British motorists face paying a new charge for every mile they drive in a revolutionary scheme to be introduced within two years.
Drivers will pay according to when and how far they travel throughout the country’s road network under proposals being developed by the Government.
Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, revealed that pilot areas will be selected in just 24 months’ time as he made clear his determination to press ahead with a national road pricing scheme.
Each of Britain’s 24 million vehicles would be tracked by satellite if a variable “pay-as-you-drive” charge replaces the current road tax.
In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Mr Darling warned that unless action is taken now, the country “could face gridlock” within two decades.
Official research suggests national road pricing could increase the capacity of Britain’s network by as much as 40 per cent at a stroke, he said.
The rapid uptake of satellite navigational technology in cars is helping to usher in the new “pay-as-you-drive” charge much sooner than had been expected. Figures contained in a government feasibility study have suggested motorists could pay up to 1.34 pounds for each mile they travel during peak hours on the most congested roads.
Although a fully operational national scheme is still considered to be a decade away, Mr Darling said local schemes could be up and running within five years. Manchester is considered a front-runner, with local authorities in the Midlands and London also pressing to be considered for a 2.5bn pounds central fund to introduce the change.
Most of the necessary technology already exists. Lorries will be tracked by satellite and charged accordingly from 2007. The main obstacle to constructing a scheme to track Britain’s 24 million private vehicles is public opinion, and Mr Darling is determined to start making the case now.