Senior members of Edinburgh Council are reportedly in formal discussions with the Scottish government about introducing a ‘pay-as-you-drive’ road user charging (RUC) scheme on certain roads to reduce congestion.
According to The Herald, the City of Edinburgh City Council has committed to reducing car kilometres by 30% by 2030, while the Scottish government has vowed a 20% reduction across the country by the end of the decade.
Edinburgh transport convener Scott Arthur said that council officials are “working with the Scottish government on pay-as-you-drive”, adding “that’s what used to be called congestion charge”.
In 2005, a referendum to create a congestion charge zone in the city – similar to the scheme implemented in London in 2003 – was overwhelmingly rejected by residents (75% to 25%).
The 2005 plan would have seen motorists charged £2 a day, with fines up to £60 for those who did not pay.
In 2024, council chiefs are re-examining whether road users could be charged via a distance-based RUC – otherwise known as road pricing – instead.
READ MORE: Edinburgh low-emission zone signs erected
“The idea of a cordon around the city is not ruled out yet but I think road pricing is absolutely the way to deal with this going forward,” said Arthur.
“It gives us much more control for different parts of the city, different times of the day, different pricing for different routes and maybe different pricing for different vehicles.
“I think there’s much more flexibility there if we get those powers right.”
According to Arthur, Transport Scotland “decided to pause” its work on the concept last year.
He added: “For it to work, it also needs collaboration with the UK government and Rishi Sunak’s war on cars thing. As we move away from fuel duty, as we move to electric, what’s the alternative to fuel duty?”
The Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 established discretionary power for local authorities in Scotland to implement RUC schemes.
However, Arthur admitted that the idea is “maybe five years away”, and warned that if action was brought forward now with cameras installed to read licence plates “we would be introducing obsolete technology”.
He said: “That’s why it makes sense for the UK and Scottish governments to work together, get road pricing right and devolve those powers to local authorities.
“I do hope that local authorities across Scotland do engage with the Scottish government on it. I’d like to think that for it to work, local authorities should have maximised powers to tailor it to the needs of the city.”
To date, Scottish councils have opted to introduce low-emission zones (LEZs) that ban older vehicles from city centres.
The Glasgow LEZ went live last summer, with Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee due to follow on 01 June.
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We have always been clear that reaching our target of a 20% reduction in car kilometres by 2030 will require a broad combination of interventions, including infrastructure, incentives and disincentives.
“We believe these decisions should be locally led and welcome the city of Edinburgh’s commitment to 30% car kilometre reduction by 2030.
“We will continue to work with local and regional partners to develop a demand management framework by 2025, with an interim framework published for consultation this year.
“This will include supporting local authorities who wish to use their existing powers to reduce unnecessary car journeys and to generate future revenue streams from local road user charging.”
You can learn more about the key trends and challenges affecting senior decision makers who have responsibility for tolling, intelligent transportation systems and road pricing across the world at the 21st annual Road User Charging Conference in Brussels, Belgium on 05-06 March 2024. Click here for more information