Left: the M6 at 4pm yesterday. Right: the M6 Toll at 4pm yesterday
On the day new Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander publically backed road pricing, these were the contrasting scenes on the Midland motorway network yesterday.
Commuters and lorries crawled along through roadworks on the M6, while motorists continued to turn their backs on the M6 Toll.
Traffic on the country's only toll motorway, the 27-mile route bypassing Birmingham, has plunged by more than a third in the last two years while prices have continued to increase.
Despite the scene of desertion on the M6 Toll, Mr Alexander said road pricing was one of a series of measures that had to be considered to ease congestion and he would be taking forward the debate "from the why to the how".
Challenging local authorities to come forward with proposals for making road pricing work in practice Mr Alexander said he was making #10 million available to the private sector to work on the technology needed to bring in road pricing.
The Highways Agency has proclaimed the #900 million M6 Toll a success despite figures from its operator, Midland Expressway, showing the average number of vehicles fell month on month between June 2005 and April 2006.
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However, the fall in popularity has not hit Midland Expressway's takings. Last month, motorists handed over an average #973,000 a week at the toll booths - up by 15 per cent compared with 2005.
Only seven per cent of vehicles using the M6 Toll are lorries, contradicting claims before it was built that the by-pass would be ideal for HGVs.
Business and transportation groups seized upon the latest figures to demand a reappraisal of the charging system. The toll for cars is #3.50 each way, while lorry drivers have to pay #7 each way. A fiveEper cent discount is available for drivers paying in advance.
Charges were increased by 17 per cent last July, 20 months after the road opened.
A Midland Expressway spokesman refused to comment on speculation that the company is planning further price increases to coincide with major repair work to the M6, which will get under way in July.
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry last night urged Midland Expressway to cut costs for lorries.
Chamber policy director Jerry Blackett said: "It must be in the interests of Midland Expressway to get more vehicles on the road, it is certainly in the interests of the region. It is a tragedy that more traffic is not using the toll road, particularly lorries, but hauliers don't have the profit margin to pay above #3 a journey."
Mr Blackett urged the Government to end Midland Expressway's absolute right to set toll levels without consulting the Highways Agency. "I see this road as a public utility and there has to be some regulation," he added.
A Highways Agency spokesman said research last October found traffic growth on the toll road had been substantially higher than the national average for motorways. Bypassed sections of the M6 through Birmingham showed reduced traffic volumes in 2004 and these were being maintained.
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: "The M6 Toll is a simple tolling principle giving motorists a choice between two different roads.
"Any national road pricing scheme would be far more sophisticated and take into account factors such as the roads being used, the time of day and a range of other factors."
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