Azara Blog: Road pricing coming to Britain

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Date published: 2005/06/05

The BBC says:

Drivers could pay up to £1.34 a mile in "pay-as-you go" road charges under new government plans.

The transport secretary said the charges, aimed at cutting congestion, would replace road tax and petrol duty.

Alistair Darling said change was needed if the UK was to avoid the possibility of "LA-style gridlock" within 20 years.

Every vehicle would have a black box to allow a satellite system to track their journey, with prices starting from as little as 2p per mile in rural areas.

Mr Darling has outlined his proposals to the BBC - previewing a speech he will give to the Social Market Foundation on Thursday.

"The advantage is that you would free up capacity on the roads, you would reduce the congestion that we would otherwise face and you would avoid the gridlock that you see in many American cities today," he said.

"This is a prize well worth going for. We've got to ask ourselves: would it work. Could it bring the benefits that I believe it could bring, because it would make a real change to the way we drive in this country."

A satellite tracking system would be used to enforce the toll, with prices varying from 2p per mile for driving on a quiet road out of the rush hour to £1.34 for motorways at peak times.

The Department of Transport says the scheme would be fairer because those who travel greater distances would pay the most.

"We have got to do everything we can during the course of this parliament to decide whether or not we go with road pricing," Mr Darling said.

If public reaction is favourable, a pilot scheme planned for the Leeds area could be rolled out nationwide within the next 10 years.

The Environment Agency's Nick Rijke warned that shifting money away from fuel duty would take away the incentive for people to use green vehicles.

And AA Motoring Trust director Bert Morris said there were a number of issues which needed to be addressed.

"Tourism is car-based in this country. Would we have empty hotels on summer days on the coast if people couldn't afford to drive?"

It was also important to ensure that drivers with less money were not penalised, Mr Morris added.

RAC Foundation spokeswoman Sue Nicholson said the plan could help counter a projected 45% growth in congestion problems by 2030.

"Providing this tax was substitutional to fuel tax and road tax and provided we had some other guarantees then I think, for a lot of people, this would be a tempting option," she said.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth broadly welcomed road charging but warned the transport crisis could only be tackled if money raised was invested in improving alternatives to car travel.

Professor Garel Rhys, director of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff university's business school, believed road pricing would have to be introduced in the UK.

But he warned: "The key is trying to introduce those tolls without affecting the flow of traffic, ie. not having to stop and pay at a booth which caused congestion itself.

"Governments will upset at their peril society's wish to do what it wants to do and that is to move around."

Not a great surprise. Darling and others have been mentioning this for years. And on page 25 on the Labour Party Manifesto from the recent election we find "we will seek political consensus in tackling congestion, including examining the potential of moving away from the current system of motoring taxation towards a national system of road-pricing". Alistair Darling allegedly wants a "national debate" on the matter. When politicians say this they of course normally mean they could care less what people think, and will not debate the issue itself in any substance except to repeat platitudes of the kind he gives above. Hopefully this time will be different.

There is nothing wrong with road pricing per se. At least this proposal is based upon congestion, unlike the so-called congestion charge currently in operation in London (which is really an access charge, only the people who promote this charge are so dishonest they cannot even call it what it is). The idea that you can maximise the capacity of a network by pricing it according to use is nothing new. Unfortunately many of the people who are pushing for road pricing (e.g. the so-called environmentalists and most of the ruling elite) have no interest in this, instead they just hate cars and car drivers and want to hammer them as much as possible. These people should be completely ignored in the national debate since they have nothing useful to contribute. All they ever do is ask for more handouts for so-called public transport (such a wonderfully "sustainable" form of transport that it needs billions of public subsidy every year to sustain it).

Darling needs to address the following issues (and more):

The government should set up an independent citizen's panel to look at these proposals, not stacked with the usual suspects (so-called environmentalists, transport consultants and the like), but instead composed of car drivers, businesses and the like, in other words people who have an interest in making the UK road network work, not not work (which is what the so-called environmentalists want).

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