England quietly plans new round of road tolls

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Government quietly planning new round of road tolls policed by cameras
UK Daily Mail Online
November 10, 2012

Motorists will be expected to pay a new round of pay-as-you-drive charges under plans being drawn up by the Government and councils, it has been claimed.

Proposals already exist for three new tolling schemes under which, like London's Congestion Charge, drivers will have to pay online or via their mobile phone.

But ministers plan to roll out more similar schemes, according to the small print of a tender document drawn up by the Highways Agency. 

Motoring groups criticised the decision as another front in the so-called 'war on the motorist'.

The new charges come at a time when drivers are paying a record 81p tax per litre on their fuel, with another rise of 3p planned for January – earning the Treasury £27billion.

Under the new system, those who try to get out of paying the charge would be identified by cameras that automatically recognise number plates.

The Highways Agency, which runs the country's major motorways and trunk roads, is spear-heading the shift towards what are known as 'free-flowing' schemes, where motorists are not stopped at toll booths.

It wants to introduce the technology at the Dartford River Crossing, which links Kent and Essex, which motorists currently pay £2 to use. More schemes are likely to follow, and the Government is looking for a company that can provide the technology necessary to extend the system to other parts of the country.

Elsewhere, George Osborne, the Chancellor, has signalled his support for the Mersey Gateway bridge, a 'free-flowing' scheme between Runcorn and Widnes, which motorists are likely to have to pay between £1.50 and £2 to use.

In London, there are plans to charge motorists £2 to use the Blackwall Tunnel and channel the revenues into funding another Thames Crossing.

Whitehall's readiness to operate similar schemes elsewhere emerged in the tender document drawn up by the Highways Agency.

The document is contained in the Official Journal of the European Union, a register of public sector contracts throughout the EU.

It calls for a company to come up with proposals for a 'free-flow charging' system – another way of describing road tolls.

It also wants 'scalable back–office services' – jargon that means whichever company wins the tender for the Dartford project must be able to roll out the scheme in other parts of the country.
A spokesman for the Highways Agency told The Telegraph the term meant 'future-proofing administrative support of the charging and enforcement system so it could be expanded to meet any future need'.

Notably, the tender document says charging 'primarily' relates to Dartford, implying that the contractor could run similar schemes elsewhere.

Paul Watters, the AA's head of public affairs, told the Telegraph the contract had been worded in a such a way that suggested the agency was looking for a system that would make it easy to 'clone' and expand the Dartford scheme.

As the Mail reported last week, the automated pay-as-you-drive tolls would carry a maximum fine of £180 under draft plans launched by ministers.

Motorists who fail to pay in advance or within a set time limit would receive fixed penalty notices posted automatically to their homes.

The authorities will also have the power to confiscate vehicles for crushing if the owner has three unpaid fines.

Details are set out in a consultation document, The Road User Charging Scheme (Enforcement) (England) Regulations, published yesterday by the Department for Transport.

It says: ‘One of the largest challenges in operating a barrier-free or “free-flow” operated road user charging scheme is gaining a high level of payment compliance when there is nothing to stop a vehicle and oblige road users to pay the charge at the booth.

‘Enforcement provisions are considered necessary in order to ensure that road users continue to pay the required road user charge under a barrier-free operation.’

Fines will start at £60 if the toll charge is paid in full within 14 days of a penalty notice being served.

This rises to £120 if it is paid in full after 14 days but before a ‘charge certificate’ has been served. The maximum £180 fine applies after the charge has been served.

But the regulations also allow authorities to ‘immobilise, remove, store or dispose of vehicles where there are three or more outstanding penalty charges’.

A registered keeper will have 28 days to appeal, but only after paying the outstanding charges.
The scheme is being put out to tender this winter. The consultation closes on January 28 and a contract awarded next autumn.

The system will be operational by autumn 2014.