Thursday, January 11
Black Box Spy
A petition against Government plans to force motorists to pay as they drive has amassed more than 190,000 signatures.
The protest appeared to be gathering steam with thousands of people adding their names to the website every day.
The number of signatories, collected at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/traveltax/, has almost doubled in a week and at the current rate of progress the total will be in excess of 500,000 when the petition is taken down on February 20.
As a result Downing Street's exercise in internet democracy was threatening to rebound on the Government, with opposition to road-pricing dwarfing any other issue on the Prime Minister's website.
The revolt comes as the Government draws up plans to identify where the first road pricing trials will take place, in readiness for a planned national scheme in the middle of the next decade.
Although the protest is backed by the Association of British Drivers, a small group representing motorists, the initiative is the work of one man, Peter Roberts, 46 from Telford, Shropshire. "Under the current system of fuel tax, those who drive at the busiest times pay the most, which seems much better than fitting a black box.
"Unless the Government gets across how people will benefit, this will not work." Human rights campaigners also voiced concerns about the plans. "Road user charging may trigger the biggest campaign for rights and freedoms in recent history," said Simon Davies, the director of Privacy International.
"This ill-considered scheme goes to the heart of increasing anxiety over government control over law-abiding people.
Chris Grayling, the Tories' transport spokesman, criticised the Government's plans for a national scheme to track all cars.
"The Government's only strategy for transport seems to be a very unwise and headlong rush to an untested national scheme for road pricing," he said.
"Whilst there may be logic in using road pricing to fund individual road improvements, like the M6 Toll Road, and in allowing individual towns and cities to introduce local schemes if they wish to do so, I don't think the Government has thought this through at all."
A Department for Transport spokesman defended the Government strategy yesterday.
"Left unchecked, congestion could increase by 25 per cent in less than a decade," he said. "The Government's strategy for tackling congestion is based on sustained investment, adding road capacity where necessary, as well as exploring the scope for developing a national road pricing scheme.
"The public wants to see how road pricing can benefit them. The best way to do this is to show how road pricing would work in practice alongside complementary public transport improvements to reduce congestion and journey times and to make journeys more reliable."