The Government's Green Paper on road user charging and a workplace parking levy creates a peculiar mix of excitement and panic (see News).
No-one with their ear to the political ground, certainly not NCE, expected road tolling or parking levy legislation in this Queen's Speech. What was important was that a consultation paper with a clear sense of direction was issued relatively soon, leading to properly prepared legislation next autumn which would come into force in 2001. We are now a step further down the road to well funded public transport (the carrot) and effective congestion control (the stick) - a critical combination for developing integrated transport.
But as always the devil is in the detail. Proposals for a workplace parking levy will be viewed as an addition to business rates and could be difficult to police. The fear is that it could be used as a blunt instrument by local authorities, whose other forms of revenue gathering are relatively constrained. The parking levy may emerge from the consultation process in a very watered down form.
That would put the onus on road user charging. However, the paper permit system which the Government envisages initially being used is inherently flawed - a beermat would probably fool most roadside cameras and how often would traffic really be stopped to visually inspect permits?
The most flexible and effective form of traffic control is electronic tolling. A usable system is at least four years away - perhaps even longer given the Government's welcome but ambitious aim to have 'interoperabilty' across the country.
The Government should abandon paper permit tolling and invest in developing a satisfactory electronic alternative in time for 2001. It makes little sense to found John Prescott's brave new integrated transport world on yesterday's technology.