All entries for Friday 01 December 2006

December 01, 2006

This has really boiled my piss

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So, the results of the Eddington report are out, and as expected it recommends per-mile road charging as a “no-brainer”. Aside from the massive technical issues that would arise with such a scheme and the infringement on my privacy by having my exact location known at all times by a government computer, this is a bloody disgrace of an idea and I am fuming about it. I hope the government sees sense and doesn’t go ahead with this. Let’s examine one of it’s key findings:

He has reported that road tolls could bring £28bn a year of benefits to bus and rail users.

I’m sure it could, but then so could actually charging bus and rail users £28bn a year for their services. I think that rail fare are currently ridiculously expensive, but nevertheless if they are running at a loss then something is amiss with either charging or the system and this needs to be addressed. My gut feeling is that it’s mostly down to disastrous management of public transport to date. Charging motorists yet more to subsidise a public transport system is not a good option.

Road charges could cut congestion by half, Sir Rod said in the report commissioned by Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Commissioned by Gordon Brown – that should tell you something. But anyway, cut conjestion by half where? Are ministers so thick that they think that vehicles will evaporate into thin air? It is true that some drivers enjoy driving, and most enjoy the personal freedom it brings. However, sitting in traffic on the M25 every day in the daily commute is no-one’s idea of freedom. Motorists detest congestion, and if there was a viable alternative to being stuck in the middle of a jam we’d take it. I myself, a massive petrol-head and fan of driving, use the park and ride into work every day. That should tell you something about our willingness to use alternatives where they exist and are viable. If I move near to a train station, I’d happily take the train into work if it was on time and didn’t cost a fortune. We drive in congestion because there is no alternative. Charging motorists £28bn a year won’t cause a decent public transport system to appear from thin air.

Let’s examine for a second the financial impact on this to the typical motorist. There are 28m or so vehicles on the road, which makes the average cost per vehicle to be a very easy to calculate £1000/year. So the average motorist will need to find another £1000 a year to run their car (at a typical average mileage of 12,000 miles this equates to an average charging cost of approximately 8p a mile). Consider this though – motorists already pay in massive amounts of tax. I don’t have figures to hand, but I hear figures of between 10% and 25% typically suggested as the amount that motorists pay being spent back on the roads. So at least 75% of motoring taxes are already being spent elsewhere. It’s no wonder we have such a shoddy road network in a bad state of disrepair with underfunding like this – another stat I picked up (again not officially sourced so take it as indicative rather than absolute) is that less than 0.2% of road surfacing that is needed nationally is actually afforded by highways agencies budgets; such is the state of their under-funding. Maybe if we got a bit more back of what we paid in, road widening would be completed quicker, road surfaces would be better, roadworks would happen faster etc and congestion would reduce.

What would pricing achieve? Well consider a typical busy congested major route. This would be priced higher in order to deter motorists from using it, so instead motorists (and lorries) would use rat-runs and minor roads, quickly sending these into even an even worse state of repair and creating more congestion on these minor routes. Meanwhile, these roads are not designed for large numbers of traffic and in many cases are less safe than large, straight and open motorways; accident rates, injuries and deaths would almost certainly increase as a result of this. Is this really in the best public interest? Again, I point out that this will not move people out of cars because there is no alternative. Even Transport 2000, a heavily anti-car lobbying group, acknowledges this:

The Transport 2000 lobby group said that, for road pricing to work, alternatives to driving must be improved.

The real reason these charges are being suggested is because the motorist is an easy target. We are utterly dependent on our cars because there is no good alternative in most cases, and as such the government has us to ransom and can name it’s price for our car use. Furthermore, they have the wonderful position of a number of fronts to hide behind – helping the environment, reducing congestion, aiding public safety – in order to force the motorist to swallow the pill. Well the time has come for us all to say enough. Motorists should not have to subsidise an inefficient, ill-thought out, overpriced, badly managed and misguided government transport system any more than any other tax payer in this country, and it’s high time politicians took note of this.

December 2006

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