The Freight Transport Association has welcomed the publication of the draft bill providing the opportunity for local authorities to trial road pricing schemes. However, FTA says that road pricing must not be proposed as a panacea to solve the nation's congestion problems. Before road pricing is introduced there has to be a whole range of positive investment and policy decisions on the operation of the roads network. FTA says that road pricing must not be used as an excuse to abandon the further, and substantial, construction of new roads capacity.
FTA Chief Executive Richard Turner said, 'Roads congestion is a major blight on the efficiency and the economics of UK industry. Each year congestion wastes millions of man-hours and billions of pounds, to the disbenefit of road users, consumers and the environment. Doing nothing is not an option, and a fair and equitable means of managing road space by cost and demand is an inevitability.
'However, there are many things which must be done before the Government should pull the trigger on that option. We need new road building to ease congestion blackspots, we need motorway widening on our key trade routes, and so many towns and villages continue to need bypasses.
'And, as well as better management of the network we presently have, we need social changes to reduce peak demand on road space including night deliveries, varied school hours, home working and better public transport.'
Turner said that there had been considerable confusion about the likely costs to road users of a road pricing scheme. He said, 'If we all end up paying the maximum sum because, in the absence of any alternative, we are all on the same road at the same time, then the scheme will have been a waste of time and would not work. The intention of road pricing is not to raise money but to spread out demand.
'For business and industry the equation is simple. If we pay £5 to use the road and we get £6 of reduced costs by a quicker and more reliable journey time, then we will have had value. If, however, we pay £5 and get only £4 of benefit then the story will be different. Road pricing cannot, by itself, solve the congestion crisis but, added to a range of other roads improvements it has a vital role to play.'
Richard Turner warned the Government that it had to ensure that the proposed trials allowed for inter-operability of the various schemes. For lorry operators, with vehicles visiting many different locations, uniformity is required and it would not be viable to have a range of totally different schemes applying in different locations. Turner said, 'The first test of the Government's commitment to a practical scheme of inter-operability would be to start work right away on a process to make all existing toll schemes. In that way it would demonstrate commitment to recognising the realities and problems of companies and vehicle operators working on a national basis and dealing with them.'
The Freight Transport Association represents the interests of companies moving goods by road, rail, sea and air. FTA members operate over 200,000 goods vehicles – almost half the UK fleet. In addition they consign over 90 per cent of the freight moved by rail and over 70 per cent of sea and air freight.