December 01, 2006

This has really boiled my piss

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6160877.stm

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.


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  1. less than 0.2% of road surfacing that is needed nationally is actually afforded by highways agencies budgets

    I think that’s because the Highways Agency only deals with motorways and trunk roads – everything else is dealt with by County Councils (so the statistic isn’t that surprising).

    01 Dec 2006, 13:37

  2. Hero

    you really are a duffer.. anyone using a car daily on routes that are reasonably served by public transport is wasting money, the average cost of car ownership per annum is £4-£6,000. If you hire a car twice a month for a few days you are nowhere near spending £4,000 a year.

    If you think comparing fuel costs with train fares is a reasonable calculation then you really shouldn’t be at University (unless you are doing sociology or something, they pride themselves on limited thinking!)

    01 Dec 2006, 14:22

  3. Then you really should consider that Chris is an engineering graduate and won’t have just considered fuel as the cost. Time is money too. For example between where I work and company head office I can take the train or I can take a company hire car. Hire car costs us £22 + £30 in fuel. Train cost is £32 + 12 in taxis. Car takes 2.5hrs on a free road or 4hrs on a congested one. Train takes 2.25hrs. Train wins all round.

    Now if I have to go from here to Coventry (another one of our sites) it’s 3.5hrs by car, and about £40 in fuel or 4 hours and £45 train oh and £30 in taxi fares. That means the train costs me an extra hour of my time, and £13 more. My time is worth about £14 an hour, so all in all the train doesn’t work in that case. Unless you consider I can do some work on the train as well… but then we’re just getting complicated.

    Where the train and the bus fall down is in their immediacy. You will never see me argue against rail use and nor does Chris above. However my working hours and patterns would have to be dictated by the bus timetable. It would also take me 45 minutes to work instead of 15. I agree with sensible public transport and it works well, but if your job requires that you carry large volumes of equipment with you then it falls down flat.

    01 Dec 2006, 15:22

  4. Quick thought… The money is made by people driving on the roads and being charged for the privilege (of moving freely in their own country, but that’s another story). But then we’re told that so many people will think “ergh” that they won’t drive and therefore congestion will be cut in half.
    So less people will be paying… So less money…

    How do the figures add up/ has this been taken into account?

    01 Dec 2006, 17:23

  5. Chris D:

    I think that’s because the Highways Agency only deals with motorways and trunk roads – everything else is dealt with by County Councils (so the statistic isn’t that surprising).

    That’s correct. There was, however, a lengthy article about road surfacing in the Sunday Times three or four months ago which explored the fact that most/all county councils do not budget anywhere near enough for road maintenance. This is probably, in part, because of the increasing burdens on county councils even relative to the increasing state funding they receive – hence the doubling of council tax over the last ten years – which forces continual cuts in “non-vital” services despite increasing council tax bills.

    According to the Sunday Times article, it’s pretty typical for a county council to allocate 30-40% of its annual road maintenance budget to settling of compensation claims brought by motorists (and other road users) who have suffered loss due to the poor state of the roads. A crazy way of thinking, but they don’t have the funds to fix enough of their highways to guarantee the claims will drop accordingly. Clearly, this restrained spending accepts (indeed, causes) accidents, deaths and millions of pounds’ worth of extra wear-and-tear on private, public and corporate vehicles.

    01 Dec 2006, 17:28

  6. Hero:

    anyone using a car daily on routes that are reasonably served by public transport is wasting money

    True, to an extent, but one must define “reasonably served”. I commute to work across SW London, avoiding the centre, at a direct cost of £145 a month. An 18 mile journey by road (16 as the crow flies) takes 75 minutes by train, each way – and an extra 30 if, as this morning and many others, my first of three trains is cancelled or delayed by more than 6 minutes. Even then, though, the journey’s still no slower than sitting in a car at rush hour, not much more expensive, and actually more convenient, so I take the train.

    While I’m talking about trains, Network Rail reported a profit this year (having underspent its Govt. allocations for making rail repairs, by around £50m) while the rail system receives £6bn in annual subsidies – four times more than the whole of British Rail cost the state to run. Meanwhile rail companies, charged an increasing fee by the Government to maintain their franchises, seek to increase ticket prices with the stated aim of reducing crowding (i.e. passenger numbers) on trains, and London Underground are also complaining about the network running at full peak-time capacity. So where do all these people go once priced out of their cars?

    It’s true to state that the cost of a journey by car is more than just the fuel cost, but if one has a car anyway, the insurance and tax costs do not alter, and nor does the vast bulk of the depreciation. People will only get rid of their cars if they have the option to do so: all their regular and occasional travelling needs over any distance must be served, door-to-door, regularly, reliably and safely. Until that happens, private transport is still both useful and, in most cases, essential.

    01 Dec 2006, 17:29

  7. ...and Gav:

    So less people will be paying… So less money…
    How do the figures add up/ has this been taken into account?

    It wasn’t taken into accoutn when the London congestion charge was introduced – Capita (I’m sure they were the administrators – no time to check my sources I’m afraid) complained about a shortfall in funds because the congestion charge was too successful – despite Ken Livingstone fiddling with the traffic light phasing (quite blatantly, almost openly) for the six months before the charge’s introduction. I think Transport for London even had to pay Capita some compensation over it.

    So basically no, in that example, the potential success wasn’t really considered; it was just an excuse for a new tax under another name. (If it was about congestion, why are they now changing the pricing structure according to how much CO2 your car produces? I’m a cynic – but Livingstone has always been horrendously and openly anti-car). Which brings us nicely back to what Siggy said in his article.

    01 Dec 2006, 17:35

  8. Howdy SiY, haven’t seen you online in ages :-)

    Regarding Chris D/SiY point 1, yes it is local councils that the budget comes out of. I too heard about the large drain of compensation claims on the highways agency. Plainy, what needs to be done is that concils must be forced to budget more on roads, and this money should come from road taxes. Perhaps the tax from vehicle licences (your annual tax disc) should go directly to the local council to which the vehicle is registered, and this should all be spent on the road network. Then we might not have such a poor state of disrepair.

    Hero/SiY point 2 – a good rule of thumb is that fuel accounts for about a third of total running costs for most cars. Hero is right in that the economics of hiring a car or getting a taxi for a few journeys a month stack up; however I use my cars 365 days a year. The car I commute in I cover 500 miles a week (that’s 25,000 miles a year) and the car I drive for pleasure and personal use I cover roughly 15,000 miles a year in. I think you’ll find the cost of a hire car or taxi for 40,000 miles a year is somewhat in excess of what it costs me to run my two cars, plus of course being driven or driving in a hire car is not nearly as much fun as taking your own car out on a Sunday :-) And I’m sorry, but where exactly did I compare fuel costs directly with rail fares? Trains work out a lot more expensive than car ownership for me. Plus my nearest train station is 12 miles away, and poorly served – so how do I get the 12 miles to the station in the first place, which then only goes to the centres of major other towns, which is hardly ever where I want to be?

    Gav/SiY point 3 – the main reason for the increase in the London congestion charge as far as I’m aware is because the scheme wasn’t generating nearly as much money as it thought it would – of course this is the scheme being “a victim of it’s own success” (or a victim of poor foresight). What it in fact shows is that it wasn’t planned with the intent of reducing traffic volumes at all (which it has), it was just a means of generating more money for Red Ken. Another bizarre thing is that charges on residential parking permits will now relate to how much CO2 your car produces – surely parking is the best thing that can be done with a polluting vehicle if you’re worried about CO2!

    01 Dec 2006, 20:27

  9. Hero

    The trick is learning how much of your want tos and need tos are governed by can so I wills.

    I diched the sports car because actually all of my transport needs can be met using a combination of bike, train, taxi and hire car. Mostly though walking substitutes the majority of journeys.

    If you are a lazy bugger (test this by parking a few streets away and see how often you are put off by this tiny distance and you will see what you consider a ‘necessary journey’!) then you will never argue yourself out of car usage, because lazy buggers are crazily good at convincing themselves of the truth of the essentialness of their laziness.

    Fact is that taking fuel only, my journey to work is much cheaper by car. Add the price of owning a car for each day that it is unused and sitting in the carpark because I wanted it for a work journey only and you start to see why public transport is cheaper.

    If you do really need a car every weekend, the cost of hiring a small car is around £11 per day – hiring for 156 days a year is under £2,000. With no liability for insurance, maintainance, upgrading, breakdown cover, and the luxury (often) of a pick up from your house service I can’t see why the equivalent £2,000 spent on a car is worth it. Not to mention that to buy a car out of the fast depreciation bracket you have to have a goo £20,000 of your hard-earned (or expensively borrowed) cash sitting on your drive losing its value.
    Each weekend you don’t hire, you save even more.

    And I would dispute that driving in your own car is more fun – if you want to step up to a merc with hiring you can do it easily – try doing it with an owned car!

    04 Dec 2006, 11:40

  10. If you do really need a car every weekend, the cost of hiring a small car is around £11 per day

    Is it really that cheap? If you can point me to a company that will hire a brand new Focus ST-2 for £11 a day and at least 150 miles/day usage, I’ll point you to a company heading for receivership… Plus, if it’s not your own car then you have to accept it as a stock car, and get a different vehicle each time. Half of the joy of owning a car for me is keeping it “just so” and putting finishing touches exactly how I want them.

    Regarding public transport, well I live in Langport, Somerset. If you can be bothered, have a look on a map and see where that is. You’ll notice that the nearest location with a train station is at least 10 miles away, and you’ll also probably notice that the area is in general very poorly served by public transport. I need to get to the centre of Bristol for 8:30 every weekday morning for work (and finish at 5ish), which in the car means I set off at 6:55 to get to the Junction 18 park and ride for 7:45, then catching a bus into the centre at £2.40 a day. This journey costs me £10 a day in fuel. My commuting car is only worth about £600, so depreciation is maybe a couple of hundred quid a year at most, since it’s in good nick, has an MOT/Tax and has been well looked after it’ll not go much lower than this figure. Factor in servicing costs of £15 every 5,000 miles for an oil change, £50 a year for breakdown cover, £600 a year for insurance (because I’m now on no NCD as I transferred the original policy to the ST), £200 a year for tax and £500 a year for other servicing costs/MOT, and given that I’m commuting for 47 weeks a year we arrive at a total car cost of commuting of £3,800 a year (plus about £500 a year for the park and ride). Now, in order to do the comparable journey by public transport, I’d need to catch a train from Taunton. The only train that gets there in time leaves Taunton at 6:27AM, getting into the station (which is still a good walk from the centre) at 8:06. The return journey gets in at about 6:45 in the evening. This would cost me £17 return a day open return. I’d also need to get to and from the station. There’s no bus service to get me to the station at 6:27AM (surprisingly…), so I’d need to call a taxi every day if I were not to use my car. Using approximate taxi prices from here (although I concede readily it may be cheaper), the taxi journey into the station will cost me £25 a day. Then I’d need to catch the bus home from the station, let’s call this £2 a day. So my total commuting cost by public transport means I’d need to leave home about an hour earlier than I usually do, get back about an hour later than I usually do, not have the comfort of my own car, cost me £44 a day roughly which is £10,300 a year against my car cost of £4,300 a year including park and ride, which gets me closer to work anyway, and public transport additionally is less flexible and can’t stop off on places on the way home if I need to buy things. So, is public transport really that much better? You might live in a place where it’s practical and cheaper to use public transport. I think you’ll agree from the above case that I most certainly don’t.

    04 Dec 2006, 13:15

  11. Hmmm…
    “nearest train station is at least 10miles away” – check (although it’s probably about 8)
    “very poorly serviced by public transport” – check

    And I only live 15 miles from Bristol :)
    It’s about £5 return to the centre from wwwwwwwwwwwway out here. And takes about an hour on a bus on a good day. Hence car.

    04 Dec 2006, 13:47

  12. Hero

    ....so if you can rent a room in central bristol for £60 a week you will save money and several hours travel and inconvenience time.

    07 Dec 2006, 09:53

  13. Hero

    NB holiday inn prices for a working week can be negotiated down to around £50 for nights monday to thursday with regular booking you could do more.. and you get a free breakfast and parking place!

    07 Dec 2006, 10:01

  14. ....so if you can rent a room in central bristol for £60 a week you will save money and several hours travel and inconvenience time.

    Yes, and then I’d be in the centre of Bristol… Yuck. I can cope with working here; it’s a nice office, but I would positively detest living here. Too many people/cars/buildings and not enough rural landscape. I am looking to move nearer, but this won’t happen until June at the earliest.

    NB holiday inn prices for a working week can be negotiated down to around £50 for nights monday to thursday with regular booking you could do more.. and you get a free breakfast and parking place!

    I’m sure I could get a room for £50 a night, but then I’d be forking out £200 a week for living accommodation. And again, I’d still be in the middle of Bristol.

    07 Dec 2006, 12:37

  15. You’d recommend that as an official strategy to cope with the effects of road pricing then, Hero? What a great field day the press would have with the implications for supporting the family unit, maintaining a good work/life balance, the number of new hotels required in overcrowded city centres, further support of the buy-to-let market (preventing people from getting on to the property ladder themselves), etc., etc. ...

    On the other hand, as it obviates the need to re-invest lots of the extra tax money into improving extra-urban public transport, the idea’s just stupid enough that someone in the Government might propose it anyway.

    07 Dec 2006, 13:46

  16. Hero

    Phew!
    C.S.
    1. Are you really enjoying that countryside leaving at 6.30 am and getting home really, really late?
    2. no.. £50 for the week.. I’ve done it 2 or three times.. the tactic, call them at about 3.30 AM and you are routed to US call centres who drastically discount.
    3. You don’t have to actually live in bristol you dolt – just on an easy bus route..
    4. If you include actually properly moving to Bristol, then you will save even more and you can hotel it at the weekend in the country.

    S.Y
    Yep!
    1.Actually it is far more sensible to have high density city population in the working week and long weekends elsewhere
    2. Good work-life balance is enhanced by cutting the commute by four hours a day..
    3. And the greater range of non-work activities available in cities
    4. Small high density accommodation in city centre areas uses existing brownfield sites and is far more efficient than sprawling pointless estates like warwick gates…
    5. Walking to work from your flat is much much less polluting than burning shit loads of fuel every day – if everyone acted similarly, the air quality everywhere would be improved.
    6. The press know shit anyway

    07 Dec 2006, 16:22

  17. Hero

    um also who do you think is bringing the ‘too many cars’ in? people like you.

    07 Dec 2006, 16:24

  18. Hero:

    1. I am enjoying the countryside a lot more than I would be enjoying the city, because when I get home I live in peace and tranquility, and at weekends I have plenty of nice surrounding environment and good things to do which there aren’t in cities. Plus, I have other reasons for living where I do which I’m not going to go into here but they require me to live near/with some of my family members
    2. At £50 a week it starts to make sense financially, but I’m never one to haggle
    3. Bristol and the surrounding area (anywhere that is served by a bus) is urbanised. Bus services are only frequent in urban areas; which make them incompatible with my choice of location to live
    4. As I said, my medium-term plan is to move near Bristol, but this will not happen until the middle of next year at the earliest

    I don’t have a big problem with congestion. If I go somewhere far from home other than work, I drive at times to avoid heavy traffic and choose uncongested routes, because I hate traffic. My commute is also pretty traffic free, unless an accident or some such has caused a problem on the motorway. Congestion happens in built up areas, which you’ll have already noted I detest. Traffic problems are fundamentally a result of trying to fit too many people in too small a land mass. You seem to be a big lover of high density living, well you can keep it. I’ll take my large garden, spacious garages and decent driveway home away from the pressure cooker living conditions that most people my age seem to relish thanks.

    07 Dec 2006, 20:32

  19. Your answers, Hero, are a eminently sound arguments for moving to a city, but are little to do with what I asked: are your suggestions serious for someone who has a home, family, social circle some distance from work? From an emissions point-of-view, it’s best to live, work, socialise all in one place, but it rarely happens like that. It’s no use claiming a “good work/life balance” if all one can do on leaving work is go back to your cheap hotel and watch crap on TV, rather than (for example) seeing your children during the week.

    Making yours the “official strategy” to help people cope with the impact of increased transportation taxes & costs simply gives people out in the countryside the choice of moving to cramped accommodation in a large town near where they work (which assumes that is a single, permanent location) or handing over massively increased taxes, which will not be invested back into public transport which serves them, in order to go to work and contribute to the country’s economy. I appreciate Labour has limited understanding of, or sympathy for, non-urban areas (as do the overwhelmingly London-centric national media) but surely dictation of one single lifestyle “choice” is beyond the pale.

    08 Dec 2006, 00:53

  20. Hero

    Ahem, when I lived in Knightsbridge, there was more green parks nearby and private garden areas for me to access than there was when I lived on a suburban estate where the only patch you can use is the one that’s on your deeds.

    As now, I live in spitting distance of Jephson Gardens in Leamington and if you include the parkland adjacent to the mill gardens then I have a huge amount of wandering space.

    As for the arguments about working at home, that is not really included in this debate because the ‘essentialness’ of the commute (and the inherent assumption that this is because CS has to be in the office) is what is enfording the commute.

    I agree that a hotel in the countryside offers little apart from walks in the dark, but a city centre hotel offers plenty of social, educational and recreational activities that you won’t get in the sticks.

    08 Dec 2006, 09:10

  21. Hero, Comment 16. I would wish to be on none of them at ‘commute’ time. It took a mate of mine 1.5-2hrs to get in everyday a few weeks back. And it regularly took me an hour to get to the boat house at about 5-6pm until I realised the Portway was a better option. That can still take 30-45mins.
    So no, buses are not an option.

    As far as I can tell, living as I do at a commutable distance of 15 miles from the place Siggy works, there are no ‘resaonable’ bus routes in. There are about 5 main routes into the city. The Portway from the M5 J18, M32 from the Northeast, A4 from Bath, A38 from the Southwest and A37 from the South.

    08 Dec 2006, 12:21

  22. It all depends on exactly what sort of environment you’re looking for Hero. I enjoy parks as well – the ones in Leamington aren’t bad – but I do actually enjoy specifically the open-ness of countryside such as that which I am priveledged to live in. I like the fact that I can wander off to any number of places near my house where you can literally see for miles and not have a single person within a couple of miles of your location. I like being surrounded by farmland, seeing all the comings and goings of country life. I like winding little back lanes, the “community feel” of a small rural development etc etc. I can’t get any of these things from a city centre or a suburb.

    My place of work is predominantly Bristol, but I do have to commute to other locations at times (it’s the nature of consultancy after all), and I’m pretty much always expected to do this by car, although there are a number of pool cars that I can use from the office when I need them for this purpose.

    Gav – the Portway isn’t too bad as far as buses are concerned, it’s the one I use every day to get to the centre. The main problem is at the Clifton suspension bridge where there are two lanes going into 1 at the traffic lights; at rush hour that adds 10 minutes to the journey.

    08 Dec 2006, 16:12

  23. Mind you, there’s a buslane on it’s own traffic light there too…

    08 Dec 2006, 22:52


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