In a somewhat controversial move, congestion charges were introduced to London in 2003. And now, in the midst of an economic crisis, it seems that these ideas might find themselves on roads outside the capital.
Last week, George Osborne’s Autumn Statement suggested that toll roads would become more common as a means of funding large infrastructure projects. The RAC has also argued that ‘road pricing is inevitable’.
So, is charging motorists for each mile they drive the way to ensure our roads are kept up to scratch? If drivers had to pay every time they took to the wheel, maybe they’d think twice about using their car for unnecessary journeys and would opt to car share or use public transport instead?
Road tax doesn’t exist
Congestion charging is never going to be popular with the public – Manchester voted against it and Boris Johnson bet that he’d improve his ratings if he scrapped the Western Extension of London’s congestion charge.
Drivers may also cry in protest about the ‘war on the motorist’, claiming that they already pay for the roads through ‘road tax’. Road tax, of course, doesn’t exist. Roads are paid for through general taxation.
Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), which is commonly mistaken for road tax, is based on how much pollution your car pumps out, meaning electric vehicles don’t have to pay it. And VED isn’t necessarily spent on the roads – it just goes into the general pot, much like VAT.
Pros and cons to road charging
Still, funding Britain’s roads through congestion charges and toll roads would be another payment that already stretched drivers would have to cough up. That is unless we take up the RAC’s idea of dropping the cost of fuel duty. If this were the case, perhaps motorists would prefer to know that their money was actually being spent on the roads?
Non-drivers might be happy about moving the cost of maintaining the roads to motorists, but this cost could still be passed onto them in different ways, such as through increased shopping delivery costs.
Road charging may also disproportionately affect some groups, such as plumbers, electricians and other professions that need to use cars as part of their job.
Where and when should roads charge?
It’s unlikely that all roads will be charged – it will probably be limited to very busy roads or those in cities. Building a system to charge motorists on rural Welsh B-roads would be unlikely to make its money back, for example.
The system might also take a lesson from our railways by only charging at peak times, such as during the morning rush hour. That in itself might go a long way to speeding up your commute.
So what do you think – is road charging a more efficient way to fund our roads and drive down carbon emissions? Or is it just another way for the government to extract even more from hard-pressed motorists?