/ 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 The argument that VED stops people dodging MOT and insurance is no longer valid, as the whole system is computerised.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.

Good morning Carlton, the Conversation sticks to talking about VED (and even how complicated this system is). Road tax was mentioned in the sub-headers, as the debate is about finding other ways to raise funding for roads. However, I’ve tweaked it to put car tax in the first and ‘road tax’ in inverted commas in the second. Thanks for spotting 🙂

No to road tolls its not like France here with 100km between road tolls they would just create chaos at busy times & mean the best roads are just for the wealthy or those whose employers pay for their use.
Car tax should be scrapped & replaced with an insurance disc if the powers that be insist on some sort of visible proof of compliance, for me it is far more important a car is insured than paying another government tax.
As far as replacing the lost revenue then surely an increase in the vast duty on fuel would hardly be noticed & with the added benefit that the polluter pays so your granddad who only does 2000 miles a year in his 3ltr jag would pay less than now most pensioners whose mileage is low would benefit. In addition the cost of administering the system would be saved ANPR does the job of checking for currency of insurance & mot anyway. As far as encouraging lower CO2 could not different rates of VAT based on emissions do a similar thing that car tax does & encourage companies & private individuals to purchase efficient vehicles. The tax issue will not go away lets just make it as simple & cheap to collect as possible & through fuel duty is about as efficient as I can think of

Scrapping VED and put tax on fuel has been an idea for many years, one suggests this hasn’t been implemented as it would loose to many jobs at Swansea!, but is a fairer way to tax fuel, you pay for how many miles a year covered. All the hype about CO2, cows,boats, planes and fuel powered trains produce far more than cars, can we tax a cow? If VED is to be scrapped the ridiculous regional variation in prices should be put in line to make it fairer. (It’s 3p a litre cheaper just 12 miles away!) Whilst VED is in place the powers that be will lower the CO2 ratings for “eco friendly cars” to bring in the extra revenue, as motorists we’re in a no win situation. Traffic jams increase CO2 emissions but the Dartford Crossing has had miles of tailbacks daily for years, just to increase revenue, they’re promising to take down the barriers using a pre-pay system but this won’t be in force until at least 2014!!! Toll the motorway driver?Thus an increase in A road traffic equals jams and the cost to enforce this would take years to recover. Once there is a proposal put forward it will take months if not years to pass as it goes from one committee to another thus increasing costs yet again!

I don’t know what all the fuss is about with the government wanting more technology and admin to charge for road use.The answer to me is easy. By my calculations based on an average car doing 45 mpg over 10,000 miles we could do away with road tax altogether by adding 10p to a litre of fuel. Then if you travelled over 10, 000 miles you would pay more, less than that you would pay less. If you had a gas Guzzling high emissions vehicle you would pay more and an economical car you would pay less. Visitors from overseas would pay for their road use, and it would negate the false manufacturers emmisions claims. Added to that it would take away a level of admin dealing with tax discs, and no new technology required. Simples or am I wrong?

This could lead to more vehicles without insurance or an MOT on the road, either in use or unused.

@wavechange , Can you explain your reasoning. Surely anyone who is inclined to drive without MOT and/or insurance is also likely to drive without a valid VED disc anyway.


Anyone without a tax disc on their windscreen advertises the fact that their vehicle is not taxed. This is likely to be reported and the lack of insurance and MOT will soon be discovered.

@Wavechange, I wonder how many people get caught because of someone else reporting them for not showing a VED disc, compared to an ANPR going off in a passing police car. I know the numbers of police cars seems to be going down, but I suspect they’ll still catch more people than get reported to them by members of the public. And maybe they should up the fines for driving without MOT/insurance and channel that money back into the police force.


I agree with you about higher fines and how to use the money generated.

It would be good to have an online checking facility for anyone to report untaxed vehicles. That has been done for canal boats.

All you need to do is get insurance companies to issue an “insured disc” to display.

Maybe there’s a potential market for a smart phone app that you photograph a number plate and it silently notifies the police of an errant motor vehicle, and just tells the phone user, thank you for your help or if a valid number plate is snapped … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_FmADVggCk.

I’m very uncomfortable with motorists reporting others for “offences”. Very open to abuse unless there is a blatant problem that is corroborated by one or more independent witnesses.
We occasionally have motorists who drive at 60-70 down our 30mph road – I’d love to report them but no evidence of course.
Incidentally, the Sheffield Star evening paper used to run a Knights of the Road section where you could report someone for behaving particularly well or kindly as a driver – much more positive.

If someone reports an untaxed vehicle there is not much scope for abuse, but as Joe and William have pointed out, ANPR can check for valid tax and insurance.

Regarding speeding, if several people report a car speeding then it deserves investigation.

wavechange – you comment about MoT and Insurance – I suggested at the outset that if VED was abolished (so no displayed tax disc) then make the display of an insurance “disc” and MoT “disc” compulsory. Does this not answer the point? ANPR will still work as well.

That would be better, providing that ANPR is sufficiently widespread to be effective. Having discs indicating that a vehicle is insured and has a current MOT is long overdue.

I do think we need to do something about the fact that many are driving around in large powerful cars. I don’t see the increased fuel cost is enough of a deterrent. It does not have to be VED and increased tax on new vehicles would do the trick.

I’m not a fan of using discs in windows, they’re too easy to fake and unless you’re going to be within a few inches of it, most people won’t know the difference. All I see a disc as being, is an expensive waste of money.

Number plates can be faked too. Anyway, we should get back to the subject of toll roads.

I realise that I have never used a toll road, only toll bridges.

“How would you feel about more road tolls to raise cash for the UK’s ailing road network?” Well for years every government has used motorists to fund other areas, so why shouldn’t other areas now fund the roads?

When the government realise that VAT revenues are down, will their answer be lets put it up ? When the fact they have already done that is probably one of the reasons revenue is going down.

Time for the governments to think outside the box maybe. Close legal tax avoidance schemes ( and I’m talking suggesting ISAs are included).

If the Gov introduced toll roads then these would likely initially be motorways. I believe that would deter a majority and you would find local roads close to motorways becoming clogged.

Before Boris was elected Mayor of London there was a rumour that the western section of the M25 and the M4 corridor past Heathrow was going to be placed under ‘congestion charging’. Being as I have no option other than to use a car to get to work I would have been forced off these motorways or paid circa £60 a week. 120 weekly miles at 50p per mile !