Azara Blog: UK national road pricing kicked into the grass

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Date published: 2008/03/04

The BBC says:

Government plans to cut congestion via a national road charging scheme are "in tatters", the Conservatives have said.

The claim came as Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly admitted concerns about privacy, fairness and enforcement could not yet be satisfactorily answered.

More pilot schemes were needed with any scheme "many years" away, she said.

She said that a more immediate way of cutting congestion was to let drivers use the hard shoulder on parts of the M1, M6, M62, M27, M4 and M5.

The move follows a successful trial on the M42 near Birmingham, where the hard shoulder was used as an extra lane and the speed limit reduced to 50mph.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said the government's policies on congestion "now lie in tatters".

The announcement was "further evidence that their flagship proposal for a spy in the sky national road pricing scheme is going nowhere".

"They should now rule this option out completely," she said.

Lib Dem Norman Baker described the measure as a "dogs dinner of a policy".

"A national road pricing scheme to replace other road taxes is undoubtedly the way forward, but this latest fudge from ministers will please nobody.

"It confuses the purpose of a hard shoulder, which we have been told for decades exists for safety reasons."

In a keynote speech, Ms Kelly said the hard-shoulder option would also include motorways which join the M25, such as the M20 and M3.

Other plans - such as having a motorway lane which could not be used by cars with only one person inside as well as HGV crawler lanes - were also being considered.

A further four years of funding for local road pricing pilot schemes - which have been described as forerunners for a future national road pricing scheme - was also announced.
In the first six months of the M42 trial, average journey times fell by more than a quarter on the northbound carriageway, fuel consumption reduced by 4% and vehicle emissions dropped by up to 10%.
Driving on the hard shoulder is well established in some European countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands.

All a bit surreal, this entire debate. In particular, are the Tories for or against road pricing now? Or is it just that they are against everything that the government is for, and for everything the government is against?

The Lib Dems of course are for road pricing, because the Lib Dems are the party of the academic middle class, and the academic middle class hate cars (except for the ones they themselves drive, of course). But the Lib Dems are so removed from reality that they won't contemplate using the hard shoulder even if it is proven to reduce emissions. They flunk Common Sense 101, as always.

Meanwhile, Labour seems to have gone slightly cold on the idea of road pricing, but are willing to throw yet more ridiculous sums of money at "local road pricing pilot schemes" so that presumably some day they can proclaim that everybody loves road pricing, really.

At least there has been one small victory for the ordinary people over the ruling elite: national road pricing has probably moved another couple of years off into the future.

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