Saturday, January 13, 2007

Road Pricing

Bloggers4Labour has written a very interesting post on the subject of road pricing. On first reading it would appear to be anti car user, but I don't believe this was his intention. When someone starts using phrases like "cost to society of an individual's driving experience" it's easy to get that impression though.

A few thoughts from this citizen..

Big Brother
I'm quite keen on the whole ID cards thing, but I feel it's important to point out how in combination with road pricing it could give the government a significant amount of information on an individual. It would certainly be possible to join a car travel record to it's owners NIR record, I would hope that legislation would be put in place to ensure strict limits on who had access to these travel logs.

Stealth Taxes
Ministers have generally suggested that such a scheme would be revenue neutral, they might not be able to get the numbers exactly on, but I don't really think this is another excuse for the government to take money out of our pockets. For reasons I'll explain below, I'd like to see the cost offset with a reduction in fuel duty.

B4L suggests that the information gathered from such a scheme would allow the government to better assess the full cost of motoring, I would agree, but I also think there are some far simpler market based benefits.

Tax on fuel is a very simple way to discourage motoring, but I believe it disproportionately hurts poorer car users. First, the biggest single use of a car is for commuting, everyone, rich or poor needs to get to work. Second, most cars generally fall somewhere within the 1-2 litre band, those who are less well off tend to have older cars rather than smaller more economical ones.

With those assumptions in mind, I'll take a couple of examples based on my own experiences.

  • A couple of years ago, I worked at a company based in a small village in Suffolk, miles from anywhere. It was a 40 mile commute from Norwich and as a result my monthly fuel bill was around £200 (a pretty big chunk of your pay packet).
  • Now, I work in Norwich city centre, I am 30 minute walk or a 10 minute drive away. I try to walk although often laziness gets the better of me, so I use the car.

If we assume that a congestion charge is offset by a fuel tax reduction, the result would be the following.

  • My commute through the Suffolk country lanes would become cheaper, since the obscure country lanes would not carry much in the way of congestion charge.
  • My laziness would all of a sudden become far more expensive, since city centre roads in the rush hour will carry a pretty hefty charge.

And in Conclusion..
Road charging could be a far fairer way of assessing the costs of motoring, it could provide valuable information on transport usage in the country, ensure that people are not penalized for car use when there is no public transport available and provide incentive to use public transport where it is available. Assuming the civil liberties issues are addressed, I think that road pricing could be a really good idea.

citizenandreas [at] slick47 [dot] co [dot] uk


parburypolitica said...

I think what is missing is the use of technology to radically improve the environmental performance of cars. 50 years from now we will think that cars that run on petrol are so quaint .

Citizen Andreas said...

A little googling ended me up on
AutoblogGreen. Looks like a good place to keep up on these developments.

It's good to know that some of the really big car companies are taking the risk and making advancement in this field. I do hope you are correct and that in 50 years time fossil fuel will be the preserve of enthusiasts alone.

Until then, road pricing seems like a solution that could tide us over in these pre utopian times.