Adam Price, Plaid Cymru parliamentary transport spokesperson, argues a viable public transport network is crucial to any attempt to get motorists out of the cars. Highlighting the lack of transport links in Wales, he argues revenue from any road pricing scheme must be reinvested in local transport schemes.
Congestion on our roads is a growing problem which adversely affects business, the environment and personal health. Following the introduction of congestion charging and road pricing schemes in cities such as London and Stockholm, the benefits of such schemes are now obvious to all.
In principle, Plaid Cymru supports road pricing and has called for the introduction of charging schemes in some of the larger Welsh cities. However, it is vital that any schemes introduced in Wales apply best practice observed in other cities, that implementation costs are kept low and revenues raised are invested into the improvement of transport schemes in the area.
The possibility of a UK-wide road pricing scheme also raises some concerns. Having a UK-wide road pricing scheme would obviously reflect the transport needs and congestion problems faced in England due to its greater number of roads and motorways. However, such a scheme would not necessarily reflect the needs of Wales. Also, it would appear that any money raised from the scheme would go to the Treasury in London and not to the Welsh assembly. As responsibility for Welsh roads lies with the National Assembly for Wales, not Westminster, it makes sense that any funds raised in Wales should be paid towards the improvement of the Welsh transport system in the same way as Transport for London keeps any revenue raised by London’s congestion charge.
There is one major underlying problem that would make the implementation of a UK-wide road pricing scheme more difficult in Wales: the lack of a strong, efficient public transport system.
In order to persuade people to use their cars less, a viable alternative must be provided. Unfortunately, public transport in many parts of Wales is very patchy. Even catching public transport from north to south Wales can prove very difficult. By bus, the journey from Cardiff to Bangor takes eight hours. By train, the journey takes four and a half hours.
Investment is therefore needed in improving transport infrastructure in Wales before a Wales-wide road pricing scheme could be introduced whether or not it is a part of a UK-wide scheme.
Raising charges on rural roads will always be a contentious issue. Our rural communities are already being put under strain as services, post office and schools are threatened with closure. Forcing additional charges on uncontested rural areas is unacceptable.
As responsibility for Welsh roads lies with the National Assembly, any decision on the introduction of a road pricing scheme should be made by the Assembly and not imposed upon us by London as part of a UK-wide scheme. Imposing such a scheme would fly in the face of the democratic process of devolution.
As the London congestion charge has shown, such scheme can cut congestion, emissions and improve and make our cities a nicer play to work, live and visit. Road pricing has its benefits, but it should only be introduced in areas where it is needed and when the necessary infrastructure is in place to give people a real choice so that they are not so dependent on their cars.