Introducing a 'pay as you go' system of road charging is becoming inevitable because of rising congestion and targets for cutting carbon emissions from road transport, says the RAC Foundation.
Direct road charging in the UK is limited to a few bridges, the M6 toll road near Birmingham and the London congestion charge, but is more commonplace in France, Italy and other countries.
The RAC Foundation says replacing some of the existing taxes - which amounted to more than £47 billion in 2009 - with direct charges based on distance travelled would reduce congestion, carbon emissions, noise and air pollution in urban areas.
The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) said recently that a tax on each mile driven would also make public transport costs more comparable to car costs and encourage greater investment in alternatives to driving.
A recent MORI poll said almost half of the public support a charging system on motorways and major roads, as long as they are accompanied by a cut of other driving taxes like fuel duty. The RAC Foundation's report said London's congestion charging scheme showed that public would be more favourable to road charging after it has been in operation for a while and the benefits become obvious. These should include reduced congestion and better funded public transport.
'When it comes to just about every other good and service, we are charged in relation to the amount we consume and when we do so. This even applies to transport. Airline, coach and train tickets are not uniformly priced but vary with time of day and distance travelled,' says the report.
The Government watchdog, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has also said recently that road charging would be the most effective means of meeting the UK's greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.
In addition, The Mayor of London’s draft Transport Strategy last year conceded it would be almost impossible to meet carbon emissions reduction targets or to contain the worsening of road congestion without some form of city-wide road charging system.
RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister urged politicians not to 'shy away' from making a decision on road pricing.
'Some form of ‘pay as you go’ system is inevitable because of the benefits it will deliver for motorists and the country, and the lack of a credible alternative. If politicians shy away from making difficult choices then so be it, but it will be the next generation which has to live with the consequences,' he said.
RAC report: Governing and Paying for England's Roads
Department for Transport: Road Pricing Feasibility Study
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