Road pricing

Am I the only one struggling to see a positive benefit overall from a price-neutral introduction of road pricing? The arguments are pretty well documented in this BBC article – it seems to me that it would only move the problem, not remove it.
The only way to effectively reduce car use is to make it signifcantly more expensive, but that would be so unpopular with the electorate and would also have such a negative impact on the economy that no government is ever likely to introduce such a policy. The marginal increases in costs that we’ve seen over the last couple of years as fuel costs have increased has not really had that much of an impact – it needs a substantial increase in costs to really hit home.

15 Replies to “Road pricing”

  1. Entirely depends on the details of implementation. And we are a long way from seeing these details, right now. It’s not even clear what the objective is; is it aimed at congestion reduction, environmental protection or a combination of both?

    In principle I am entirely in favour of road pricing but the objective I seek is environmental protection – I couldn’t give two shits about congestion.

    The dangers of creating a pricing structure that aims to purely maximise road space utilisation are many but if we can make it expensive to drive the short urban distances that make up the bulk of car use, there may be some mileage in the idea. But the system must price differentiate between fuel frugal cars and gas guzzlers. It must not result in rat running on unsuitable roads as a cheaper option to the motorways. Etc.

  2. Hmm. I agree with some of that, but I think you underestimate the link between congestion and environmental damage. Environmental damage not only arises from cars and their engines, but also from the infrastructure (roads, car parks, etc) required to support them. If we reduce overall use, we not only reduce congestion (helps the economy) and pollution (helps the atmosphere) but we also reduce the demand for new road infrastructure (frees government funds for other things and saves slicing up more meadows or demolishing more houses to make way for tarmac).

    I think the one thing that is obvious is that there is no simple solution.

  3. Gimme a cheap reliable option that will transport me where I want, when I want and let’s get rid of cars altogether.

    Or, in a more realistic world, cars won’t disappear, but let’s make the options a bit better before we try and kill them off.

  4. All common sense says what a great idea, but for the likes of me, who has step children who live 103 miles away and has to do that round trip twice every fortnight, just a basic need to see children becomes impossible. I also drive nearly 3000 miles a month for work, which is not skin off my nose as most companies would have to pay to keep thier sales people on the road. That may bring about redundancies and the like and in effect as Graybo says would not be good for the economy. What would be good is affordable transport. I can drive to Scotland for £50 in petrol, or fly for about the same, less with some cheap airlines, but a train ticket will cost over £100! Now where is the logic in that!

  5. If we as a population are to reduce car use[1], we have to accept that it’s going to be tough on some people. But, no tougher than our car orientated infrastructure makes life for those (primarily the old, the young and the poor) who are excluded from it right now.

    Yep, 100 mile commutes will be expensive. As will nipping to the shops – especially if they are out of town supermarkets that need a dash down the motorway. Visiting relatives will be expensive unless you and they live near a station. It’ll mean some pretty massive lifestyle changes for those of us who have become used to being able to live in rural idyll and cheaply drive into towns for work, education and pleasure. Certainly, when I was growing up in the 80s, the village I lived in was a shadow of itself today; people were only just starting to refurbish the derelict houses and turn into commuter land.

    By the way, trains are not as pricey as you might think. £19 London to Inverness, for example. Or, as I did last year, London to Montpellier 1st Class for less than twice the price of Easyjet/Ryanair/etc.

    Apologies for bee-in-bonnet; if you’ve read my blog, you’ll know that this car free thing works for me at least.

    [1] Personally, I believe we should. Global warming is just part of the story; there are also the more immediate and tangible benefits of safer and more pleasant streets and towns. Not just the roads; imagine how much better our cities will look when we no longer have to design each building surrounded by acres of car park wasteland.

  6. I do agree with you on all aspects but as a person who lives on the breadline where lifes luxuries are very hard earnt it may mean house repossession and redundancy for me!

    I do personally not eat meat, don’t buy expensive clothes etc I recycle everything especially clothes which the fabrication of cause an imense problem to the enviroment, ie cotton is the most industrally destructive crop in the world due to the pesticides it uses but I do not see people boycotting this industry or the government trying to make people pay more… buy from charity shops, I do!

    It does seem that this taxation is another stealth tax that will again cripple those middle earners who very soon will simply not be able to take anymore and will bring about a huge reccession, have we not been there before. Mortgage rates going up to 19%, loan companies calling in debts, it won’t be fun.

    There needs to be a healthier balance, where is the harmony in the world, no Yin and Yang here!

  7. One further thought – road pricing will have an impact on house prices. Those homes close to shops, places of work and transport hubs will become ever more expensive. The poor, those least able to afford it, will be forced to live in the more remote areas simply because property prices (to buy or rent) will be beyond their means in town centres.

  8. Trouble is, if you go back a hundred years or so we had a rail network which covered a huge amount of the countryside. Built by the Victorians mostly, with private money for the largest part. The war years caused the network to be run down generaly, and with the advent of the affordable private cars of the late 50 – early 60’s the writing was on the wall and along came Dr Beeching and his infamous cuts.
    Anybody who wanted to keep one of these branch lines open was scoffed at, not to mention being the subject of a certain Ealing comedy. They don’t look quite so silly now.
    It would be lovely to see a return to the older style of life. Village shops, Bakers candlestick makers etc. Locally grown produce not transported miles causing God knows what pollution. A reliable Post office, and of course the advantages of the internet. And the whole shebang would be hugely more sustainable than our present lifestyle. Problem is we have developed a taste for the personal freedoms that a car brings, and no Government that wants to stay in power is going to curtail them.
    Sorry if I sound a touch parochial, but globalization has a lot to answer for. If you want a model for civilisation, don’t look to eutopia but to Camberwick Green instead!

  9. On a side note, In wonder how environmentaly friendly the fire engine was? And what was the name of the woman selling flowers? So many questions……….

  10. Road pricing

    Jam yesterday

    Jun 9th 2005
    From The Economist print edition

    British drivers are badly done by. A road-pricing scheme could help change that

    THEY are hemmed in by more bus lanes, picked on by more traffic wardens, spied on by more speed cameras, punished with more fines and soaked more enthusiastically by the exchequer than ever before. Now, to cap it all, British drivers are threatened with a road-pricing system that would track their movements and bill them according to where they travel when. So much for the freedom of the road.

    The driving lobby suspects that the government would use road pricing to screw more money out of it. But it need not be that way. Combined with a reform of motoring taxes, road pricing could make life better, not worse, for drivers.

    Small-island blues

    Britain’s roads are the most clogged in Europe. The length of the queues is not just fraying drivers’ nerves but also generating pollution, damaging health and raising businesses’ costs. And it’s getting worse: by 2010, traffic volumes are expected to be a quarter higher than they were in 2000.

    Road pricing is an economist’s dream solution because it replaces a system that rations road use by queuing, which wastes people’s time, with one which rations it according to the value different drivers place on their journeys. And as demand varies, so can price: in cities at rush-hour prices can be set high; at night and in the countryside they can be kept low.

    But road pricing has always been regarded in Britain as a politician’s nightmare. While other Europeans are used to motorway tolls, Britons have regarded the idea of charging them for using roads as analogous to charging them for breathing.

    Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, has gone some way to changing that. The congestion charge he introduced two years ago has reduced traffic by 15% and increased speeds by 22% in central London without much damage to business. The scheme’s success has given the government the courage it needed to broach the idea of extending road pricing nationally, but it will still have to work hard to sell the idea to motorists. The best way of doing that would be to introduce road pricing along with a reform of the inefficient system of taxing and investing in transport.

    Road taxes should charge drivers for four sorts of damage they do: to road surfaces, to the climate, to other people’s health and to other drivers by creating jams. The two main current sorts of tax—fuel duty and vehicle excise duty (VED)—do not do that well. VED, an annual tax, penalises some dirty cars, while fuel duty taxes people for burning up petrol, and thus for contributing to climate change. Neither tax, however, does much to discourage congestion, which wastes time and damages health.

    Road prices, by contrast, could be set to take into account all those four sorts of damage. Charges would depend crucially on assumptions about the costs of economic damage; but according to one set of calculations (see article), mid-range assumptions about climate-change and pollution costs would lead drivers to pay about the same overall as they do at present. Rural drivers would pay less; urban ones would pay more but get around faster, so saving money in other ways.

    Once a road-pricing system was up and running, it would also provide valuable information about demand. At present, investments in the road system are based on clunky cost-benefit calculations. By charging for road use, the government would discover just what people were prepared to pay for. That would encourage private investment in roads, and might lead to a more rational system of allocating public investment in transport of all types. At present, roads do unreasonably badly: in 2002-03, road users paid £26.5 billion ($48 billion) in fuel and VED, and the government spent £7.5 billion on the roads, while rail passengers got £2.8 billion in subsidy. What’s more, a system that charged cars specifically for the pollution they cause would undermine one of the main arguments for subsidising rail.

    Drivers’ wariness about road pricing is understandable, but they would probably benefit. They might pay more, they might pay less, but they would almost certainly get better roads and swifter journeys. So at least they’d spend less time fuming in jams about the injustice of it all.

  11. Thanks for taking the time to cut and paste that. It’s certainly thought-provoking, although it fails to discuss the knock-on effects of road pricing to house prices, delivery costs, rat-running and so on.

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