bids due to be in by the end of July, there's little hope of the public buying into these schemes at this stage – local authorities must pull all the stops out on the back of their bids to persuade people that road charging is in their interest."

 

23 May 2007