Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence


Memorandum from the National Alliance Against Tolls (NAAT) (DLTB 25)

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The committee have invited comments on the draft Local Transport Bill which was published on 22 May 2007. This is the response of the National Alliance Against Tolls (NAAT).

  2.  The NAAT was formed by groups protesting against tolls in England, Scotland and Wales. We oppose all forms of toll regimes, even if they are given names such as "congestion charging", "road pricing" and "road user charging". We took part in the campaign against the Edinburgh Tolls and with others we are opposed to the Manchester Toll proposals.

  3.  The NAAT are generally opposed to the proposals for "road pricing" which were first announced by the Government in July 2004. Our reasons for this are summarised as an appendix. We are not alone in our views, roads users have already made it very clear that they do not want more road taxes, particularly a tax that will cost many billions to administer and require a major surveillance system to enforce it.

SUMMARY

  4.  The purpose of this Bill is to make an already undemocratic process less so. The Government know from the Edinburgh Toll Poll, the petition to the PM which attracted 1.8 million signatures and various surveys (including Institute of Transport Studies report commissioned by DfT and published in March 2006) that people are overwhelmingly opposed to their road toll proposals.

  So there are to be no more referenda, the requirement to go through even a mock form of consultation is removed, and power is to be given to the least democratic of all the local authority bodies—Passenger Transport Authorities.

THE BILL

  5.  The Bill includes a section on regulation of buses, our submission only deals with the more significant changes to the tolls part of the bill—sections 64 to 82. These clauses change the regime as set out in the Transport Act 2000 and the GLA Act 1999. (Our references below to the 2000 Act can be taken as including the GLA Act.)

Clauses 64 to 70

  6.  These clauses of the Bill would give power to Passenger Transport Authorities (PTAs) to join in with one or more local traffic authorities in making a "local charging scheme".

  7.  PTAs are not directly elected and seem to be dominated by unelected Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs) whose aim seems to be to push drivers off the road and on to public transport. PTAs and PTEs were created by the Transport Act 1968 when the cities owned and operated large bus fleets. The set up is one of the most opaque and least democratic areas of government in Britain.

  8.  This proposed new power for PTAs seems to be designed to change the law to match what is already happening. A good example is Manchester where the work on preparing the proposed charging scheme seems to have been carried out by the unelected PTE and private consultants employed by them. The 2005 TIF submission was made "by AGMA / GMPTA/E on behalf of the Greater Manchester authorities". The 2006 bid was "made by Greater Manchester PTE/A on behalf of all the Greater Manchester Authorities". AGMA (Association of Greater Manchester Authorities) is possibly not cited as making the 2006 bid as they did not endorse it till two months after it was submitted.

  9.   In our view AGMA had failed to comply with the requirements of the Local Government Access to Information Act 1985 in the way that meetings to discuss the road charges had been conducted and documents made available

  We complained to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) about AGMA and others. The LGO told us that he could not investigate AGMA, and said that it was a "voluntary association". So it appears that the Government's flagship road pricing scheme has been developed and promoted not by the local traffic authorities but by bodies that have no legal power to make such a scheme and may be presuming that MPs will pass this Bill.

  10.   The councillors in the local traffic authorities in Greater Manchester appear to know almost nothing about what is going on. Before the May 2007 elections there were various reports in the Manchester papers indicating that councillors thought that they were being kept in the dark. E.g. on 20 April the Manchester Evening News (MEN) reported that the Rochdale council leader had said: "The only details of the scheme are those I have read in the MEN" So not even the leader of one of the 10 local traffic authorities knew what was going on.

  11.   This Bill seems to be designed to legalise and encourage the way that charging has been promoted in Manchester. Is this because the less that councillors and voters know, the better chance there is of pushing these schemes through?

Clause 72

  12.   This clause of the Bill removes (in England) the requirement in section 169 of the 2000 Act for charging schemes to be approved by the Minister. Given that it is the Government that is encouraging charging it is strange that they want to do a Pontius Pilate.

Clause 73

  13.   Under the 2000 Act there is no mandatory requirement to consult, hold an inquiry, or hold a referendum on a charging scheme. There is however a power (section 170) for the Minister to order that there be consultation and / or an inquiry. Clause 74 removes this power in England. Authorities may still consult and hold some form of inquiry, but there is little doubt that these will just be a sham.

Clause 74

  14.   This clause would allow the charge to vary according to "different methods or means of recording, administering, collecting or paying the charge". Charging in this way for any service discriminates against the less well off who are less likely to pay in advance or set up direct debit arrangements etc. It is also likely to discriminate against casual users who use the roads the least.

  15.   In the particular case of road pricing this could also be used to coerce drivers into doing something that they would prefer not to do such as installing some sort of black box in their vehicle. In Manchester it also seems that for phase one the preferred method of payment is that drivers will register their vehicles with "franchise agents"; again many drivers will not want to do this.

Clause 79

  16.   Clause 79 would widen the extent to which information is shared between various bodies including local traffic authorities, PTAs and the Government. There seems to be no limit as to what information is being shared. The suspicion must be that the purpose of this clause is to give legal backing to the passing on of information with regard to individual vehicles and drivers. Many people, not only drivers, will be concerned about further moves towards a surveillance state.



 
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