Transport secretary Alistair Darling is warming to the idea of road pricing, where cars on major routes would be tracked by smart technology and automatically billed for using them. However, ministers are wary of a public backlash if they impose another tax on motorists. One idea is for car tax to be axed if tolls were introduced, while other options include cutting the cost of petrol.
The system is regarded as a fairer way of tackling congestion problems because it would mean that drivers who clock up most miles a year would pay most. Mr Darling insists that if tolls are introduced it would not be until after 2010, although trials are being carried out on tracking equipment. He will attend a seminar next month with experts including MPs and the AA to discuss congestion, followed by a paper at the end of June on more immediate ways of tackling gridlock.
Drivers are likely to be stuck with the congestion charge in London, however, it emerged at the weekend after mayor Ken Livingstone told colleagues the contract drawn up with Capita makes it too expensive to scrap even if he loses the 2004 election. Although the jury is still out on whether congestion charging has reduced gridlock, one recent survey found journeys from the suburbs into the central charging zone were lengthening on many key routes.
LIVINGSTONE PLANS 20 MPH LIMIT ON CAPITAL'S ROADS
London mayor Ken Livingstone wants to impose a 20 mph speed limit on most of the capital's roads, using speed cameras to back up the policy, according to The Sunday Time s (p28).
The scheme, which he plans to unveil in his manifesto for next year's mayoral election, was condemned by motorists' representatives and the Conservatives at the weekend.
He is backed by his closest transport adviser, Jenny Jones, a Green party activist, who is set to become deputy mayor next month in place of Labour's Nicky Gavron under the mayor's plan to rotate the job among the political parties represented in the Greater London Assembly.