The latest meeting of the Freight Transport Association's East Midlands Freight Council this week in Nottingham (18 January) has urged key stakeholders in the region to proceed with caution as the debate surrounding road pricing starts to materialise. This follows the allocation of funding to the tune of £1.8 million from the Department for Transport to Nottingham, Leicester and Derby and their respective county councils to investigate the potential for road pricing. The allocation of funds follows a submission by the three cities and their supporting partners to the Transport Innovation Fund.
The funding will be used to undertake a full-blown study into the problems of congestion in the region, the associated costs and the potential solutions, with road pricing being touted as a possible intervention. The study will take approximately 12-18 months. However, FTA members have urged the study stakeholders to learn from the lessons of the now defunct Lorry Road User Charging scheme with the obvious prerequisite that any localised road pricing scheme in the region must be cost neutral, with no more charges on road users than they are paying at present. This is especially the case for operators in the transport industry, who are already subjected to substantial costs, notably high fuel costs.
FTA says that the choices for the local distribution of goods are very limited – virtually all are restricted to delivery by road. Any regional road pricing scheme must recognise both the importance of freight to the regional economy and to the consumer, and the fact that goods cannot be moved by train or public transport – only by lorry. And any attempt to reduce the movement of goods by imposing artificially high prices is a dead end policy – all that it would achieve would be to increase operating costs for industry and thus increase prices to customers.
FTA's Head of Policy for the Midlands, Wales and South West, Stephen Kelly says, 'I would strongly urge all the key players involved to pay direct attention to the work that was undertaken in relation to Lorry Road User Charging. Of course, there is no doubt that we need to carefully consider both the current realities of our road congestion problems and the way that they are going to impact on the movement of goods and people in the years to come. But as far as the freight industry is concerned, reducing the movement of goods is almost impossible. Freight moves because someone, somewhere is in need of those goods. FTA supports the concept of better demand management by road pricing. However, this must be a variation on the current process and cost and under no circumstances should this be an additional 'stealth' tax.
'If the East Midlands is to go down this road, then any future scheme proposed and subsequently developed must be able to operate alongside other similar regional schemes – interoperability is key. We must have joined-up construction of the different pilot schemes which are currently being floated in other regions. At the same time we must have a clear charge criteria which does not end up with an even higher cost than is being paid at present. Above all, the scheme must be fair. Any proposed scheme which fails to meet these criteria will be unacceptable to industry.'