Government plans to build motorway toll lanes for motorists who are willing to pay for a quicker journey to and from work represent a failed and piecemeal approach to tackling congestion, a West Midlands business leader has claimed.
Jerry Blackett, chairman of the region’s Business Transport Group, said most firms would not tolerate any system of charging to use the roads until substantial improvement in the quantity and quality of bus, train and tram services had been delivered.
He was speaking after Transport Minister Lord Adonis placed fresh emphasis on the Government’s intention to motorway toll lanes.
Drivers could pay up to 42 pence a mile at peak times to avoid the jams under a model being considered.
Vehicles would be fitted with a transponder which is linked to an account held by the motorist, with payments being deducted each time the car passed an overhead gantry.
The idea is expected to be included in a review of the road and rail network to be published early next year.
The review will contain options to open up hard shoulders to all motorists free of charge during busy periods in an attempt to keep traffic flowing.
Ministers are also likely to roll out plans to expand a system of variable speed limits – known as Active Traffic Management – designed to smooth traffic flow.
Some 500 miles of motorway across the country has been earmarked for the proposals, with sections of the M6 in the Midlands likely to be included.
Mr Blackett said businesses regretted the Government’s failure to adopt recommendations in the Eddington Report two years ago, which called for long-term cross-party agreement on transportation policy.
He added: “I don’t think charging can be introduced in any serious way until we have extended the public transport choices for drivers.
“There is no consensus among businesses at the moment that charging is the right thing to do.
“If we could see more up-front investment in improving the choice and quality of public transport, then we might be more receptive.”
Mr Blackett added that Government plans for motorway toll lanes illustrated a “lack of a 30-year integrated transport plan in this country”.
Motorists remain overwhelmingly hostile to toll lanes on motorways, according to a survey of 12,000 AA members.
AA president Edmund King said the system caused problems in America where slow drivers used the toll lane and “people resent having to pay to be stuck behind a snail”.
Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety executive director, Rob Gifford, claimed drivers could be put at risk.
Mr Gifford added: “There are issues of how you come on and off a motorway. If the toll lane is on the inside, it means that drivers who have paid for a faster journey will have to give way to those who have not.
“If the toll lane is the outside lane of the motorway, then toll users will have to cross two to three lines of traffic.”