Azara Blog: Darling gives a speech on road pricing

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Date published: 2005/06/09

The BBC says:

Pay-as-you go road charging could be trialled within five years, says Transport Secretary Alistair Darling.

The pilot scheme is likely to cover a large conurbation or region, he said. If it is a success a nationwide scheme could be in place as early as 2015.

Satellite tracking would be used with charges varying from 2p a mile on rural roads to £1.30 in congested areas.

Mr Darling said charging could replace road tax and fuel duty. It would leave half of motorists better off, he said.

Mr Darling explained details of his proposals in a speech to the Social Market Foundation in London on Thursday.

The transport secretary says that his plans, which are unlikely to become reality before 2015-2020, are an attempt to prevent Britain's roads reaching "gridlock".

Mr Darling said he needed to build a consensus for such radical proposals and he acknowledged that road pricing was not an "easy option".

But he argued that "future generations would curse us" if politicians failed to live up the challenges of keeping traffic moving in such a "crowded island".

There was not enough space to simply build more roads, he said.

"Road pricing is not an easy option - there will be hard choices and difficulties along the way. But we need to face up to all this now," he said.

Well there is nothing here that was not leaked to the press last weekend. In particular no new answers to the difficult questions. For example, there is plenty of space in the UK for roads between cities, it's just that the UK ruling elite have decided not to allow existing roads to be widened or new roads to be built, except in a few spots. So it's about time the UK ruling elite stopped making fatuous claims and started addressing the real issues.

And the claim that "it would leave half of motorists better off" is not only irrelevant, it is probably false. Road pricing should be introduced only if it provides a net benefit to UK plc. In particular, it is likely that the operational costs are going to be huge, so the average cost of motoring will almost definitely increase (who knows, perhaps by 10%). It's possible that in spite of this increase in the average, the median cost could decrease (it depends on the distribution) but it's unlikely. One of the main things Darling has to do is to nail the costs down accurately. Otherwise he is playing Russian roulette with the British road network. Unfortunately these costs will be determined by transport consultants who have a vested interest in road pricing, so you cannot believe anything they say.

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