Britain's pay-as-you-drive proposal has sparked a heated debate over its feasibility in tackling the country’s transport crisis.
While motorists have slammed the controversial plan as “highway robbery”, environmentalists admit it could help reduce the number of vehicles on the road.
Some critics have even accused the authorities of “living in another planet” with its proposal to log the trips of 28 million cars, compile statistics, send bills and collect charges from them.
Under the plan, motorists would be charged as little as two pence a mile (1.6km) in rural roads, which would rise to £1.34 in city centres and busy motorways, to beat traffic congestion.
If the proposal goes through, a typical commuter who drives in and out of London or another major city every day might end up paying up to £6,500 (RM45,500) a year.
Cars would be fitted with a black box transponder linked to a satellite navigation system, which would detect where, when and how far the driver had travelled.
Motorists would then be billed for the roads they had used – probably £134 (RM938) a week for an office worker driving 32km into and out of central London during the daily morning and evening rush hour.
The system is expected to be piloted in Manchester or Leeds over the next five years, before being implemented nationwide within the next decade.
Indeed, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling had insisted the charges to replace fuel tax and road tax were essential if Britain were to avoid an “LA-style gridlock.”
No doubt, road pricing schemes are operational in certain major motorways in the United States and Australia but not as a blanket charge across either country.
No doubt, motorists are fuming over the expected road charges as they already pay £40bil (RM280bil) annually in various duties, including road and fuel taxes.
On paper, the prospect of driving in a traffic-free road when going to work or returning home makes the pay-as-you-drive scheme a tempting proposal.
It seems sensible that those who drive luxury cars would have to pay more than the pensioners and average wage-earners who make the occasional trips to the post-office or local retailer shops.
Such charges would also raise the cost of inter-city travel and clobber sales representatives, while mums who only use the cars to pick up their kids would travel more cheaply.
After all, it is only logical that those who clog up the roads the most be made to pay the most charges.
Essentially, it would also discourage motorists from making pointless journeys and jump into the nearest bus or Tube train to visit a friend or to catch a movie.
Of course, schools can help by varying their opening hours, allowing parents to drop their kids off early if they cannot afford the peak-time road charges.
However, it must be pointed out that rush hours and traffic jams occur because most people need to get to the same place at the same time.
Thus, road pricing has the potential to hit hardest those who can least afford it, especially the struggling family man who lands a job on the far side of town. The question is whether he can afford a 64km round trip – made in two rush hours when the charge is at its highest.
Needless to say, the vast majority have to use their cars because even the most efficient public transport system simply cannot duplicate their journeys.
In the words, the public should be able to choose the best way to beat traffic congestion without the government making that decision for them.
In fact, road pricing must not divert motorists off main pricey roads and force them into making rat runs through small, country roads or housing estates.
For this will only shift the congestion into small towns and cause a massive strain and social problems to the local population.
Many also feel uncomfortable with the prospect of their car having a little spy – the digital traitor – telling big brother exactly where they are at every minute of the day and night.
In short, the charges seemed to be unfair, unworkable and politically unacceptable to the majority of the people.
Perhaps, the real problem lies not with the road system but with the ever increasing number of motorists using them.
The government should reconsider the plan to avoid a “polls tax” revolt ala Conservative style, by tackling the issue in a fair and reasonable manner.