OPINION: Upping the ante on road pricing

So yet another push in the direction of road pricing has been delivered, this time in the form of the Local Transport Bill giving local councils the legislative framework to introduce schemes.

Manchester has said it may take the next step forward in July, so long as several requirements such as public acceptability have been met.

Other authorities show no signs of doing much more than asking the government what it thinks should come first – public transport improvements or road pricing – which is a bit like asking about chickens and eggs.

And who can blame them? With the Downing Street petition still fresh in the mind, and ever more imaginative scare-mongering by the Association of British Petrolheads and others, road pricing is still perceived as an unassailable mountain.

We could be forgiven for thinking congestion charging outside London is about as likely to happen as Jeremy Clarkson taking a vow of silence. Although that would probably do more to reduce global warming.

And yet, in more than 20 other places around the world, road pricing has been a great success. Stockholm has just decided to press ahead and another 20 or so schemes in other countries are planned.

What do these schemes tell us? That a number of transport-related components are a must, such as improving other modes like buses, ring-fencing revenues, and making technology compatible.

But there are also some key communication measures, including having a strong, Ken Livingstone-style political leader to champion the scheme, and being clear what its aims and benefits are. Those benefits have to be clearly and simply put, and communicated in a creative and powerful way.

Clearly (and, some might say, unfortunately), we can’t have a Ken in every city. But our local authorities could at least try to be a little bit bolder in communicating the benefits of road pricing, instead of letting their opponents make all the running by coming up with ever more inventive reasons as to why it will bring about the end of civilisation as we know it.

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