By James Martini
Britain's leading transport academics have urged the Government to introduce pay as you drive road charges to cut carbon emissions and deal with congestion.
In an open letter to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, 32 leading scholars claimed the move would be more beneficial than pumping funds into the UK's road network.
Led by Professor David Banister of Oxford University and Professor Peter Mackie of Leeds, the letter predicts that the coalition's current strategy will only generate more traffic.
"Our cities are simply not equipped to take further growth in road traffic and the benefits of faster journey times on the strategic network risk being lost in greater congestion on local urban roads where the majority of journeys are undertaken," they wrote.
The previous Labour government had suggested the idea of introducing pay as you go road charges, but the plans were thrown out after more than 1.8 million motorists opposed the scheme.
However, the policy has gained renewed support in recent months, with the academics and Liberal Democrat transport minister Norman Baker calling on the coalition to explore the strategy.
Even some senior Tory backbenchers have backed road pricing over the last 12 months, while the Daily Telegraph reported last year that the Department for Transport (DfT) had already undertaken preliminary work to allow trunk road tolling.
The Government previously stated that tolling could be implemented where key routes are upgraded "beyond all recognition", while it also hopes the private sector will be able to foot some of the bill.
That principle is shared by the academics, although they differ on how to deal with the issues and called on the Government to utilise "smart demand management measures" going ahead.
"Understandably perhaps, your predecessors and the Treasury have ducked the issue of establishing a new congestion-based system of pay as you go motoring," they said.
"This could continue, but for how long? Tax revenues are forecast to fall as vehicle fuel efficiency improves to fulfil a major plank of your carbon reduction strategy.
"Increases in fuel duty to fill this hole have been a temporary fix, lack public support and fail to establish a stable platform for transport investment.
"There is a need to find a new way of charging for motoring as we move away from fossil-fuels."
A spokesman for the DfT defended the Government strategy and promised to deliver a "clear vision" of the coalition's transport strategy in the spring.
"We fully recognise that good transport infrastructure is vital to the future success of the UK," said the spokesman.
"This is why we have committed to delivering a transport strategy this spring which will clearly explain the Government's vision for transport and set out how the decisions we have taken fit together."