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National road user charging - let's bite the bullet now

In short, there are too many cars on the road. It's a statement of the obvious, of course, but nevertheless a glaring fact.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

You might have noticed from the magazine masthead that NCE moved office recently. As the crow flies, shifting from Clerkenwell, London EC1 to Camden, London N1 was not very far but for most the change to daily commuting routines is just about settling in.

For my part I'm still trying to find the best motorbike route across the capital for my commute from south London. For even with two wheels and the congestion charge, traffic remains a significant impact on my life.

Too many people still choose to drive into the capital each morning rather than use public transport.

This is clearly wrong. Public transport across the UK is far from perfect, but it is not that bad in the capital – perhaps even edging close to being decent and modern.

In fact, it may not be that long before motorcyclists are unable to justify the discomfort of cold and rain, not to mention danger, as a viable time saving alternative.

Of course improving the UK's public transport system costs large amounts of money. The answer around here is to keep charging more. Ken Livingstone has talked about raising the charge from £8 to £25 a day and why not? Driving in London is a privilege.

The rest of the UK has yet to bite the congestion charge bullet. However, in its response to the recent consultation on the Local Government Bill this week, government gives local authorities its firm support for the development of congestion-busting road charging schemes. This is good news.

Provided local authorities consult fully on proposals to ensure that "local road pricing works for the local people", and that all the cash raised is ploughed back into public transport, central government, it says, will not stand in the way.

But government still stops short of introducing the ultimate weapon against traffic congestion – national road user charging. For this, it reminds us, "separate legislation would be required if, in the future, a decision was made to introduce such a scheme".

Is it still frightened that the 1.8M people who signed the anti-road pricing petition on the Downing Street website last year will create another poll tax rebellion?

It should not be. As long as any new scheme is seen to be fair – introduced with suitable changes to road duty and possibly fuel tax, and used to raise cash specifically for public transport – the public will accept it.

The bottom line is that travel by car is still too cheap and travel by public transport still to difficult. We must get on and use local and national road user charging to redress this imbalance and give everyone a proper choice.

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