/ Travel & Leisure

Should motorists ‘pay per mile’ to fund Britain’s roads?

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?


Goodness knows how much this would cost to administer. I suggest that we keep the present system of vehicle excise duty and fuel tax.


In theory I would support such a system – “pay per mile”. It does seem to offer a way to reduce traffic especially at peak times while not penalising those living in rural areas with no other means of transport.
In practice I cannot see how it would work efficiently and without causing drivers to use minor roads to avoid charges.
However insurance companies are playing with a similar system to assess car insurance costs mainly for young drivers so maybe there is an efficient way.

As you said congestion charge schemes are never going to be popular and using a referendum to decide is always going to result in a NO vote !

Sophie Gilbert says:
14 December 2011

An example of pay-per-mile is some (some are toll-free) of France’s motorways and their tolls. Some people avoid motorways so as not to pay toll money, but they are very few and far between. Most people prefer to enjoy the comfort of a good, usually safer road that’s going to get them where they want to go more quickly. Why not do the same here? That would be a start.

Edinburgh Council had a referendum about congestion charges a while ago and of course the answer was like rarrar’s resounding NO. I remember thinking that we’d pay for this selfish answer sooner or later and I can’t help thinking that the tram fiasco we’re having to suffer from now is partly related to it: if a congestion charge had been introduced, would the council have been so utterly hasty and incompetent beyond belief when “managing” the tram project? There is a possibility that they would have instead taken their time and at least waited until they had some income from the congestion charge, as was the idea, before railroading this pitiful tram project through.


We already have it, it’s called fuel duty…..


The problem with fuel duty is that as more cars become electric/hybrid the less money the government will get. We will come to a point where there will be so many efficient cars on the road that there won’t be enough money to fund them, meaning there money will have to come from somewhere else. And is taking cash out of general taxation the fair thing to do (I don’t drive, I only use public transport for example)?

Sophie Gilbert says:
14 December 2011

The problem with wondering if taking cash out of general taxation is the fair thing to do is illustrated by this question: education is funded by general taxation, but I don’t have any kids, so why should I pay for it? I think the answer is succinctly that as a society we ultimately all benefit, financially or otherwise, even if it sometimes may not feel that way, from lots of services that we don’t necessary use directly. I may be wrong, but that is probably generally the reason why their funding comes out of general taxation. I woudn’t argue that the system is perfect, however…


Yes and to add to those statements I would also raise the point of increasing the motorway speed. Basically petrol is just so expensive that people aren’t buying as much of it and so the government has to find a way of maintaining the income from it.

I honestly don’t think that more cars will become hybrid because its more expensive, less environmentally friendly to produce and frankly means that you don’t care how a car looks, lasts or drives.

The government needs to maintain the status quo, there are much better ways to increase revenue than just to keep on taxing the motorist, but they will never think beyond what all the major multi-nationals can provide as they are their bed-fellows.

Jampit says:
16 December 2011

I agree! The greater the distance, the more fuel (tax) you use.


Dean commented: “We already have it, it’s called fuel duty…..” and he is spot on.
Patrick Steen replied: “The problem with fuel duty is that as more cars become electric/hybrid the less money the government will get”
Well Patrick it will be a very long time before electric/hybrid cars make any impact upon fuel duty revenue. Probably longer than I or even you will be around. The biggest impact on fuel duty revenue is lower consumption because the Government is taxing everyone bar the rich off the road.
I would further suggest that looking at “other ways” to extract ever more money from those of us who have