Road Pricing - The Public Will Decide

In advance of Alistair Darling’s speech on road pricing today (09), the RAC Foundation can reveal that only 8% of people think the roads are too congested, and 47% support the principle of a road pricing scheme in the UK if all the revenue raised was returned to the motorists through lower road tax. Only 16% of people strongly oppose the proposal*.

The results, from a MORI survey for Detica, will be encouraging for the Government as it looks to gain public acceptance for the principle of a ‘pay as you go’ scheme for motorists. The Foundation believes that the key challenge for the Government’s ambitious road pricing plan lies not with the technology to implement such a scheme, but with gaining public trust.

Under the new scheme, all vehicles would be fitted with a black box, which will track their progress using satellite technology. Charges would vary according to the time, type of road and location. The busiest roads would be the most expensive to drive on, and motorists could be charged up to £1.34 a mile for journeys through city centres and motorways at peak times. For those people who drive largely on remote rural roads they could find their journeys are free or possibly charged at 2p a mile. Fuel duty would either be significantly reduced or scrapped altogether, meaning that motorists in rural areas may find themselves paying much less for motoring than they do currently.

With congestion costing the economy some £20 billion a year, and with traffic speeds falling at all times of the day, and on all types of road it has become clear that urgent action needs to be taken to solve the congestion crisis. The Foundation is giving a cautious welcome to the principle of a road pricing scheme, and welcomes the opportunity to debate the idea.

However, the Foundation would not support road pricing if it were simply the Government’s way of introducing yet another tax on the motorist. Motorists already pay some £42 billion in motoring taxes a year, and yet only £6 billion is spent on roads. Reducing or scrapping fuel duty would go some way to reducing public unease about a road pricing scheme, however this alone would not be sufficient. Any scheme would have to be introduced as part of a package of measures to combat congestion, to include significant investment in the road network, and much improved public transport. The public will demand this.

The RAC Foundation believes that in order to gain public trust on such a fundamental policy, the Government should announce that an independent regulator will oversee and monitor the scheme and put a proper appeals system in place. This would ensure that any charges set are fair and transparent, and are not motivated by raising revenue but by cutting congestion.

Road pricing should not be used to price people out of owning or using cars. They are essential for daily life, and will continue to be the most important means of transport. Pricing should be targeted to influence the timing and routes of particular journeys, by reflecting the cost which bringing an additional vehicle on to an already crowded road can impose on others. The Foundation’s ‘Motoring towards 2050’ study said road pricing should apply to no more than 10% of network, at certain times of the day.

Edmund King, Executive Director of the RAC Foundation said

"Last year people traveled 5.2 billion miles more on the roads than in 2003. Traffic growth cannot be sustained on this level. Road pricing will not be an easy option to implement, but could work in conjunction with better roads and public transport and reductions in fuel duty.

"Whilst 47% of people supporting the principle of a road pricing scheme is encouraging, the government now needs to make sure they come up with a proposal that will be acceptable to motorists.

"Motorists must be protected against excessive charges set by governments, central and local, to raise money. So charges must be fair and transparent, and overseen by an independent regulator. This is the only way to ensure trust and public acceptance of this important development."

* MORI Road User Charging Omnibus questionnaire for Detica - May 2005

9 June 2005 Staff

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