21 July 2004

The government could be charging motorists more than a £1-a-mile to use parts of the UK road network within a decade; that’s what’s emerged after Transport Secretary’s Alistair Darling’s ten-year transport plan was published yesterday. The report paints a long-term picture in which motorists would pay a ‘national distance charge’ per mile, applicable on every stretch of road in the country. It has been met with widespread skepticism among the UK’s most influential motoring bodies. Bodies representing both motorists and the motoring industry have weighed in with critisisms. The RAC Foundation has criticized it for a ‘lack of vision and firm commitment to specific improvements’; The AA Motoring Trust has labelled it ‘a clear signal that a fair deal for road users is still a long way off’; and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has ‘raised concerns over its findings.’

Executive Director of the RAC Foundation Edmund King pointed out that ‘road pricing is not a substitute for road improvements’. John Dawson, Director of The AA Motoring Trust explained that he was ‘deeply disappointed’ at the plan. The SMMT warned that investment in transport infrastructure – including new roads – must not take a back seat. And the Conservative Party was predictably quick to condemn: ‘nothing in what Alistair Darling announced will bring short term relief to those who are already suffering on our transport network,’ said Tim Yeo, Shadow Transport Secretary. However, they can expect a ‘debate about what would make road pricing acceptable,’ according to Darling’s annoucement. Judging by yesterday’s statements alone, that debate is likely to be long, heated, and have far-reaching implications for UK drivers.

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