Road tolls ‘within ten years’

Controversial national road tolls could be introduced within a decade, transport secretary Douglas Alexander has said.

Pilot schemes in the major cities including Manchester and Birmingham are set to start within the next five years to give drivers an experience of road pricing.

Road tolls will aim to cut congestion and boost the economy, Mr Alexander said.

Official figures show the congestion charge in London, introduced in February 2003, has been responsible for cutting congestion in the capital by 30 per cent.

But Mr Alexander admitted to BBC One’s Sunday AM programme that the public were “still sceptical” about the benefits of road tolls.

He added: “Unless we’re going to face the alternative of US-style gridlock with some of our busiest roads simply becoming car parks then action is necessary.

“I think most informed commentators realise we can’t simply build our way out of the challenge of congestion.”

Mr Alexander said there were now 33 million cars on British roads, an increase of seven million since 1997.

He also said improvements in public transport, such as making more room on trains, needed to be introduced.

“I have always believed the only circumstances in which road pricing could be judged a success was if it was partnered with proper investment in public transport,” Mr Alexander said.

Speaking on the same programme, shadow chancellor George Osbourne said the M6 toll road, a 26-mile three-lane motorway that shortens journey times, had brought “great benefits” to the Midlands.

“I think road pricing should be linked directly to improvements in transport infrastructure and should not be used as an excuse to increase the overall level of taxation,” Mr Osbourne said.

Last Friday, a study led by former BA chief Rod Eddington revealed road pricing could boost the economy by £28 billion a year.