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Road charging tests denounced as delaying tactic

GOVERNMENT PLANS to set up national demonstration projects for road user charging have been dismissed by transport experts as delaying tactics.

The projects, announced by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the first UK Local Authority Chairs of Transport conference last Wednesday, will take place at sites in England and Scotland. The one year experiment will investigate the impact on different road users and worries over loss of personal privacy.

But transportation experts this week attacked the proposal as little more than a tactic to avoid pushing congestion charging forward too quickly.

'I think it is [a reaction to] Prescott not getting his legislation in the Queen's speech and wanting to show that something is getting done. I don't think it's of great value,' said one senior consultant.

'If one was being really unkind you could say that the Government is just trying to keep this on the boil,' said another electronic tolling specialist.

Speaking at the conference Prescott himself seemed to admit that enough research into electronic road user charging has already taken place.

'The technology has clearly arrived and it is in operation allowing traffic to circulate freely in Singapore,' he said.

Arup Transportation associate director Hugh Collis said: 'My concern is that another round of research is just deferring the hard choices. At some stage we've got to start getting into the detail.'

Prescott has not yet decided where the tests will be carried out, but experts have tipped Edinburgh, Bristol, Southampton and Leicester - all of which have already carried out some research into congestion charging - as the most likely locations.

(See Commentary page 8)

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