URBAN road tolls are likely to be the most effective means for Scotland to cut car traffic in Scottish cities, as the Scottish Government aims to meet targets on climate emissions.

Sustainable transport charity Transform Scotland said that was a conclusion of research they commissioned by Edinburgh Napier University looking into the demand management measures that could reduce road traffic in Scotland.

But Transform Scotland says that business groups have felt there could be hostility to the prospect of people paying to enter a city centre with concern congestion charges would "discourage travel and damage city economies which are already struggling post-Covid."

Edinburgh is already considering such a charge with drivers in central zones forced to pay a daily fee of £3 after plans that were initially rejected 20 years ago could resurface.

In a bid to encourage the use of public transport, the city council's transport convener Scott Arthur stated that a fee could be used as the council tries to improve bus links in the next few years.

The study by the renowned Transport Research Institute at Edinburgh Napier comes as the Scottish Government committed in December 2020 to reduce all car traffi by 20% by 2030 as part of its net zero carbon emissions plan.

In London, drivers have been charged for driving in the congestion charge zone since 2004. The aim is to discourage drivers from using the zone during peak hours.

By using public transport instead, this reduces congestion, time spent in queues, the pollution generated and the cost to the economy.

According to analysis in 2018, implementation of the scheme resulted in a 33% reduction entering and leaving the zone and an 18% reduction in traffic overall.

The Herald: Transport for London has announced changes to the Congestion Charge zone. Here's what you need to know

Transform Scotland said there was also a challenge identified over how a congestion charging scheme would operate in the context of any future national road user pricing scheme.

"Would local congestion charging operate in parallel to a national pricing scheme, or would congestion charging only be implemented in the short term, to be replaced by a national scheme in the near future," the transport body asked.

"The business groups would like to see data on travel patterns and vehicle movements, together with analysis of the root causes of congestion," it said.

"For instance, do we know whether journeys into the city centre are causing the most congestion, or should we be more worried by radial trips around the city?"

Transform Scotland said businesses were also data on the financial cost to businesses of congestion charging.

There would be questions over whether the charge would be a cost for businesses located in the congestion charging zone, would it be paid by delivery companies, and whether it would be passed on to customers. "Businesses already operate in a highly competitive market and introducing possible charges to enter a congestion charging zone could put them at a competitive disadvantage; further analysis here is therefore imperative," the Transform Scotland analysis said.

"The business groups would also like to better understand the impacts of alternatives to congestion charging, such as pedestrianisation and car-free city centres, which could be used as an opportunity to boost local economies by making them more attractive to shoppers and tourist."

The transport charity said that workplace charging regimes and other traffic reduction measures can win the support of businesses if properly designed and focused on areas of strong economic activity.

The Herald: A congestion charge sign in London.

Transform Scotland said it had found a positive response to engagement with business leaders around policies designed to encourage a shift to more sustainable modes of transport but said it was vital that businesses were involved in designing and supporting these policies.

Transform Scotland board member Damien Henderson said: “Gridlocked traffic not only damages the environment and our health, it clogs up the transport arteries businesses need to get people to work and goods to market. A shift from road to more sustainable modes, if correctly planned, can help businesses prosper.

“As research from Edinburgh Napier University and our subsequent business engagement has demonstrated, we found that there are policies available which both cut congestion whilst supporting economic growth and that business leaders want to drive this change.

“To achieve this, we need to ensure we have policies that are evidence-driven and take account of the impacts – both positive and negative – on companies large and small as well as geographic differences. A workplace charging regime, for instance, may work in a large city centre with good public transport but is unlikely to help smaller cities and towns.”

Rachel Cook, deputy head of policy at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) added: “Small businesses rely significantly on both their access to the road network, and to public transport, whether it is to make deliveries, keep the supply chain moving, or to get employees to the workplace. Therefore any measures designed to reduce traffic need to be undertaken with the full involvement and consent of local businesses. This is now more important than ever given that small businesses are currently navigating some of the most difficult trading environments in decades.”