One million sign petition against road-charging
Last updated at 12:29pm on 10th February 2007 Comments (28)
A motorists' pressure group this morning called on the Government to scrap plans for road-charging after an online petition opposing the project passed the 1 million-signature mark.
Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander insisted he would not allow the scale of the protest to deter him from pressing ahead with trials of charging schemes designed to cut congestion.
But the Association of British Drivers claimed that the petition represented only a small proportion of the motorists opposed to road-charging, and predicted the number of signatures could reach 3 million by the time it is closed on February 20.
The petition was started three months ago on a new section of the 10 Downing Street website, designed to allow citizens to bring their concerns to the attention of Prime Minister Tony Blair.
• Click here to sign the petition
It has attracted by far the largest response since the experimental e-petition service was opened last November - far outstripping the next-biggest petition currently on the site, to scrap inheritance tax, with around 40,000 signatures.
After passing the 1 million signature mark last night, the petition was still growing at a fast rate this morning, with a further 4,000 people adding their names by 11am.
Mr Alexander said that the scale of the response showed the need for more debate on proposals to cut congestion by charging motorists to use the busiest roads at peak times.
"The response to this petition makes the case for more debate, not less, on the issue of road pricing," he told The Times.
"It makes me more determined to debate the real issues about how we tackle growing congestion. I understand there are strong feelings on this issue but strong feelings alone are no substitute for considering how we tackle the challenge of congestion."
No decision has yet been made on whether to introduce a national congestion charging scheme, but the Department for Transport is planning regional trials.
Manchester and Birmingham are thought to be front-runners to host the trials, starting in around four to five years' time.
Sir Rod Eddington's recent report on the future of transport gave strong support to nationwide congestion charging, which the DfT calculates could result in tolls of up to £1.28 a mile on the busiest roads in peak periods.
Mr Alexander today gave no assurance that schemes would not result in an increase in the overall tax burden on drivers.
"I cannot anticipate future decisions that will have implications in many budgets ahead," he said. "But the suggestion that every driver would pay more is simply wrong."
Nigel Humphries of the ABD said: "When they look at this petition, Tony Blair and Douglas Alexander ought to reconsider their whole position, they ought to scrap the whole idea of road-pricing and actually go back to working out what transport people need.
"This petition has grown by 500,000 in the past week alone and a lot more people will sign it, because people are almost universally against road pricing. I think two and a half to three million signatures is possible."
Mr Humphries confirmed that the ABD has been running a campaign to encourage people to sign, but insisted that this accounted for only a small proportion of the petition's supporters.
"Peter Roberts, who started the petition, sent a few e-mails round, and they have been passed on from person to person. Every time there is any publicity for the petition, more people sign up, and most of it is spontaneous."
Edmund King of the RAC Foundation said that the Government would have to fundamentally rethink its strategy on congestion charging to have any chance of overcoming widespread opposition among motorists.
"They need to be setting up a scheme overseen by an independent body, they need to guarantee that there will be other tax reductions on fuel tax or vehicle excise duty and they need to guarantee that the road network will be improved," he said.
"Without those criteria, then road pricing will remain very unpopular. When we have surveyed motorists, nine out of ten don't trust the Government to deliver a fair system of road-pricing, whereas if you put an independent body in to oversee it, support levels do increase to around 60 per cent."
RAC Foundation research suggests that charging of some sort may be necessary on around 10 per cent of the road network in order to deal with the large increase in traffic levels expected over the next 20 years, said Mr King.
"I don't think anyone particularly wants road pricing, but we do not take a position of blanket opposition to it," he said.
"There are different ways of introducing it that might be more acceptable, but I'm afraid that so far the Government has put nothing on the table that's remotely acceptable.
"If they are serious about this they need to go back to the drawing board and find a way to promote the benefits."
A package which combines road-charging technology with satellite navigation services, real-time information on traffic conditions and parking places and preferential insurance rates might be more palatable to drivers, he suggested.