Today, congestion has reached such proportions that almost 40% of Fleet News' panel members would accept road tolls if they delivered quicker flowing traffic and more predictable journeys for essential car and van users.
While congestion charges are politically contentious, an increasing number of forward thinking transport research papers prepared by specialist consultants advocate congestion charging as a tool to control traffic volumes on motorways.
The Government has funded many of these research studies and while it denies that it has plans to charge motorists for using existing roads, the new Birmingham North Relief Road (an alternative M6) will function on a toll basis.
Gridlock on major UK routes costs business billions of pounds through delays, inefficiency and lost productivity. Smooth flowing traffic is vital for fleets and the price to pay for this goal in future may be congestion charges.
The Fleet News panel of experts are split on the relative merits of charges, highlighting the lack of alternative transport for most essential car users and the potential bottom line costs of road tolls – which would have to be passed on to customers.
However, all panellists agree that something must be done – the gridlock cannot continue.
##Fleet panel July 18--none##
'No, I don't think road charging is the best answer – a solution is more likely to come when either we run out of oil, or prestige company cars are replaced by travel passes - then the people with clout would agitate effectively for an excellent integrated public transport system.'
Sally Miles, Sanctuary Housing
'No. With the current public transport system most people have a choice of driving or using public transport where there are delays, taking an unknown amount of time and suffering inflated charges for the service offered. Because of this, congestion charging is nothing more than a money-raising scheme, although for central London with its bus and Tube alternatives there is an argument for it. The only way for public transport to improve would be to abolish free cars for all Government ministers and remove the car allowance for MPs and give all the aforementioned free and unlimited use of the public transport system. I am sure things would improve rapidly.'
Paul Featherstone, Churchill Express
'No. The way to avoid much of the gridlock would be to invest some of the money collected in VED in our appalling A roads. Many of these roads run parallel to motorways and drivers will not use them because they are in such a poor state of repair. For these drivers it is much easier to get on to a motorway. Successive governments have siphoned off money collected from motorists to other parts of government and as long as this continues we will never have a good transportation infrastructure.'
John Clarke, Fleet Services South, Telewest
'The roads in other European countries seem to run smoothly using the toll operation but they also have an efficient train service so not as many travellers use the roads as in the UK. Major investment is also required to the train service to get more travellers to use this method. As a company we would welcome an easier and quicker route for our drivers to carry out our daily deliveries on a national basis. But this will create yet another impact on cost to the business.'
Joanne Hanafan, Fleet manager, King UK
'On occasion we would use the toll roads but prices for our services would be offset to the customer. Local governments are thwarting fleet and other motorists by underhand methods of slowing light sequences, painting yellow lines, overcharging for parking and handing out illegal parking tickets. We are not getting a fair crack of the whip.'
Les Tasker, director, Auto Keys (Nationwide)
'Yes, if road tax is reduced also.'
N.G. Details supplied
'No. It will divert traffic on to smaller A and B roads. What we need is more reliable and cheaper public transport to give people a viable alternative to the car.'
Mark Nicholls, Grundfos Pumps
'No and it will not significantly combat motorway gridlock for the majority. Congestion charging is merely a way of enabling those who wish for a clearer road to choose it.'
Reg Dixon, Niftylift
'Congestion charging is quicker to implement than sorting out the lamentable state of the public transport system. It will be seen by most fleets and private motorists as a tax - and socially divisive. At this stage, we don't know who will be exempt, how the charges will be collected, what the cost of collection will be and where the money will go. This appears to be knee-jerk politics and is another example of small minds being charged with a task which is beyond their expertise or ability to resolve, whose only answer to the problem is, once again, to tax it.'
David Mullins, Administration manager, Slough Estates
'No. Getting a better overall transport infrastructure is nearer the mark. If we are going to follow in the steps of Singapore let's do it properly by providing decent and reliable public transport so cars can be left at home.'
Phillippa T Caine, Company secretary, CORGI
'A cautious yes, but with three worries: 1) The costs of implementation are still significant. There ought to be cheaper ways to cut traffic. 2) There is an equity problem. Should motorways be the domains of the rich? 3) Where does the profit go? If it just goes to more roads, we just create more of a problem.'
Eric Johnson, Editor-in-chief, Environmental Impact Assessment Review
'No. I think there's a case for congestion charging in towns and cities once public transport has been upgraded to provide a realistic, practical and affordable alternative. It will probably take congestion charging to alter people's habits. But what are motorists paying all this money to the Exchequer for if it isn't for a good well-maintained road system? Or is this the start of a two-tier road system – one for the rich and one for the poor?'
R.C.L. Details supplied
'Certainly not - the majority of drivers using our motorways at peak hours have little choice but to battle their way through and to suggest charging for the 'privilege' adds insult to injury. Perhaps more concentration on flexible working hours, home working, video-conferencing, car sharing, de-centralisation and the like would all contribute to relieving the burden. Congestion charging would have to be so expensive to have any marked effect and may well deter the private motorist but the company driver will simply reclaim any cost via expenses. I suppose that in due course any employer would offset increased costs to the consumer.'
Chris Fitzpatrick, Area fleet co-ordinator, Telewest Broadband
'No. Making charges where there is only the existing infrastructure will only move the problem from one road to another. That could create a whole host of new problems. Where new roads are provided it would work well to limit the traffic on the new road and take some of the traffic off an existing bottleneck. Eventually we may even reach the situation where so much traffic will use the new route that the original route becomes viable again. As for 'guaranteeing' punctuality, I don't hear of any service level guarantees from toll road operators. If a lorry jack knives or there's a foggy pile-up, the road is blocked whether it's free or not.
Dave Gill, Fleet manager, JM Computing
'Charging for congestion will not reduce congestion! Are we to believe that drivers deliberately drive on to a motorway, knowing that is going to be gridlocked, from choice? They do so because there is no alternative.What percentage of the cars on these gridlocked roads are not on essential journeys? Not more than about 20%, I imagine. So, the essential users are going to pay the charge because they have no alternative.
If their employers won't pay the charge, the drivers will demand a pay increase to cover it. How can we expect a company car driver to do the job, if it involves him in extra costs? It is already costing the essential users more now to drive a company car. How much more before enough is enough? The only answer is a superb public transport system.'
'Yes, but ... tolls could be an effective way of reducing congestion if applied sensibly and as part of a wider strategy. However, there are often few options other than to use busy motorways, particularly for fleets. Without a focus on improving alternatives, tolls could just become another way of extracting money from drivers without having any real impact on congestion.'
Nigel Trotman, Central services manager, Whitbread