Vroom for manoeuvre
The government is pushing ahead with plans to introduce pay-as-you-drive road-pricing across the country, after announcing a draft bill to overhaul the UK's transport system.
Under the Local Transport Bill, local authorities will be given powers to develop their own road-pricing schemes on the proviso that any funds raised are spent on the local transport network.
The government has now put out two notices in the Official Journal of the European Union inviting interested companies to bid to be part of framework agreements to run different elements of a road-pricing 'demonstrations' project - local pilots of the road-pricing schemes.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Secretary of State for Transport, Douglas Alexander, said the "demonstrations [will] help us understand how time, distance and place road-pricing could function so that it safeguards people's privacy, and operates reliably and accurately". He added: "We recognise that people are concerned about the possible impact road-pricing might have on their privacy, and they want to be reassured that any road-pricing schemes would be fair."
Ten local councils are now already working on proposals for their own local road-pricing schemes. The government believes proposals will be submitted in the summer, with trials beginning in spring 2008 - paving the way for rollouts in four to five years' time.
Alexander added: "No decisions have been taken on whether to move towards a national road-pricing scheme. It is only on the evidence from local schemes that any such decision could be taken and the government has made clear that there would need to be a full public debate. The demonstrations will help to inform that debate by building our understanding of how road-pricing systems and technologies might be designed and operated."
The Conservatives, however, have labelled the scheme "a Trojan horse" that will eventually lead to a nationwide system of tolls.
Shadow transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said in a statement: "It's now clear that Gordon Brown is as committed to the government's road-pricing plans as Tony Blair has been, despite the petition signed by 1.8 million people and official forecasts that such a scheme could cost up to £60bn."