On Monday the issue of road charging reared its head once again. But, no sooner had the story hit the front page of the Evening Standard, Boris Johnson issued a rebuttal:
“There is absolutely no scheme in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy to introduce road user charging in London.”
London’s motorists, panicked by the prospect of being hit by yet another charge, breathed a sigh of relief.
Just how did the claim “London motorists face a £1 a mile toll” hit the headlines then? The Guardian point out that within the Transport Strategy document was a proposal that said managing the demand for travel could be achieved through various pricing incentives. This included:
“road user charging if other measures at the Mayor’s disposal are deemed insufficient to meet the strategy’s objectives.”
Case solved then. The mayor optioned road charging as a possible means to confront the multiple demands within London transport- cut congestion, reduce emissions and find a source of revenue to foot the bill. Indeed, on face value at least, road charging could meet all those demands.
But the reality is that road pricing would not just be extremely expensive to implement, even more than the congestion charge. It would also probably end up as another burden on already overtaxed motorists. No one should trust that they’ll get the cuts in Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) and fuel duty that could make up for any ‘pay-as-you-drive’ measure. Piling on another road charge on top of all the existing charges would just cement drivers’ already legitimate claims that they are treated as cash cows within transport policy.
Transport for London (TfL) is undoubtedly facing budgetary pressure, having inherited a debt worth £2 billion from “failed privateer” Metronet. But it is unjust to place the onus on motorists yet again. Previous Taxpayers’ Alliance research shows that taxes on motorists are already massively excessive compared to their impact on the environment.
If TfL want to tackle the current challenges with transport policy in London it is going to have to be more creative than repeating tired road charging ideas.