Since our last bulletin, road pricing has climbed up the news agenda with:
- the Downing Street ‘e-petition’ highlighting the issue of public acceptability;
- the Lyons Report on local government;
- Government guidance to local authorities bidding for a share of the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF);
- the London Low Emission Zone;
- the Draft Local Transport Bill; and
- Emissions Related Congestion Charging in London.
Downing Street website e-petition
In February 2007, an e-petition on the Downing Street website calling for the scrapping of the Government's plans for national road pricing attracted over 1.7 million 'signatures'.
Although the petition expressed a number of concerns (‘stealth tax’ and unfairness), a central point was intrusion and privacy: ‘The idea of tracking every vehicle at all times is sinister and wrong.’.
Press coverage followed, referring to big brother surveillance and ‘spy in the sky’ satellite systems. Ministers sought to allay these fears. Tony Blair responded: ‘Our aim is to relieve traffic jams, not create a 'Big Brother' society’. He said that any scheme would respect our individual privacy.
Ministers are considering ‘designing out’ the potential misuse of personal information, for example by:
- restricting the data recorded and where it is stored; or
- having a ‘trusted third party’ to hold and process the data.
New governmental guidance
On 8 February 2007, the Government published new Business Case guidance for the road pricing element of a TIF bid. On many issues the guidance represents the first clear direction from central Government. It gives detailed advice on:
- designing a scheme and choosing technology;
- use of revenue and setting prices;
- consistency and interoperability;
- public communications and consultation; and
- commercial and procurement aspects.
It also contains the clearest statement yet that a local scheme may have an environmental rationale. Whilst the primary purpose should still be tackling congestion, local authorities may adjust prices according to vehicle type ‘to help meet their social and environmental objectives’, as London has now done with its Low Emission Zone.
This Report (March 2007) acknowledges that road pricing is likely to play a larger role and be delivered locally. It suggests reforms to assist that process.
Lyons comments specifically on the issue of authorities acting together (see our Bulletin 2). Lyons advocates new arrangements between collaborating authorities and the involvement of Passenger Transport Authorities.
Currently, a PTA or PTE cannot make a road user charging scheme but would appear, in some instances, to be the body best placed to do so. The Government has picked up on this in its draft Local Transport Bill (see below).
Lyons also suggests that local authorities ought to be free to invest revenues from a local scheme as they wish.
London Low Emission Zone
In May 2007, the Mayor confirmed Transport for London's scheme for a Low Emission Zone (LEZ). The aim is deter the most polluting vehicles from entering London. The zone covers Greater London. With a phased introduction from 4 February 2008 to January 2012, diesel-engined lorries, coaches, buses, large vans and minibuses that do not meet current EU emissions standards will be charged to enter the zone. The scheme does not apply to cars or motorcylces. It will operate every day of the year. It is structured in a similar way to the current congestion charging scheme.
Draft Local Transport Bill
Published in May 2007, the draft Bill is about ‘empowering local authorities… to meet local transport needs…’. It includes reforms to facilitate local road pricing schemes:
In England (outside London) –
- Local schemes will no longer require Secretary of State approval (already in London it is not required);
- A local inquiry will be at the option of the authority making the scheme (already in London it is at the option of Transport for London);
In England (including London) –
- There will be new rules governing, e.g. interoperability, charging, information and enforcement
- A local traffic authority may join with a PTA to make a scheme
In England (including London) and Wales –
- The Secretary of State (or Welsh Ministers) will no longer need to approve how revenue from schemes will be applied;
In England (outside London) and in Wales –
- Net proceeds must support the achievement of local transport 'policies' rather than specifically Local Transport Plans.
Pre-legislative scrutiny by Transport Select Committee
In their report on the draft Bill (July 2007), the Transport Select Committee:
- called for road pricing to be dropped as a pre-requisite for TIF funding;
- recommended separate pilots for inter-urban strategic roads if local road pricing is to be a precursor to nationwide pricing;
- urged the government to retain the ability to order an inquiry:
- recommended clarity as to the information that the Secretary of Sate may demand from charging authorities
Emissions Related Congestion Charging
From 4 February 2008, the London congestion charge is to be reduced for vehicles with low CO2 emissions (a 100% discount for cars with low CO2 emissions that also meet the Euro 4 air quality standard).
From 6 October 2008, vehicles with high CO2 high emissions and older vehicles with engines over 3,000cc are to be subject to a higher charge (£25).
The majority of cars will still be subject to the standard £8 charge. Contrary to some reports, the 90% residents' discount is not being withdrawn from higher CO2 emitting vehicles but it will not apply to the excess over the standard charge. Residents with such vehicles will therefore be hit hard by the change.
The changes are subject to public consultation until 19 October 2007.
Who will be next to try?
Such is the cost and complexity of developing local road pricing, the authorities most likely to try will come from those who have already received 'pump priming' funds from TIF. Although some of them are showing signs of faltering or are still grappling with the issue of public acceptability, they are:
- Greater Manchester;
- Birmingham and the West Midlands;
- Bristol region;
- East Midlands (Nottingham,
- Derby and Leicester);
- Tyne and Wear;
Cardiff does not qualify for TIF funding (restricted to English authorities) but is also looking hard at road pricing. The London Borough of Greenwich also has aspirations to introduce a scheme.