Azara Blog: Tories want to screw car drivers and air passengers

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Date published: 2006/08/19

The Financial Times says (subscription service):

The Conservatives are considering a radical overhaul of transport policy in an attempt to embrace "the principles of eco-taxation", according to Steve Norris, the former minister charged with reforming the party's manifesto on the subject.

The party needs to re-examine its reputation as the "motorist's friend," said Mr Norris, the former transport minister who is leading the Tories' transport working party. He is also proposing that the Conservatives should put an increased levy on short-haul air travel, arguing that the "polluter" should pay for refusing to make short or medium length international journeys by rail.

Between 1975 and 2004 there was an 11 per cent drop in real terms in motoring costs; a 60 per cent rise in bus fares; and a 70 per cent rise in train fares, Mr Norris said.

"That's absolutely wrong. What eco-taxation needs to do is fundamentally [to] address the gap simply by removing the distortion in the marketplace at the moment, which doesn't internalise the real costs to the environment of emissions," he said in an interview with The Guardian.

On motoring policy, Mr Norris suggested the Tories need to move away from their long-standing reputation for being "the provisional wing of the Automobile Association".

Mr Norris also suggested that air passenger duty could be graded to charge more for the first 500km, with costs tapering after that. "Under 500km, we should really be looking at making those journeys by high-speed rail."

Referring to the owners of Ryanair and EasyJet, he said: "Mr O'Leary won't like this, Sir Stelios won't like this, but every environmentalist will regard this as absolutely essential. You do have to avoid creating a culture based on cheap aviation which will be as pernicious as the way of life based on car ownership has been in terms of urban planning. We've now got a generation living in France, working three days a week here, [which] thinks nothingof going to Prague fora stag night."

Dear oh dear, the Tories seem intent on going one step forward and two steps backwards. It must be dreadful for the ruling elite like Norris to see the ordinary workers of Britain being able to afford to fly abroad for holiday, which once only the rich toffs like Norris could afford to do. Ryanair and Easyjet are two of the best run transport companies in the world, and it's a pity Norris chooses to denigrate their performance in order to curry favour with a few Guardian readers. If only the British train network were run half as efficiently as Ryanair and Easyjet.

Motorists are the only group in Britain who pay their own way, in particular who pay an (extortionate) carbon tax (in fuel duty). Bus passengers and train passengers do not (their fares are still subsidised by the State, and that is just operational costs, ignoring the environmental costs). So bus and train passengers should pay more, and car drivers less.

And airline duty should be determined by the amount of fuel consumed, not by the distance flown. Norris's proposed idiotic policy of choosing an arbitrary cutoff point of 500 km for an arbitrary tax which bears no relation to environmental damage is equivalent to the 1960s and 1970s British government habit of trying to pick winners in trade and industry. Government should not bias taxation to pick winners. And Britain is an island with only one external rail connection, so there are many air routes from cities in Britain to cities on the Continent for which the air route is less than 500 km but also much, much shorter than the train route.

The principle of "eco-taxation" is simple. It should be proportional to the (alleged) environmental damage and it should be the same proportionality constant for all producers of equal environmental damage, not just for certain things which the ruling elite happen not to like at a given moment in time. Cars, airplanes, buses, trains, electricity and gas consumption should all be treated equally. Every tonne of CO2 emitted should be taxed the same as every other tonne. (Of course there can be taxes related to other environmental damage.) Unfortunately the ruling elite have chosen to get hysterical about cars and airplanes and let all other polluters get away with murder.

If the ruling elite (in particular MPs) think car and air transport is so horrid, they should promise never to drive or fly ever again, and stop being such utter hypocrites.

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