Fleet News

Drivers mistrust road pricing plan

THE Government must win the hearts and minds of company motorists if a road pricing policy is to be successful.

A new survey has found that more than 70% of motorists want an independent roads inspector to safeguard their interests and without one only one in 10 would trust the Government to act fairly.

Speaking at a future of transport: a network for 2030, staged by the Institute for Public Policy Research, which advises government, RAC Foundation chairman David Holmes said: ‘The UK has the worst road congestion in Europe and there will be 45% more traffic by 2030. About 60% of people support road pricing if the proceeds go to improving transport, but only one in 10 people trust government to act fairly.’

Speaking at the same event, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling was cautious about an early commitment to distance charging.

He said: ‘We’re not going to have a Big Bang change for all cars at once – people know enough about Government computers to know that would be a disaster.’

Computer failures affecting everything from air safety to benefit payments for children have stung the Government, which is to introduce distance charging for trucks whose miles covered are recorded on tachometers.

The transport secretary sees increasing use of satellite navigation as the technology route to introducing the change for fleet drivers and private motorists.

Despite the need for early and rigorous consultation, Darling has ruled this out until after the general election which is highly unlikely before May at the earliest.

He said: ‘We need to engage in argument but it’s not the best time before the election. Potentially, there are huge benefits but the technology will not be available for 10 years.’

Darling said good transport was essential for the economy and the existing network was designed for traffic of 30 or 40 years ago, putting it under severe pressure.

He is aware of the controversy distance charging will trigger because, without safeguards, it would shift the cost of car use away from conurbations to rural areas where people have to travel further for work, schools and many amenities.

Darling said: ‘We must learn from our mistakes, such as short-term planning, and ensure the investment is sustained. America has 10-lane highways with traffic moving nose to trail, and we must avoid that here.’

Investment in UK road building has increased, and he wanted better use made of the road system, which was why teams would be recruited to clear damaged vehicles more quickly after accidents.

The M6 toll route (around the heavily-congested Birmingham area) had been ‘pretty successful’ and might be extended north to Manchester.

‘We will have to choose between widening the M6 and building a new route running parallel with it,’ Darling told delegates.

He also considered work-based schemes, such as car-sharing and employees leaving cars at home one day a week which in theory could cut rush-hour traffic by 20% each week day. ‘It is better that these things start locally and then, if they work, they can for all of us,’ he said.

On air pollution, Darling said: ‘There is a conflict between people wanting to move around and protecting the environment. If transport policies kept people at home, that would be wrong. We have to strike a balance and I am acutely aware of environmental impact.’

  • Alistair Darling turned down an offer to drive a Citroen C3 fitted with PSA Peugeot Citroen’s Stop & Start parked outside a University of London building which was the conference venue.

    The engine cuts out when the footbrake is applied at 4mph or slower and restarts automatically when the driver’s foot is lifted off the brake – independent tests have shown a 25% fuel saving.

    The transport secretary’s aides said he would not drive it because PSA was a conference sponsor (so, too, was Shell).

    Conference debate

    PARKING at rail stations is often inadequate and it was impossible to find out whether a space would be available before driving there, RAC Foundation executive director Edmund King said during a debate at the conference.

    King said: ‘If the government wants integrated transport, this is the sort of thing that must be addressed.’

    Speaker Stewart Francis, chairman of the Rail Passenger Council, said: ‘We need a more joined-up transport policy and an end to car park charges being increased by stealth.’

    Another speaker, Roy Wicks, director general of the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive Group, said: ‘Rail operators have built multi-storey car parks at Leeds and Sheffield, and a lot of long-distance commuters use them.

    Other topics covered at the conference included:

  • Fuels: ‘There is no magic bullet to reduce CO2 by 2030 and we have to get a consensus,’ said Mark Gainsborough, Shell International’s vice president (fuels). ‘We must not overlook air – the fastest-growing travel mode – but motor transportation has to take a share. It will not be enough to say future cars with new fuels are environmentally friendly – they will have to be packaged properly.’

  • Technology: ‘There will be diesel/electric hybrids when the market demands them,’ said Tod Evans, chairman, Peugeot Citroen Automobiles UK until the end of the year. ‘There is no point in sophisticated technology if no one buys it and we can’t wait for hydrogen-powered cars.’

  • Politics: ‘The UK has the worst road congestion in Europe and there will be 45% more traffic by 2030,’ said David Holmes, chairman of the RAC Foundation. ‘Around 60% of people support road pricing if the proceeds go to improving transport, but only one in ten people trust government to act fairly.’

  • London Mayor Ken Livingstone: ‘Some people believe the government used London Mayor Ken Livingstone as a fall guy,’ said transport adviser Martin Richards. ‘If congestion charging didn’t work, they could it was nothing to do with them. If it did, they could say it was what they wanted’

  • Standardisation: ‘What’s missing is how transport fits into the kind of cities and towns we want,’ said Stephen Joseph, executive director, Transport 2000. ‘People are less car dependent in London than Milton Keynes but we are getting a standardised model which will be followed around the world.’

  • Change of mind: ‘Five years ago, the government aimed to reduce travel but they don’t talk about it now,’ said Professor David Begg, chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport.
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