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Online, off road to nowhere

Pressure is building on government to scrap plans for nationwide road pricing.

If anyone thought that transport was not a thorny political issue they should think again.

More than 430,000 people have now signed the petition on the Number 10 website urging Prime Minister Tony Blair to scrap plans for nationwide road pricing (News last week).

The petition has already attracted 20 times more signatories than those who signed up to repeal the Hunting Act 2004 and scrap the proposed introduction of ID cards.

Clearly the idea of a black box recording where and when you travel 24 hours a day is not one the public is keen to embrace.

Especially when the data will be used to charge motorists upwards of £1.50 a mile. And even more when the government remains resolutely silent on whether fuel tax will be cut to compensate.

The wording of the poll plays on these fears. 'The more you travel - the more tax you pay.

It will be an unfair tax on those who live apart from families and poorer people who will not be able to afford the high monthly costs, ' it states.

And it is not just the petition that demonstrates the plan's unpopularity. Admiral Insurance's annual motoring survey finds that only one in four people think other UK towns and cities should introduce Londonstyle congestion charging.

Department for Transport's response has been to highlight a series of regional trials planned under the banner of the Transport Innovation Fund. But while a number of regions have received 'pump priming' funding to develop schemes, none are at a serious stage. And anyone citing London as a preferred model would do well to remember Edinburgh, where a public referendum produced a resounding 'no' to congestion charging. Similar plans for Bristol and Nottingham have also been dropped.

Those against road pricing argue that it already exists in the form of fuel tax. Drive at congested times and you will use more fuel and pay more tax, they say. Others state that congestion is self-regulating and that people already adapt where and when they travel. And then there is the cost of setting up the technology and collecting the charges.

Supporters of the charges say the government needs to act fast to start convincing the public. The RAC Foundation believes that any scheme would have a better chance of success if motorists could be persuaded that road pricing is of long-term benefi to the country and that they will see an improvement in travel conditions. 'Motorists need to know what's in it for them, ' says executive director Edmund King.

ansport 2000 director Stephen Joseph says the environmental lobby group agrees with the RAC Foundation that a national trial, with volunteers getting a reduction in fuel tax for submitting themselves to tracking and charging, is the way forward.

'The petition is against something that will never happen, ' Joseph says. 'It is all about road pricing funding alternatives, but they are going to have to deter drivers at certain times of the day otherwise it is pointless.'

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