National road toll logical next step, says Livingstone

London Telegraph 02/19/03: Paul Marston

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Plans for a national road tolling system will be accelerated following the smooth introduction of London's scheme, Ken Livingstone forecast yesterday.

As traffic levels in the capital remained exceptionally low, the mayor of London said the Government would see that country-wide charging was the "logical next step". He said he would bring forward work on extending the capital's toll zone to include Kensington and Chelsea.

He also announced that 80 penalty notices would be sent to as many as 10,000 registered keepers of vehicles recorded in the zone without paying on Monday.

Visual checks of the computer-read registration plate photographs are expected to reduce this number, which Transport for London officials said was untypically high because of drivers "taking a chance" on the technology failing to detect them.

Once the system is established, daily transgressions are expected to be about 2,000, roughly one per cent of vehicles entering the charge area.

Mr Livingstone said the launch was "much more successful than any of us expected". His fears of gridlock on roads skirting the zone, mass rat-running and the collapse of the telephone payment system had proved groundless.

He expected vehicle numbers to rise next week when schools returned after half-term but believed it would be possible to reach a judgment on the scheme before Easter and plan an extension of the zone.

He said: "The logical next step is for the Government, who have been understandably nervous, to move up the agenda a national road-pricing system."

Mr Livingstone disclosed that John Spellar, the transport minister, had telephoned to express his congratulations. A spokesman for the department said more time was needed to judge the London initiative but confirmed that trials of technology for possible motorway or A-road charging would take place this year.

Traffic in London yesterday was described by TfL engineers as "slightly up" on Monday's level, although still well below normal half-term levels and only about 70 per cent of typical weekday volumes.

Because of the dynamics of vehicle flows, it is estimated that the disappearance of 30 per cent of traffic has led to an improvement in journey-times of more than 50 per cent in and around the toll zone.

Mr Livingstone envisaged beginning talks with Kensington and Chelsea about extending the western border of the zone as far as the borough boundary with Hammersmith, south of the A4 flyover. Expansion to the east to include at least part of Tower Hamlets is also planned.

The Government gave a cautious welcome to the charge yesterday. Lord McIntosh of Haringey told peers that although it was too early to judge how the scheme would work, the fact that 100,000 people were able to pay on the first day "doesn't sound too bad".

Opponents of the charge have criticised the spending of 66,500 on signs to warn drivers when they are as far as nine miles from the zone.

Transport for London has erected 133 signs on arterial routes to ensure that motorists have ample notice. Some are nine miles before the zone, with others at two and a half miles and half a mile. Tim Collins, the shadow transport secretary, said the nine-mile signs were a waste of money.
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