TRANSPORT EXPERTS this week cast doubt on the Department for Transport's (DfT) strategy to work up a national congestion charging scheme based on regional pilots.
They argued that no guidance is being given from government on how regional schemes should work and expressed concerns that the public transport must be upgraded before congestion charging can be implemented.
Transport secretary Doug Alexander has said that he will wait on the results of regional pilot schemes before launching a national scheme, as advocated in the Eddington report published this week.
But this strategy was heavily criticised by transport experts at a road pricing debate held by the Institute for Public Policy Research in London this week.
One transport consultant who spoke to NCE this week urged government to stop 'abdicating its responsibility' and set a 'national framework' for how the scheme would work.
RAC Foundation executive director Edmund King called on the government to set up an independent body to work up a national scheme.
'I'm struggling to see how we are going to go from local schemes to a national scheme in 10 years, ' he said 'Motorists need to know how the scheme will work, but at the moment the government doesn't know.' entro projects director Tom McGrath, who is leading the team considering bidding for a road pricing pilot in the West Midlands, added: 'We are looking for a clear government strategy to give us condence that whatever we decide to go ahead with is part of a national policy.' Transport minister Douglas Alexander told the event that lessons had to be learned from local schemes before a national scheme could be prepared.
'Research demonstrates that the public do recognise congestion as a problem but they don't think a national [road pricing] scheme is the answer. This is why we will not rush headlong into a national scheme. We must learn the lessons from local schemes as we build the case for a national road pricing scheme.' However, public support could be boosted if the government launched a nationwide 'early adopter scheme' under which motorists would start paying as they drive voluntarily in return for a reduced vehicle excise duty or fuel tax, said director of green transport charity Transport 2000 Stephen Joseph.
The Institute for Public Policy Research called for a road pricing steering group to be set up with a 'nationally recognised chair' to provide technical advice and leadership on the debate.
A DfT spokesman old NCE that the forthcoming Roads Transport Bill to be published in the spring would include guidance on local road charging pilots to ensure that they are 'inter-operable'.