It is over 40 years since the then Traffic Research Laboratory published its report on congestion charging. The concept has been taken up by economists at various times during the intervening years all intent on applying demand and supply theories to transport.
It would seem somewhat optimistic for Alistair Darling, the transport secretary, now to assume that a scheme can be up and running nationally within 10 years.
Apart from the technology, which has yet to be proven on any major scale, there are numerous obstacles to be overcome. There could be major problems with billing and collecting taxes, with informing the motorist of the cost of a proposed journey before setting out, and with the cost of alternatives. Exemptions will also need to be agreed.
Personally I have no fear for the proposals as briefly outlined so far, since I live in a rural area where it is suggested that the cost of travel could be 2p per mile compared to my present cost in taxation of about 8p.
But I would certainly advise the transport secretary to have a plan B ready just in case his proposals hit the buffers, and the whole strategy is shunted into a siding only, no doubt, to be taken out again at some future date!
Eric Waterhouse, Barton, Preston.