Nationwide road user charging proposals received a major boost this week after it emerged that big businesses in the capital are strongly in favour of a London-wide scheme.
A soon-to-be-unveiled survey by business lobby group London First has found that 68% of firms are in favour of a scheme to charge vehicles for every mile they drive in London. London First executive director for transport Tim Hockney told NCE that most businesses backed the proposal, which Transport for London (TfL) is understood to be considering, because severe traffic congestion is damaging their profits. London First is expected to formally announce its backing for road charging on behalf of its 800-plus members and will publish a set of recommendations in November about how the scheme should operate. 'People might be surprised that a business organisation is supporting a scheme like this. But we believe it's a good idea if the revenue is fully hypothecated and spent on public transport, and improving the road network,' said Hockney.Such heavyweight support will increase pressure on TfL to push forward a pilot scheme for London and thereby make a national scheme much more likely, said transport economist and TfL board member Professor Stephen Glaister. 'If it's worth doing a trial anywhere it's worth doing in London,' he said. 'It's only because of the success of congestion charging in London that the government is willing to consider a national scheme.'London mayor Ken Livingstone has the powers to implement a London-wide scheme and TfL is already piloting a scheme that would use 'tag and beacon' technology. In the trial transponders in the road communicate with smart cards in vehicles and then take payment automatically from drivers' bank accounts. A London-based scheme could raise up to £3bn net income a year for London, according to Glaister. He told NCE that such a revenue stream would enable TfL to privately borrow £30bn at good rates for investment in schemes such as Crossrail.Under TfL's proposed scheme that could be operational by the end of the decade, vehicles would be charged at certain congestion hot spots in Greater London such as town centres. The scheme would be 'inter-operable' with a future UK-wide charging scheme. The government is expected to announce a bill for powers to charge vehicles on motorways and trunk roads in this autumn's Queen's Speech. Next year it is expected to announce where national road user charging trials will take place.