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Fear of voter backlash delays electronic tolls

FEARS OF a voter backlash have forced the government to shelve the introduction of electronic tolling on motorways for 10 years, tolling technology experts claimed this week.

They disputed claims voiced last week by transport minister Lord McDonald that 'appropriate foolproof technology' did not yet exist for motorway tolling.

Tolling experts said that the technology for electronic tolling systems is robust and shown to work.

One consultant said that the technology existed today. 'You only need to look at the electronic systems at Toronto's highway 407 or the Melbourne City Link which both have over 100,000 cars using them every day.'

Trials of electronic Directed Short Range Communication (DSRC) technology between Utrecht and Amsterdam, and DSRC and satellite systems in Hong Kong in 1999, show how robust the technology is, he added.

Results of successful trials of electronic transponders at TRL's test track, concluded two years ago, were never reported. A source close to the trials estimated that a robust system could be in place within five years if the government wanted to push it forward.

The decision to shelve electronic tolling marks a change in the policy set out in the government's Transport White Paper.

The White Paper committed the government to developing pilot charging schemes, before extending them around the country.

Suspicion that the government was weakening on electronic tolling has grown with the government's failure to appoint a consortium to trial tolling systems in Leeds a year and a half after inviting bids.

The latest blow to motorway tolling comes after a study by MVA showed that tolling the proposed A3 Hindhead tunnel in Surrey would lead to mass diversions onto minor roads.

Forecasting showed that even modest tolls of £1 would lead to huge toll diversions and clog up local roads while cheaper tolls would not pay for the tunnel.

More on government tolling policy can be found in A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone, available from the Stationery Office tel (020) 7873 9090.

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