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Road pricing revolt is gathering speed

London Telegraph | January 2, 2007
David Millward

The grassroots revolt against plans to introduce pay-as-you-drive road pricing was growing last night, with more than 71,000 people signing an online Downing Street petition calling for the scheme to be scrapped.

Thousands of opponents are adding their names daily — the number of signatories has risen from 9,000 on Dec 2. The petition (http://petitions.pm.gov.uk) is due to remain online until Feb 20.

As the campaign, launched by Peter Roberts, an account manager from Telford, Shropshire, gathered strength, there were signs of unease on the Labour backbenches as John Spellar, a former transport minister, attacked the plans.

Mr Roberts, 46, who drives 22,000 miles a year in his company car, would not have to pay the levy, but said it would be unfair on those who would. "Does that mean someone would have to pay for seeing one's parents or going to cut grandma's grass?

"Nobody chooses to sit in a congested road and making them pay to do so is outrageous. It is going to cost £6 billion to implement and who is going to pay for that? It will cost every motorist £175."

As a company car driver, Mr Roberts also feared that employers could track where staff had been from their road pricing bills.

While the strength of public feeling will alarm ministers — and send a signal to the Conservatives, who have backed the principle of road pricing — it is backbench dissent that could prove significant. A Bill paving the way for trials is due before MPs during the current parliamentary session.

Mr Spellar, MP for Warley, said backing for the proposals came from companies making the equipment and "academics looking for consultancies".

The former trade union official added: "Road pricing will be a horribly expensive way of collecting tax… They will be looking to collect it from 32 million drivers — the logistics will be horrendous."

Some Labour MPs are concerned about the damage road pricing trials could do to electoral prospects.

Others voicing doubts include Graham Stringer, a Manchester MP and a member of the Transport Select Committee at Westminster. He believes the Government is pressuring councils to run pilot schemes in return for cash for local transport improvements. "They are asking local authorities to take the risk."

Ministers are looking for a trial scheme within five years as a precursor to a national road pricing scheme by 2015.

 

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