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THE GOVERNMENT plans push ahead with its much-maligned road pricing policy for ‘Pay As You Drive’ taxation on motorists despite massive public opposition to the scheme.

The green light has been given to trials for the scheme to take place. If implemented, cat exhibitors could find themselves hit hard financially for their ‘non-essential’ journeys to cat shows- and the scheme could end up making many shows financially unviable due to a drop in entries.

‘Pay As You Drive’ Scheme Threatens Cat Exhibitors

A draft version of the road transport bill published a week ago will give local authorities the power to introduce road pricing in towns and cities. Ten areas in England considering the schemes include Manchester and Birmingham, although ministers say a national scheme is at least a decade away.

The local schemes are seen as a precursor to a UK-wide network that would track the movement of cars by satellite or roadside gantries, charging about £1.30 a mile on the busiest roads.

A government-backed report has argued that a national road-pricing scheme could bring benefits of up to £25bn a year by 2025. Its author, former British Airways chief executive Sir Rod Eddington, described the policy as an ‘economic no-brainer’ in the face of widespread public opposition to charging drivers.

Spy In The Car
As reported earlier this year in OUR CATS, the new road pricing scheme will require to purchase a tracking device for their car and paying a monthly bill to use it.

The tracking device will cost about £200 and in a recent study carried out by the BBC, the lowest monthly bill was £28.00 for a rural florist and £194.00 for a delivery driver. A non-working mother who used the car to take her children to school paid £86.00 in one month.

On top of this massive increase in tax, drivers will be tracked by satellite. The authorities – possibly a dedicated tracking unit attached to the police – will know where an individual is, if they are in their car, are at all times. They will also know how fast the motorist has been driving, so even if they accidentally creep over a speed limit, they may, in time, receive a Notice of Intended Prosecution with their monthly bill.

Not only is the extra layer of taxation a matter for concern, but the potential erosion of yet more civil liberties is bound to cause consternation.

The Government’s view on such concerns are that ‘the innocent have nothing to fear’ and – an inevitable view – that the tracking system will be invaluable for the police to combat crime and terrorism. The cost (and civil rights) implications for exhibitors driving to shows and the effect this could have on entries are clear to see.

However, some local politicians have expressed concern over the trials and accused the government of ‘blackmailing’ authorities into applying for schemes as a ‘quid pro quo’ for greater investment in public transport.

As well as local political opposition, the trials will have to overcome public distrust of road pricing. In March, nearly two million people signed an online petition on the Downing Street website calling on Tony Blair to abandon the policy.

The petition urged the prime minister to ‘scrap the planned vehicle tracking and road pricing policy’.

The petition described road pricing as ‘an unfair tax on those who live apart from families and poorer people who will not be able to afford the high monthly costs. Please Mr Blair - forget about road pricing and concentrate on improving our roads to reduce congestion.’

Ten areas have received government money to investigate schemes: Greater Manchester; west Midlands, incorporating Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry; east Midlands, in a joint bid by Leicester, Derby and Nottingham; Tyne and Wear; Durham; Bristol; Reading; Cambridgeshire; Shrewsbury and Norwich. Manchester is the most advanced but the plan to charge motorists for using the city’s busiest roads will not be implemented until 2012 at the earliest.

Local authorities will have the power to run trials across cities, with Manchester the first in line to launch a pay-as-you-drive network that will charge drivers by the mile to use the busiest roads. Graham Stringer MP, former leader of Manchester city council, warned that the bill put local authorities into the political firing line over road pricing. ‘I think local authorities have every right to be sceptical. The government is trying to transfer the risk of an unpopular scheme on to local government,’ he said.

Hard hit
Animal fanciers are likely to be hit hard by the cost of the scheme, especially in the trial areas – cat fanciers being no exception. The knock-on effect of lost revenue to cat shows would be easy to see and in the long-term, this could have a serious effect on the Cat Fancy itself.

OUR CATS correspondent Marianne Brett of Blondbella Persians and Exotic Shorthairs commented: ‘At £1.30 a mile on busy roads added to the high cost of petrol AND that of entering cat shows it’s very much going to limit the number of shows I can attend, and I fear this could see a reduction in entry figures overall.’

What do YOU think of the ‘Pay As You Drive’ road tax? Drop us a line to ‘Viewpoint’ or e-mail Nick Mays on ChiefReporter@aol.com