Road pricing – don’t sign the petition yet

Before you sign the road pricing petition that has swept the UK, read what you are signing and do some research into whether you really support it. The petition reads as follows:

The idea of tracking every vehicle at all times is sinister and wrong. Road pricing is already here with the high level of taxation on fuel. The more you travel – the more tax you pay.

It will be an unfair tax on those who live apart from families and poorer people who will not be able to afford the high monthly costs.

Please Mr Blair – forget about road pricing and concentrate on improving our roads to reduce congestion.

Let's disect these statements…

The idea of tracking every vehicle at all times is sinister and wrong.

The big brother concern is quite right. However, it is up to the UK as a nation (providing the government listens to public opinion) as to how the vehicle usage data is used. I don't like the idea of being tracked everywhere I go, but if I know that the data can only be accessed and used for specific and agreed purposes that I can trust in that, then I don't mind. Obviously we don't want an Orwellian future, but we can avoid that with the proper use of technology. The "idea" of tracking every vehicle at all times is not sinister and wrong – it is how that data may be used that could be sinister and wrong.

Road pricing is already here with the high level of taxation on fuel. The more you travel – the more tax you pay.

Current motoring taxation is collected through road tax (your tax disc) and fuel duty (the tax on petrol/diesel). The current system cannot be used to affect our behaviour in regards to reducing congestion. It has no way of creating a financial incentive/disincentive for driving at a certain time of the day. Is that a really such a big issue? We would all like to reduce congestion, but if avoiding traffic jams was that important to us, wouldn't we change our behaviour voluntarily and choose to go to work before or after the rush-hour? Also, taxation on fuel is cheap for the government to collect which helps keep the (astronominal) public sector costs down. Plus it is true that the more you travel the more fuel you consume, therefore the more tax you pay. So, it would seem that taxation on fuel is effective plus there is a financial incentive to drive a higher MPG vehicle (therefore, reducing your environmental imapct). Perhaps there is a case for scrapping tax discs and increasing duty on fuel (to make up the difference).

It will be an unfair tax on those who live apart from families and poorer people who will not be able to afford the high monthly costs.

This claim is nonsense for two reasons. Firstly, the person can choose when to travel to minimise the price of their journey. Most journeys to visit family will be at weekends when traffic is lighter and travelling at this time will cost less or may even be free. This new system could in fact work out cheaper for low income people if they use it wisely. Secondly, if the government is seeking to raise the same amount of motoring revenue as is currently raised, the overall taxation burden across the UK will not rise. In practice, it may rise because, characteristcally, the government will spend more than it plans to, the system will have technical problems and the cost of raising the tax may be higher than the combined cost of current fuel tax and fuel duty. But as far as I have understood (and a clearer breakdown from the government on its exact plans would be appreciated), the government does not intend to use this new pricing structure to increase the total tax burden – on average we will still pay the same amount each. Pay-as-you-go road pricing is a fair model because you pay for what you use. You pay for how much you travel just as you pay income tax depending on how much you earn and VAT depending on how much buy.

Please Mr Blair – forget about road pricing and concentrate on improving our roads to reduce congestion.

We should welcome all ideas and for improving our transport system and should critically analyse every one of them for pro's and con's. The governments' idea of road pricing via satellite tracking is no exception. It should not be dismissed in a whim as this petition does. It should be debated openly with the involvement of the public, planners, scientists, economists and politicians.

Read the research

Other thoughts

Many questions arise from the governments' dramatic road pricing proposal. Here are some of my thoughts. Please add your thoughts below.

  • If under the proposed new system we remove tax fuel, how will we tax farm machinery, lawnmowers and garden machinery, recreational vehicles and how will we deal with the Irish and French who will want to buy tax-free fuel in the UK?
  • How easy would it be to tamper with the black box and avoid paying the fee?
  • If vehicles were tracked, the data could be used to solve more crimes, solve them faster and solve them cheaper.

4 thoughts on “Road pricing – don’t sign the petition yet

  1. Sam Pointon-Taylor

    Jake, you have a very valid point, a pay-per mile system would indeed be much fairer than the blanket road tax system we currently enjoy. However, I’m
    not paying twice. I’m also not having a black box fitted to my
    car, at my expense. True, it’s the use of the data that is the most concerning, but I feel it’s an invasion of my privacy to be tracked wherever I go. If the public were to be microchipped like pets, undoubtedly there would be an outcry, and I fail to see how this is different.

    The inflated figures are based on reports that ‘busy and over-used’ roads
    are to be charged at a much higher rate, especially at peak times. I travel
    34 miles round the M25, the busiest and most over-used road in the country,
    at peak times. It’s not just because I’m too lazy to use the trains, the
    fact is that it takes me 20 minutes by car and 2 hours 20 by train, which
    also costs me £20 per day, for which I rarely even get a seat for my money.
    It IS possible to get there quicker (and cheaper) by bus (1.5 hours and a
    half hour wait at Heathrow airport), but there is no bus route home after 6
    p.m., so I would have to take the train at a cost of £18 one-way. So I am
    going to drive come what may! I have tried alternative routes, with the result that I, like everyone else attempting to avoid the motorway, congest and pollute many small villages whose road infrastructure cannot support the volume of traffice. This will only get worse if the government’s proposal comes into fruition. I also work in a shop, which has predetermined opening and closing times, so travelling at alternative times is not an option, and nor is the luxury of working from home.

    A truly fair system would be to abolish tax discs (which can be forged, or
    just not paid for), and scrap the proposed system. To tax
    every road user at a fair rate, and also to encourage more efficient and
    greener vehicles, what needs to be done is to add the road tax onto petrol
    prices. I know the stuff is expensive enough anyway but hear me out.

    If the average motorist cover 10,000 miles per year and you want them to pay
    £150 in road tax per year, you spread that £150 over 10,000 miles of fuel,
    based on an average vehicles consumption.

    So, if you travel less miles, or have a more economical vehicle, you will
    pay less tax. If you travel excessive mileages, or burn
    wasteful amounts of fuel, you will end up paying more. Which is fair enough, as you wear down
    the roads and use up fuel (or both!) at an excessive rate.

    Plus, there is absolutely no way you can avoid paying it. You cannot cheat
    the system unless you import your own crude oil and refine it yourself. OK, non-roadgoing users of petrol are going to feel hard-done by, by they are a tiny minority compared to the total number of UK motorists, already paying excessively for fuel and road tax and being fined incessantly through speed cameras and parking tickets, with little improvement in road or driving conditions seen in return.

    The fact that very little of this revenue is re-invested in the maintenance of our roads (http://www.abd.org.uk/trd-abd.htm and yes, I know this lot are biased!) is simply rubbing salt in the wound.

    To comment on your other thoughts:
    1. you would be correct in assuming a quantity of European neighbours to come ‘fuel shopping’ if we were to abolish fuel duty. The opposite would be the case if the road fund license were applied to the fuel. No answer there as yet, I’m afraid. Farm vehicles use agricultural fuel, which is distributed and taxed differently, and could remain so. Lawn movers and recreational vehicles could possibly be redesigned to use the same. On the other hand, the quantities of fuel used in this domain is a tiny percentage…
    2. No system is foolproof, and I am very sure it wouldn’t be long before a way of altering the black box was widely available.
    3.I don’t agree here. In principle, you have a point, however anyone with pre-determined criminal intent would easily avoid being tracked, and even the lowest calibre of crook (eg joyriders) would simply use an untraceable vehicle. Or remove the black box, or see point 2, or… etc.

    I hope you’re having a good time in KL, how does their system work?

    Regards,

    Sam

  2. Steve Bowbrick

    Excellent post. Lots of detail and v. balanced. I’m an in principle supporter of road pricing. I think attaching a big price tag to every major road would be accessible, transparent and appropriate. It could and should also provide for: variability (prices could go up and down based on time, demand etc.), accountability (prices should be set by an accountable body like a local authority) and anonymity.

    Nothing about a road pricing scheme *requires* privacy violations – although I expect the instinct of almost any government will be to capture too much data and share it too widely. There are plenty of clever information scientists in the world who would have no difficulty designing a ‘blind’ road pricing system that would debit your account without at any time disclosing your ID to anyone… We’ll see I suppose….

  3. jakebrumby

    Variability in pricing is an important point Steve. One of the key benefits (and concerns) of satellite tracking is that peoples behaviour can be influenced. A good example of this is that of low-cost airlines. Stelios (easyJet founder) uses pricing very effectively to increase the cost of travel at peak times and decrease it in quiet periods. This flexible pricing model makes it more affordable to travel – not less affordable. How much you pay is up to you – depending on when you choose to travel.

    Sam’s point is that he has no choice – he must use the M25 and use it in peak hours. The biggest losers in this new system will be people like him who have inflexible working hours and journeys along major roads. If it cost him just £1 per journey to work, that could equate to £480 per annum – just for commuting. The figures touted in the press actually suggest more than £5 for Sams journey (£2400 per annum) – clearly, this would be extortionate and unfair. That’s why I don’t believe the hype – the newspapers are just trying to grab headlines through scaremongering.

    What we need is a much clearer understanding of the proposed pricing per road and per mile depending on the time of day. Then we can see what the total cost to different motorists would be and who would be paying it.

    In principle, the idea of pay as you go is fair. We also accept the principle of paying more in peak times (as per easyJet). So, if we can find a fair pricing structure for people like Sam, then the system could work in theory. We would just need to overcome the other problems such as tax-dodging, technical flaws, cost of implementation and above all else, privacy issues.

  4. Lynda Dobson

    I am strongly against this, i agree that congestion around major areas is getting worse but this method will force alot of people off the roads and have a knock-on-affect that will ruin alot of people, i can barely afford getting to and from work as is, with this new plan i am being forced off the road and my investment into my future carier has been for nothing. There are alot of people that will be stongly affected by this, and many will loose money, more and more money is beign drained from this country and it already feels like the Bitish are third class citizens in our own county.

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