Azara Blog: One politician wants to introduce road pricing in Cambridge

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Date published: 2011/01/17

The Cambridge News says:

A campaign is being launched today to levy a new charge on motoring in Cambridgeshire. The radical scheme would cover nearly every road in the county and be monitored by meters fitted in vehicles and a network of cameras - drivers would be charged accordingly for using the roads. Cllr Nichola Harrison, architect of "charge and spend", believes it can generate the substantial income required to bankroll much-needed improvements to highways and public transport.

If the tolls are introduced, it is expected 60 per cent of drivers would pay £3 or less a week, and nearly 90 per cent would pay £10 at most. The heaviest users might be billed £30.

Cllr Harrison thinks the tax will prove more popular than the proposed Cambridge congestion charge, which was dumped when a bid to the Government for £500 million ended in failure last year.

She believes it will be perceived as being fairer because, rather than covering a confined area at peak periods, it would apply around the clock on all routes apart from trunk roads managed by the Highways Agency - the A14, M11 and A11.

The tariff would be highly variable, based not just on distance but also on the time of travel, the route used, carbon emissions, and the availability or otherwise of a viable alternative to driving. And all profits would be spent on transforming transport across the area covered by the charge.

Total annual revenue could total £120 million, according to Cllr Harrison, who represents Petersfield and resigned from the Liberal Democrat group on Cambridgeshire County Council to launch the project - which would be the first of its type in the world. It is her personal campaign and she feels it would solve the county's transport issues.

It is not often that an article in the Cambridge News produces 23 pages of comments (and the News probably gave up, after awhile), mostly hostile. So Harrison is already rather deluded to believe that this "tax will prove more popular than the proposed Cambridge congestion charge". On the other hand, at least she has set up a website to promote her proposal.

Her business case is incredibly vague, really a back of the fag packet type of calculation. She knows how many vehicles there are in Cambridgeshire, and she knows how much revenue she wants, 120 million pounds, so she just creates a few categories of usage and plumps down a figure of how much each category would pay per week.

Of course if her grand idea to reduce car usage works, then the revenue would decline unless she keeps upping the unit charge. That is the problem with all these kinds of road pricing schemes, whose main aim is to screw motorists for yet more tax money. She has to hope and pray that motorists do not abandon driving.

If the revenue side of her business case is bad, the cost side is far worse. She quotes an annual operating cost of 20 million pounds with literally no justification at all.

With the alleged revenue of 120 million she is going to give 15 million back to motorists in terms of increased road maintenance spend. How kind. Naively she thinks that motorists are going to be satisfied with this.

Apparently she had to resign from the Lib Dems because they themselves, although generally car haters, do not approve of this idea. (Evidently they do not want to lose all their non-Cambridge-City Cambridgeshire County Council seats.) And the Labour Party has already said it is against the idea. And the Tories will almost certainly be against the idea. This leaves the Greens (who hate drivers even more than the Lib Dems do, and who have no County Council seats outside the city to lose) to help her along.

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