Road pricing: the wrong debate

Today’s news: 1.8 million signatures on a petition against a road pricing proposal. A new, online e-petition.

OK, it’s easy to see how it reaches that number of signatures. It’s had massive publicity from the mainstream meeja (like the newspapers and BBC). It’s online, so it’s no effort to sign it. And not least, it’s wide open to being stuffed by automated bots posting bogus signatures.

And it’s a proposal with a lot to oppose in it:

    • The purpose is to provide incentives to avoid the busiest roads and times, to reduce congestion. That will inevitably leave far more of our nicer country lanes crawling with cars, and unpleasant for everyone.
    • It relies on a big government computer system, which inevitably implies a fiasco.
    • It relies on tracking technology fitted in vehicles. When the proposal comes from the present government, who can blame people for being suspicious about that? And we can surely expect the devices to be tampered with, probably on a large scale.
    • It’s presented as a new charge: pay more, get [???] back for it. Yeah, just what everyone wants.

      Besides that, some of the propagandists have been concocting altogether more outrageous scare stories.

      The second part of this story is a BBC survey, which suggests that people would be much happier to pay if the money were given back to them in some other form, or ringfenced for better transport.

      Right. So, just reintroduce John Major’s fuel price escalator, but this time tie it to a systematic equal reduction in tax elsewhere. Cost linked directly to pollution. No disastrous technology project. No unwelcome surveillence. And we can start right now!

      When I went on my first peace march, I had to overcome feelings of revulsion at being associated with a bunch of lefties, and a cause seen by some as one of theirs. I have yet to overcome my revulsion at the road lobby – which lacks even the left’s redeeming feature of a Good (if misguided) Cause. Otherwise I might’ve been tempted to sign this one myself.

      Posted on February 21, 2007, in environment, news, politics, rants, travel, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

      1. Despite being a two car-owning, relatively high mileage driver I agree. The petition turned up on my computer at work – lots of people were mailing it to their contacts – and I didn’t sign it because I couldn’t bring myself to be seen as a fully paid up member of the road lobby despite my eminent qualifications! However I agree with your criticisms. My objections are similar.

        The technology will be expensive and probably won’t work very well.

        There’ll be widespread evasion (as there is now with rightly compulsory motor insurance), that will lead to law-abiding drivers (and others) footing the bill for the irresponsible/criminal element.

        There’s the tracking issue – God knows how this bunch of control freaks we call a government will use that.

        And there’s the displacement effect – people switching from properly engineered high capacity roads to residential areas and country lanes to try and avoid the highest charges.

        You’re quite right, Nick. We have an effective method of taxing mileage right now – fuel duty: It’s cheap and easy to collect (the petrol stations do it for you); it’s almost impossible to avoid (unless you drive off without paying or do something naughty with red diesel upon which I won’t elaborate further); and the further you drive and the more polluting your vehicle, the more you pay; and, of course, if you spend most of your time sitting in slow or stationary traffic then it costs even more! And yes, if an increase in duty was offset by visible tax cuts elsewhere, there’s a chance you could sell it to all but the most diehard of motorists. It’s so obvious there’s no wonder our politicians can’t see it!

        Incentives do work. My employer runs a car allowance scheme for essential users which offers much higher fixed-rate allowances for low emission cars together with a miserly mileage rate to disincetivise needless car journeys. It effectively funded me to buy a diesel Mini in preference to my existing 4×4 (the latter now stays at home and makes rare appearances on the roads for heavy jobs like towing trailers) and I know that many colleagues have bought lower emission vehicles because the scheme makes it financially advantageous (and, indeed, costly to run a gas guzzler as the lowest allowance nowhere near covers the running costs).

      2. From a City of London perspective (but may equally apply to any other City), if the object of the exercise is to keep the traffic moving, then why not reinstate all the bus laybys that have been removed, open up the roads so that their full capacity can be used (like removing all the artificial pinch points), remove all the road restrictions that inhibit flow, use some better intelligent method of traffic light phasing that also monitors traffic build-up at junctions and re examine the need for bus lanes. If road works are needed, then charge the contractor for over running any maintenance work beyond the agreed time.

        There are many ways the traffic flow can be improved without resorting to road pricing. Why is HMG always using a stick to beat the motorist and not offering any carrots?

        If, the object of the exercise from HMG is simply to introduce yet another stealth tax or raise even more revenue, then why not come clean and admit it?

        In my attempt to be a model citizen, I use public transport whenever I can (expensive crowded trains that aren’t particularly punctual, smelly, overcrowded buses), but I want to enjoy my driving in my leisure time. I get no credits for using public transport (in facr I pay dearly for the pleasure!), but will get penalised for using my car. Again, too many financial sticks and not enough financial carrots. I agree with John, that financial incentives actually work. Financial penalties just create hostility and anger.

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