/ Motoring

Would you put the brakes on more road tolls?

How would you feel about more road tolls to raise cash for the UK’s ailing road network? One idea is a ‘two-tier’ system for Vehicle Excise Duty making drivers pay more on motorways and trunk roads.

The Treasury and the Department of Transport are finalising a feasibility study looking at ‘new ownership and financing models’ for roads. The aim is to attract private investment to fill potholes, increase traffic capacity and reduce congestion, which the government claims is costing the UK economy £7bn a year.

Two-tier car tax system

So what options are there? A ‘two-tier’ system for Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) has been suggested recently. The idea is that drivers would pay a higher VED rate to use motorways and trunk roads.

On the surface, that might sound like a good idea, as heavy and long-distance users would pay extra. However, the two-tier system does sound a bit like a first- and second-class travel system for our roads. The AA argues that a third of motorists would be priced off motorways if they had to pay more VED to drive on them.

In fact, the government has said that it’s ruling out implementing tolls on existing roads, and has no plans to replace existing motoring taxes with pay-as-you-go road charging. But it could build new toll roads, as many other countries have, including France, Italy and Australia.

Other options on the table include a major overhaul of VED bands, or making VED a big, one-off up-front tax on new vehicles, rather than an annual charge.

Why do we need to change ‘road tax’?

The problem is money, of course. The Treasury is facing falling revenues from VED, as average carbon dioxide emissions fall. The estimated £6bn the government receives from VED annually represents around 0.4% of GDP, but that’s forecast to drop to 0.1% within 18 years.

Fuel tax revenues are also falling: the RAC says that 2.27bn fewer litres of fuel were sold in the first half of 2012, compared with the same period four years ago.

Would it make sense to abolish VED completely and simply put all vehicle tax on fuel? The argument that VED stops people dodging MOT and insurance is no longer valid, as the whole system is computerised. Only taxing fuel would mean that the more you use, the more you’d pay in tax. But would it unfairly penalise, for example, countryside dwellers who do more miles than average on largely uncongested roads?

At least it’d be simpler. The current system, based on how much carbon dioxide your car pumps out, has a complexity that’s almost baroque. The sliding scale of bands totals 13, not including discounted bands for alternative-fuel vehicles. Many drivers now pay zero VED as their car emits under 100g/km of CO2, while others pay more than £1k if their car is a gas-guzzler.

Britain already has several toll roads, but their history so far hasn’t been illustrious. Ignoring the London congestion zone, easily the biggest toll road is the parallel section of the M6 to the north of Birmingham. But this hasn’t seen nearly as much traffic as initially projected, and the profits barely make it viable for the road’s private operator.

So, what do you think is the best way of enhancing the road network?


VED based on carbon dioxide emissions – I doubt if, on its own, this has driven manufacturers to develop lower emission engines, but global pressure to reduce CO2 probably has. So do the different bands based on CO2 guide most people’s choice? I doubt it is too significant. so I would gladly see VED abolished and replaced by a corresponding increase in fuel tax. This effectively taxes car usage in two ways, positively for more economical vehicles, negatively for higher mileage users making most use of roads.
So I would favour abolishing VED, but make it mandatory to display devices that show the car has current insurance and MoT. The determined will find ways around it, but the more “forgetful” driver may be more likely to ensure they were within the law knowing they were open to scrutiny.
Company cars as a personal taxable benefit work on new cost and CO2 – this could be based on EU mpg figures instead of CO2.
Commuters – the increased motorway network – e.g. M25 – and other road improvements has had a great impact on longer distance commuting – the cost of fuel outweighed by the cheaper housing. But this does lead to much greater congestion, increased pollution and increased outlying property costs. In the short term only cheaper public transport could partly counter this – most only think of fuel cost in comparing personal and public transport.


I agree with Malcolm about abolishing VED and replacing it with more tax on fuel. I have a new car that is zero rated for the first year and, at current rates, the VED will be only £30 per annum. Sorry, but this is sending out the wrong message to drivers. Fortunately I know that driving a modest annual mileage is helping to deplete natural resources and contribute to pollution.

Most people drive faster on motorways, which uses substantially more fuel. Perhaps we could rely on revenue from fuel duty helping fund motorways, thus avoiding the cost of collecting tolls and other administration.


There are of course as many opinions as there are ways of doing it, and most have their pros and cons. The various pressure groups would say what they say, and the AA’s motives are surely more to do with maximising profit for Acromas than the greater good.

The one thing that will never happen is any major new toll road project. We haven’t got the space. Consider the fuss over HS2, twin track railway. Its road equivalent running roughly parallel to the M1/M6 would be far bigger and hugely destructive.

The M6 toll doesn’t work because the time saving isn’t worth it for many though it is a pleasure to drive along. Tolling the M1/M6 all the way to Carlisle would work. If you’re at a loose end see how far you get driving up the A5 from London before you throw in the towel. Dunstable maybe? Just like in France, paying the toll is a no brainer for a run of any length.

I therefore have no problem with tolling existing motorways, but the rail alternative, both new high speed for people and the present system for freight has to be fit for purpose and run for the people, not for corporate shareholders.


I think the VED bands has encouraged lower CO2 emission models; but the pressure to get eco models just within a lower band has resulted in , no spare wheels and other weight saving measures which arent always in the consumers best interests.
Until full tracking and pricing based on actual road usage becomes available other half-way measures will only cause serious anomalies and increased traffic on “unpriced” roads.


Why can’t those in power think about options other than pricing people out of activities? It really is getting tedious, regardless of what figures are given to make it seem a good idea, this all in turn fuels inflation.

Tolling the motorways would just clog up the A roads and small towns/villages anyway. Why can’t we have more realistic solutions?


Scrapping VED would also have the upside of saving millions in personal and equipment employed to track it all.

If they need to raise more money then there are plenty of examples of poor driving that heavier fines would hopefully curtail whilst raising money. Although I’d rather this money went to the police as they’d have more bobbies out and about to catch those who persist in bad driving habits.

Carlton Reid says:
7 November 2012

In 2010, Which?Car promised to use ‘car tax’ in future. Perhaps Which? should do so, too. The mix of VED, vehicle excise duty and road tax isn’t terribly helpful, or accurate. As Which? prides itself on accurate information it really ought to get the basics right: ‘road tax’ hasn’t existed since 1937.


If we are going to use the term ‘car tax’ does that mean we have to have ‘motorcycle tax’ too. It is vital that official documents use correct and consistent terminology, but Which? and this website are for the general public. There are countless examples of incorrect use of terms in everyday life and I cannot recall any instance when efforts to resolve the problem have succeeded.

I suggest that we just get on an discuss whether we should have more toll roads, the subject we have been invited to debate.