Pay as you drive trial for region?

PAY as you drive technology could be trialled by motorists in Suffolk and Essex, it has emerged.

Russell Claydon

PAY as you drive technology could be trialled by motorists in Suffolk and Essex, it has emerged.

The two counties are understood to have been approached by the Government about testing out the technology which would be used if a road pricing plan was rolled out to tackle congestion.

Placing black boxes in cars capable of logging a motorist's movement on roads is one of the options to be piloted by four companies working with volunteer drivers.

It comes after the publication of a Suffolk County Council-commissioned report into congestion on the A14, published last month, which put forward road pricing in Ipswich as a medium-term solution to the problem.

But last night Kathy Pollard, leader of the Liberal Democrat and Independent Group on the county council, voiced her concerns about the scheme.

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She said: “I would be very, very wary about it. Ipswich relative to Colchester and Chelmsford is not anywhere near as bad congestion-wise as those towns and I would rather use the carrot than the stick approach.

“I am a major user of the park and ride and would like to encourage more of the public to use public transport with incentives to use it maybe once a week.

“I do not think it (road pricing) is appropriate at this time for Ipswich and I cannot imagine it being very popular.”

Terry Clements, assistant to the portfolio holder for roads and transport at Suffolk County Council, said he could not confirm the authority would pilot the scheme but hinted it was likely.

“Suffolk is usually at the forefront of everything that goes on,” he said. “We probably would be doing it.

“We as a county will look at anything we can and see what funding is possible.”

But he said there were other measures that would come in to relieve congestion in the county before road charging, such as increasing rail and bus capacity and utilising the park and ride scheme better.

A spokesman for the Department of Transport would not release details of which areas would pilot the technologies but said: “This is a research programme designed to establish how road pricing by time, distance and place could operate reliably, accurately and affordably, whilst safeguarding privacy.

“It will help inform the work of those local authorities who are considering tackling congestion by significantly improving public transport alongside a local congestion charging scheme.

“We have been absolutely clear that these trials - which we announced last year and we updated Parliament on in July - are about designing effective local schemes. They do not mean that national road pricing is going ahead.”

Both the Highways Agency and Essex County Council could not confirm involvement in a pilot test of technology at the time of going to press.

The trials are expected to get underway in the New Year and be completed around the end of 2010 or early 2011.

What is the black box technology being trialled?

Essentially it is a tracking device fitted into a vehicle which monitors where and when it is being driven and records the information.

Black box technology is already being used in conjunction with an insurance scheme, giving lower premiums for drivers who use major roads off peak times.

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