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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 11 March, 2003, 10:37 GMT
Cities warned about congestion charge
Cyclist in congestion charge zone
Traffic in the zone has dropped since the charge started
UK cities are being warned to think carefully before following London's lead and introducing a congestion charge.

The RAC Foundation says local authorities outside the capital would have to make "massive improvements" in public transport to cope with a charging system.

It also warned that without a charter to protect motorist's rights, the charge could become a "dreaded poll tax on wheels."

In London the congestion charging began on 17 February and has resulted in a fall in traffic levels of about 20%.

The foundation, the campaigning arm of the RAC, describes London's transport set-up as very different to other areas where people are far more dependent on the car for their work and lifestyle.

The RAC Foundation's executive director, Edmund King, said there would be "a great temptation among many local authorities to try to jump on the London charging scheme bandwagon".

"We advise them to hold their horses," he said.

"The London scheme is working well but central London is unique in that 86% of commuters used public transport before congestion charging was introduced.

"In every other city, the majority commute by car."

Viable alternatives

Mr King said most UK cities relied on the bus as the main means of public transport whereas London had an extensive underground and overground rail network.

If a national charging scheme is developed, the government must sign up to a charter which safeguards motorists' rights
Edmund King
RAC Foundation
He said public transport was struggling to cope with extra passengers in London so other cities would have to make massive improvements before there was a viable alternative to the car.

Speaking at an Institution of Electrical Engineers' conference in London, Mr King added that in central London congestion charging did not directly affect the majority of commuters as they used public transport, but that in other cities it will hit them financially.

"In order to convince motorists to accept charging outside London they will have to be offered viable alternatives up front," he said.

"They will have to be convinced that the charges are going into worthwhile transport projects.

"Ultimately if a national charging scheme is developed, the government must sign up to a charter which safeguards motorists' rights.

"Without a watertight charter and independent regulator then charging could become that dreaded poll tax on wheels."

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