Fleet News

Academics call for action on charging

THE Government needs to intervene actively through programmes such as congestion charging and road tolls to manage traffic volumes, in moves that could seriously hit fleet budgets, according to an influential group of 28 transport professors.

On Monday the academics wrote an open letter to Alistair Darling, Secretary of State for Transport, calling for clarity and action in the Government's transport planning at a time when future strategy looks confused and contradictory.

For example, while the Government announced 100 new road programmes in its three year spending review on Monday, the same day saw the High Court began hearing a challenge to the introduction of congestion charging in London.

The professors are in favour of controls, such as congestion charging, to limit demand for road space and combat gridlock.

'Efficient road planning depends strongly on a clear understanding that there will have to be active policy intervention to manage the demand for road space at congested times and spaces,' they wrote.

'Without this, the benefits of any infrastructure expansion would be substantially eroded by extra traffic.'

Their views will disappoint politicians who advocate that selective road building in conjunction with improvements to alternative transport will be enough to improve travel conditions.

'The evidence is that if traffic growth continues at the rate of recent decades, such a package will not achieve its intended effects,' they said, adding that traffic restraint was imperative.

The academics float the idea of charging road users for the full costs that each journey imposes on society, in a move that would attribute congestion and environmental costs to each journey.

If such charges are politically unacceptable, say the professors, then 'other methods of influencing the demand for travel become more necessary and more urgent'.

Meanwhile, Westminster City Council has mounted a High Court challenge to London's congestion charging scheme, calling for a public inquiry and environmental impact assessment (EIA).

The case is likely to last a fortnight and will focus on evidence from a study commissioned by Transport for London that identified potential adverse air quality impacts on the capital.

Deputy leader of Westminster City Council, Kit Malthouse, denied that the legal challenge aimed to scrap congestion charging. But, he added: 'We need a proper debate on the merits and practicalities of the scheme. Above all, we need to have a proper public transport infrastructure before a congestion charging scheme can be introduced.'

However, the London Assembly's Greens insist the capital's congestion charging scheme is environmentally-friendly because it 'is a traffic reduction measure; and that means less noise, fewer road casualties and less noxious emissions.'

Jenny Jones, the Greens' transport speaker, said: 'Why should the Mayor waste the public's time and taxpayers' money producing an EIA which is going to tell him that reducing traffic is a good idea?

'Doing an EIA on congestion charging would be like paying consultants to report on whether David Beckham is any good at free kicks.'

The Greens have also called for the introduction of a low emission zone for London to meet pollution targets.

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