Leeds City Council is helping the Department for Transport run the project, known as the Demonstration of Interoperable Road User End to End Charging and Telematics Systems (DIRECTS). About 600 volunteer drivers will take part, helping researchers look at the feasibility of an electronic system for charging drivers to use busy roads. It is intended to help all local authorities interested in setting up their own local charging schemes by developing a national standard.
Transport Minister David Jamieson said: 'Volunteers will help test the equipment on roads in south Leeds. No one will be charged. It is expected that full trials will start around September 2003 and run for about a year.'
The roadside apparatus to support the charging equipment will begin to be installed in September this year, and fitting of in-vehicle units to volunteers' vehicles will follow early next year. Recruitment of volunteers from businesses in the area is set to begin shortly, with the help of consultants.
Work on the project is also expected to help with development of a distance-based road-user charging scheme for lorries planned for 2005/2006 announced in the Budget.
Last week, Secretary of State for Transport Alistair Darling revealed that compulsory tracking devices could be fitted in all vehicles as part of a Government plan for billing drivers according to road use, instead of car ownership. Although the congestion-charging scheme in Leeds is part of a national trial, the city council is examining whether to introduce tolls.
Transport officials want to introduce a range of measures which will encourage people out of their cars, including an extension of the supertram network, outer ring road developments, more park and ride sites and 20mph zones, improved rail links and the possible introduction of congestion charging.
A spokesman for Leeds City Council said: 'This does not mean we are planning to introduce a road-charging scheme. It is a trial of technology.'