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Britain drives taxpayers to revolt

Published February 14, 2007


LONDON - Britons pay almost three times as much as Americans for gas, and London commuters pay nearly $16 a day just to get into the city. But they do have their limits.

A transport ministry proposal last year for a road congestion charge that could see drivers pay up to $2 a mile has sparked an online revolt, with motorists crashing part of the British prime minister's Web site Monday in a barrage of protests.

"We've seen a succession of governments look at drivers as a source of public revenue," said Mark McArthur-Christie, a director of the Association of British Drivers, a motorists lobbying group. "But I think the government pushed things one too far."

Like other countries in Europe, Britain has been trying to balance its environmental commitments against the challenge of increasingly clogged roads.

Britain's transport ministry predicts that congestion across the country will increase by a quarter between 2000 and 2010, costing Britain some $23.4-billion in economic losses. While other alternatives are being considered, road charges of some kind are inevitable.

A study commissioned by the government last year said road charges could cut congestion in half, saving the British government billions of dollars a year by 2025. It said motorists might end up paying as much as $2 per mile for travel on busy roads.

But the cost to motorists, combined with a proposal to track them using satellites to determine the charges, has sparked a popular revolt. One driver, Peter Roberts, was irritated enough to advertise his grievance on Tony Blair's Web site, which invites members of the public to petition the prime minister.

The part of the site that accepts e-petitions crashed Monday evening as drivers rushed to add their names to the tens of thousands of electronic signatures on Roberts' appeal late last week. So far, 1.3-million names have been logged.

"The idea of tracking every vehicle at all times is sinister and wrong," Roberts wrote. "Road pricing is already here with the high level of taxation on fuel."

Britain's heavily taxed gasoline sells for an average $6.34 per gallon. London commuters pay a $15.60 congestion charge daily - a fee enforced by cameras that snap pictures of license plates.

[Last modified February 14, 2007, 01:13:58]

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