"The only way road pricing can work is to actually price people off the roads."
24 Dash.com (United Kingdom)
Plans to introduce road charging to cut congestion will be scrapped by Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander unless the country backs the scheme, it is reported today.
Mr Alexander told the Daily Mirror: "Unless motorists and families can see the benefits of bringing in a national road pricing system then it simply won't happen."
On Friday, an online petition opposing the project passed the million-signature mark - with signatures being added at a rate of around one every second that day.
But a Department for Transport spokesman played down Mr Alexander's comments, emphasising that no decision on a national road charging system could be made until the results of planned regional trials were known.
Mr Alexander told the paper: "I understand the public's concerns. Frankly, if we were proposing what the petition suggests, I would share their concerns."
He added: "Congestion is the enemy - and doing nothing is just not an option."
On Saturday, Mr Alexander insisted he would not allow the scale of the protest to deter him from pressing ahead with trials of charging schemes designed to cut congestion.
Mr Alexander said that the scale of the response showed the need for more debate on proposals to cut congestion by charging motorists to use the busiest roads at peak times.
Manchester and Birmingham are thought to be front-runners to host the regional trials, starting in around four to five years.
Sir Rod Eddington's recent report on the future of transport gave strong support to nationwide congestion charging, which the DfT calculates could result in tolls of up to £1.28 a mile on the busiest roads in peak periods.
RAC Foundation research has suggested that charging of some sort may be necessary on around 10% of the road network in order to deal with the large increase in traffic levels expected over the next 20 years.
A Department for Transport spokesman said today: "Taken out of context Mr Alexander's comments are probably slightly misleading.
"I think what he is trying to get across is that it is a time for more debate not less and it is a question of conveying to the people what road charging is all about and that it is not a question of doing nothing.
"Public acceptability of such schemes is one of the major milestones that has to be achieved as well as carrying out the pilot schemes.
"We have always said that we have to see the results of the pilot schemes before we make a decision on a national road charging scheme."
Paul Biggs, spokesman for the Association of British Drivers, told GMTV today that he was very pleased with the response to the petition.
He said: "The only way road pricing can work is to actually price people off the roads.
"That is one reason they will sign the petition. Another reason they will sign it is that they are going to be trapped and traced wherever they drive. It is Big Brother - and they don't want that."
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