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Politicians blamed for road pricing delays

Failure by politicians to grasp the road-user charging nettle is undermining the implementation of a national scheme, an audience at NCE’s Civils 2007 event in London’s heard last week.
WSP technical director Richard Harris said the government’s failure to press forward with a national programme of charging is a major setback to transport policy set out by the recent Department for Transport (DfT) White Paper Towards a Sustainable Transport System.

Harris maintained that the government had to show leadership on the issue and make it clear that it was “at the vanguard of road user charging”.

Harris was not alone in criticising the government’s failure to lead from the front. The Institution of Highways and Transportation deputy chief executive, John Smart, described the government’s approach as “very disappointing”.

Harris and Smart blamed political foot dragging and short-termism for the slow progress.
“The government has energised the profession with regard to road-user charging but has then stopped short of implementation,” said
Smart.

The White Paper suggests road-user charging as a potential solution to congestion and emissions. This could be rolled out initially on a piecemeal regional basis with the DfT providing some kind of back-office support.

But Smart said that would lead to a mixture of schemes that were largely ungovernable.

Most of the engineering audience at the conference were resigned to, if not fully in favour of, road-user charging becoming a reality in the near to mid-term.

DfT figures also suggest that 55% of adults surveyed agreed that the current system of taxing motorists should be changed so that the amount paid related more closely to road use.

“Until the system is implemented there will be opposition,” said Harris.

Michele Dix, managing director of planning at Transport for London added. “Unless congestion is perceived as a major problem, the public will not acquiesce to road-user charging,” she said.

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