ENGINEERS AND road users have called on the government to show more courage in tackling congestion on Britain's roads by pressing ahead with widespread road user charging.
Engineers attending a workshop at the ICE last week said they were fed up with the government blaming technological shortcomings for the congested state of UK roads. Lack of political will is the principal obstacle to resolving problems, they claimed. Similar complaints have been voiced by the road freight lobby.
The government is already committed to introducing satellitecontrolled user charging in the freight industry by 2006, proving that technology exists to tackle congestion and can be applied when politicians want to see results.
'Congestion costs the freight industry £20bn a year, ' said Freight Transport Association chief executive Richard Turner.
'We must increase capacity but also reduce unreliability by managing demand. I can think of no other method than road user charging.
'We (the freight industry) see the advantage in us paving the way with distance-based charging, but the real benefit will only come when it applies to all, ' said Turner.
Turner added that successive governments have resisted road user charging due to the shortterm nature of the electoral cycle. Few are willing to risk initial public opposition for the sake of possible long-term improvements. 'But we are now reaching the point where change in network performance will happen fast, ' he said.
London is one place where the government has backed a road user charging scheme that applies to all vehicles.
However, Transport for London (TfL), responsible for implementing the scheme in the capital, has been scathing of the government's approach to reducing congestion.
Professional institutions must push the government to make a firmer stand, said Derek Turner, managing director of TfL's street management division, last week.
'Political commitment is vital, and the institutions need to speak out, ' Turner told workshop delegates.
'It is sad that it has taken 40 years to get congestion charging into London, and even then it took an elected mayor to drive it forward.
'The economic case was produced in the 1960s. It is so well established that it beggars belief that we haven't got there yet.
'Yet all the traditional politicians in the mayoral race still said: 'good idea, but not yet', ' said Turner.
Turner conceded that there were still barriers to overcome with satellite-based charging systems, primarily the cost, the effects of tunnels and urban canyons, and concerns about security and enforcement.
Lack of compatability between 'intelligent transport' systems is also a problem.
'Every system for road user charging that is built at present is unique.' said head of research body TRL's intelligent transport division, Ken Perrett.
'Organisational and contractual issues are still quite significant, ' he added.
INFOPLUS Details of the workshop will be posted on the ICE website.