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Lengthy delays hit road tolling - MacDonald

ROAD TOLLING using paper permits is at least three years away and the introduction of a comprehensive inter-urban electronic system is unlikely before the end of the next decade, transport minister Lord MacDonald claimed this week.

MacDonald was speaking at a fringe meeting during this week's Labour Party Conference. He said he was 'anticipating' that legislation providing powers to introduce congestion charging outside London would be included in the Queen's Speech in November.

However, he pointed out that projects to pilot a paper based tolling system were still three to five years down the road. Paper permits were identified by Government late last year as the first stage of a proposed congestion charging system (NCE 10 December).

MacDonald said the next stage - introducing electronic tolling - would be a much longer haul.

Government officials had previously said that electronic tolling was likely to be introduced by 2002 at the earliest (NCE 25 September 1997). But MacDonald admitted the timescale had slipped dramatically.

He said: 'Inter-urban electronic tolling using satellite technology, which is the most secure system, won't be in place for eight to ten years. If we were to use any other system, we would need to be very sure about the technology.'

The Government has predicted congestion charging could raise an extra £2bn for investment in transport infrastructure and services by 2005. However, the slipping implementation timetable and local opposition to individual charging schemes could dramatically cut revenues, according to the Commission for Integrated Transport chairman David Begg.

Speaking to NCE after MacDonald's speech, Begg called on the Government to give local authorities the power to borrow the necessary cash to improve public transport, therefore drawing the sting from the impact of congestion charges. 'There will be few councils brave enough to introduce road charging without this incentive,' he added.

In London, however, road tolling could be introduced within two years. Legislation giving the new Greater London Authority congestion charging powers is being considered by Parliament, ahead of the election of a mayor next May.

Two prospective Labour candidates for mayor, Ken Livingstone and Trevor Philips, said this week that they would deliver congestion charging in London in the first year of office.

Speaking at another conference fringe meeting, Livingstone said: 'I would introduce a road pricing scheme by April 2001.'

The former Greater London Council leader threw his weight behind the road charging proposals developed by Halcrow Fox for the London First business lobby group. The paper based ticketing system would charge cars £5, vans £10 and heavy goods vehicles £15 to enter a zone bordered by Euston Road, Hyde Park, the Embankment and the City of London

Philips said congestion charging could raise £250M to £400M a year in London, but that it would not necessarily reduce congestion.

It also emerged at this week's Labour Party Conference that housing, planning and London minister Nick Raynsford plans to seek nomination to become Labour's candidate for London's mayor.

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