A nationwide system of pay-as-you-drive tolls on UK roads is now a step closer, with the publication of a draft Local Transport Bill by the Government.
The Department for Transport bill will give local authorities greater freedom to implement and experiment with local pricing schemes on roads in their control.
The local schemes will essentially operate as pilots for a later nationwide system that could be in place by 2015, but the Department for Transport says another piece of legislation will be required for any UK-wide scheme.
Transport secretary Douglas Alexander said: 'We have made it clear that decisions on that can be taken only in light of further practical experience of local schemes.
'Separate legislation would be needed if a decision was taken to move towards a national scheme, and there would need to be a full and informed public debate.'
Big opposition, but plans inevitable
Plans for nationwide pay-as-you-drive tolls have faced massive opposition from motorists so far, with 97% of whatcar.com readers saying they are against such schemes. More than two million people also signed an online petition against the plans on the Prime Minister's website.
Both Tony Blair's response and the statement by Douglas Alexander to the House of Commons today say that a decision has not yet been taken, but it is widely regarded to be an unavoidable part of the Government's future policy.
Previous transport secretary Alistair Darling said it was inevitable, while his successor Alexander has said that the UK had no choice but to tackle congestion in this way.
Roads minister Stephen Ladyman also told the House of Commons in February this year: 'Road pricing is inevitable. I see no alternative to it in the long term. There will be national road pricing. We have said that will happen around the middle of the next decade.'
More plans, more money
The DfT has already established a Transport Innovation Fund, which is providing local authorities with millions of pounds to use on local schemes including pricing.
So far, 22 councils have received money from the fund, which will be worth more than £2.5 billion by 2014, a year before Ladyman said a nationwide system would be fired up.
Consultation on the draft Local Transport Bill is now underway and will run until Friday, September 7. Any interested party is free to send their comments, so if you'd like to try and get your point across, click here.
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