Doing nothing is not an option

The secretary of state for transport Douglas Alexander outlines what the government has done so far to reduce congestion, and argues why road pricing needs to be explored as a possible remedy.

Congestion affects us all. With congestion comes delay and unpredictability to our journeys. This is annoying for us as road users. It can also be frustrating for businesses trying to plan the movement of goods and people.

Failing to address congestion will have significant economic impacts. Sir Rod Eddington’s Transport Study published just before Christmas predicted that road congestion could cost our economy £22 billion in lost time by 2025 if left unchecked.

Britain has enjoyed ten years of rapid growth and rising prosperity – but that’s meant the number of vehicles on our roads has grown by more than six million over the past decade. Today, there are more households running two or more cars than households with no car.

The government is already putting unprecedented resources into tackling congestion. We’ve more than doubled investment in public transport. We’re adding road capacity where it’s most needed, while making sure we honour our environmental commitments. And we’re managing road traffic more effectively than ever before.

But we need to do more. Even though the government is planning to invest over £140 billion in transport between 2005 and 2015, congestion is still forecast to grow by a quarter over this period.

So, if we’re serious about tackling congestion in the long term, we need to see what more we can do.

In his report, Sir Rod Eddington emphasised the benefits that road pricing could bring to our road network.

Research shows that even small shifts in traffic patterns can make a significant impact on congestion.

That’s why we called for a debate on road pricing back in 2005, and why we are working with interested local authorities to bring forward local schemes as targeted solutions to specific congestion problems.

We’re expecting interested authorities to submit proposals to the Department for Transport this summer.

Any local scheme will include a package of measures, including significant investment in public transport.

From 2008, the government is providing up to £200 million a year to help local authorities build broad-based strategies to tackle congestion.

Any local scheme will give us all a much clearer idea of how road pricing could work in practice. It’s vital that everyone with an interest – private motorists, the business community, central and local government, road safety and environmental campaigners – is given the chance to see how schemes operate in the real world.

It’s only on the evidence of these established schemes that any decision on national road pricing would be made.

We will shortly be publishing our draft local transport bill. This will again demonstrate our commitment to addressing congestion through a package of measures.

While the public are sceptical about the role of road pricing, doing nothing is not an option. It is our collective responsibility to try and find workable solutions to our shared congestion challenge.