A Wolverhampton professor has called for a national public debate on the future of road charging in England.
Professor Chris Nwagboso, director of the Midlands Institute of Transport at the University of Wolverhampton, said widespread road charging was "inevitable" but regional focus groups should be set up across the country to deter-mine the fairest way of paying.
He is backing the compulsory introduction of 'black box' technology in vehicles so drivers can 'pay as they go' but wants the issue to be debated by drivers before the Government makes the decision for them.
Prof Nwagboso believes satellite trials could start within five years. He said: "It is now not a question of if road charging will spread but when.
"We cannot continue to simply build more and more roads without effective demand management to ease the impact of increasing traffic congestion.
"At the moment it seems that toll charging in our roads is driven by the technocrats, technical test trials and the Government policy makers but the ordinary road users need to be heard on the future of our roads."
Prof Nwagboso recently returned from Berlin as part of a DTi fact-finding delegation to assess the German govern-ment's satellite based toll
charging infrastructure. The trials are already bringing in nearly £4 billion a year from commercial vehicles alone on top of road tax.
"Satellite systems have a huge capability for advancement and use by insurance companies and the police, have less impact on the environ-ment, and are much fairer," he said. "However, the citizens of Britain now need to articulate what kind of toll charging we need and how the funds can be used to benefit road users."
Local authorities in seven areas, including the West Midlands, are to share £7 million to explore ways of tackling road congestion, including new systems to charge drivers for road use.
But the Government has suggested it may stop short of rolling out road pricing across the nation, despite recently engaging the West Midlands in plans to pilot the system.
Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman told a House of Commons debate that the local pilots, which will paid for by the Government's new Transport Innovation Fund, may reduce congestion sufficiently to mean a national scheme is not required.
The suggestion will concern West Midlands businesses, some of which have expressed opposition to road pricing, fearing it will make the region less competitive than neighbouring areas.