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Controversial congestion charge on way for city centre motorists

THE Government will today formally unveil controversial proposals for London-style congestion charges for Dublin and new "pay-as-you-drive" road pricing for our main roads.

The measures will cite international examples of where these initiatives have worked, such as congestion fees in Stockholm and London, and bill-pay road-price tolling in the Netherlands.

The Government plan, called Sustainable Transport and Travel, aims to free cities from traffic congestion, move people away from cars and increase public transport usage.

Road pricing means that motorists pay directly for driving on a particular roadway or in a particular area, similar to tolls.

Congestion charges involve drivers paying a fee to enter a city-centre cordon. This has worked well in London and is being credited with a 20pc reduction in car numbers in the zones. The document, being published by Transport Minister Noel Dempsey today, warns that unless such measures are considered, we face a grim future: l Average speeds in urban areas in morning peak hour in Dublin will have dropped from 13kmh, in 2006, to 8kmh, in 2016. l Increased dependence on car travel will contribute to obesity. l Traffic pollution will cause increasing damage to health and contribute to acute and chronic diseases.

Mr Dempsey says that while he has no ideological difficulty with congestion charges, he believes they should only be introduced when sufficient public transport alternatives are in place.

The Transport 21 suite of plans must be complete or almost complete before we can seriously examine the possibility of congestion charging, he says.

Mr Dempsey wants the public to make their voices heard on what measures they think should be introduced to encourage us all to change our travel behaviour, as over-reliance on cars is unsustainable and cannot continue without dramatically worse gridlock

The Government is committed to spending over €16bn under Transport 21 to improve public transport.

However, even with this level of investment delivering a new Metro, Luas extensions, new buses and new rail cars, it will not be enough to avoid extra gridlock.

Mr Dempsey said yesterday: "If we continue our current travel patterns, traffic congestion will increase and quality of life and the quality of our environment will decline. We can't allow that to happen."

"We need to see a major shift to public transport and we're investing to make this an attractive option. We need to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions in this sector, and we need to ease congestion and free up valuable time for commuters," he added.

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Other options being outlined today include more flexible working time, workplace travel plans, car sharing, car clubs, school travel plans, including walking and buses, more integrated transport planning, better walking and cycle routes, and increased use of park and ride facilities.

A public consultation will follow, after which officials will publish a detailed action plan setting out what exact measures will be introduced, including the possible congestion charges and road pricing.

One of the ideas up for discussion in this document is a sustainable travel public awareness campaign based on the concept of the popular Tidy Towns competition.

Towns and cities would be encouraged to become a "sustainable travel demonstration town or city".

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