But any cash raised by the Government must be ploughed back into the network if charging schemes are to succeed.
The findings are produced in Transport 2050, a report published by the Royal Academy of Engineering giving its 50-year vision of the UK transport system.
Fleets will be hardest hit financially by distance-charging plans but some road experts believe that if the money raised is spent on improving roads then company motorists will enjoy quicker and hassle-free journeys.
The report identifies a series of actions that it believes should be taken now to combat congestion and control emissions in the long term.
Professor Tony May, chairman of the academy’s transport working group, said: ‘Our transport system is among the worst in Europe. Congestion costs the UK £15 billion a year – that’s 1.5% of our gross domestic product. The figure is 15% worse than France and 40% worse than Germany, and the EC predicts that congestion costs will double in the next decade. Instead of taxing people for owning a car and imposing fuel duty, we should charge for how they use it.
‘We think about 80% of road journeys would cost no more than they do under the current fuel duty, and in rural areas they should be a lot cheaper.’
The academy recommends the creation of a National Roads Corporation, which would be responsible for management, maintenance, development and charging. The body should be funded directly through road pricing.
Academy member David Bayliss added: ‘At the moment the Highways Agency, Strategic Rail Authority, regional assemblies and local authorities all produce forward plans with different time horizons and from different data. With more consistency in planning, it would be much easier to identify the most important infrastructure projects.’
Last year, it was estimated that a national congestion charging scheme could cost company drivers up to £140 extra every month. The figure was based on a London-based business motorist covering about 20,000 miles a year but the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says drivers will benefit from less congestion, so will enjoy faster journey times.
The independent study produced by the IPPR estimated that a national congestion charging scheme could raise £16 billion a year.
Full details of the academy’s report can be found at www.raeng.ork.uk