Road pricing is not the only option

There are more calls for the coalition government to sell off the motorways and introduce road tolling. Today it is from Tim Yeo, chairman of the Commons energy and climate change select committee and the man who also urges the introduction of “personal carbon credits” which would see all adults allocated a certain number of units per year.

Because the latter is thankfully viewed as wholly ridiculous by most reasonable people, road pricing is the scheme receiving the most attention. And Mr Yeo makes a compelling case. According to him road pricing would help Britain be greener, cut congestion, cut fuel duty and raise tens of billions for the Treasury at a time when deficit reduction is paramount.

It all sounds too good to be true and that’s probably because it is. Firstly road pricing is hugely expensive, both to implement and to run annually. Indeed during the general election council leaders, who staunchly opposed Lib Dem road pricing plans estimated such a scheme would cost up to £28 billion to set up and as much as another £23 billion to run annually. This means that drivers would be charged between 10.7p per mile and 30.1p a mile to drive on trunk roads and motorways for the scheme to break even. The annual total cost of scheme - for the average driver who travels 9,000 miles a year - would be between £963 and £2,709.  That is before you actually get to any charges that might replace Vehicle Excise Duty or Fuel Duty. 

If the income from motorway tolls is going to “offer a return to private investors and pave the way for the Treasury to receive a big capital receipt from the sale” it is going to mean tolls on roads are even more expensive. Therefore any cut that might occur in any existing motoring taxes would be meaningless for drivers if they were paying heavy tolls.

As for making road travel greener, Mr Yeo seems to totally forget that drivers already pay more than their fair share for the cost of road transport green gas emissions. In fact in 2007-08 motorists paid £18.4 billion more than the combined total cost of road transport greenhouse gas emissions and road spending. Promoters of road tolls argue that charges could be levied at different rates based on the emissions of the individual vehicle and the time of travel would promote “greener vehicle choices and cut peak-time congestion.” But this is a job that is already fulfilled by two motoring taxes; fuel duty and vehicle excise duty.

The major issue of congestion could be alleviated if drivers were offered more and better roads for their tax. Amazingly this argument is never voiced in the Westminster village and instead expensive road pricing is touted as the only option. 

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