A FAIR DEAL FOR THE MOTORIST
ROAD PRICING -
BACK FROM THE DEAD?
A QUICK SUMMARY
KEY ISSUES AND LINKS
National road pricing is certainly controversial. Previous governments have considered initiatives but dropped plans in the face of public opposition or technical issues.
In November 2011, the Government released an ‘independent’ report on the stewardship and financing of major roads in England (‘the Cook report’).
Analysis showed that the intention that Government should largely privatise the operation, if not the ownership of England’s Strategic Road Network (SRN), with ministers largely washing their hands. The SRN would be sweated for maximum economic return, with perks for the commercial managers.
In its response in May 2012, the government overwhelmingly accepted the report. It identified follow-up actions, such as discussing ‘route based strategies’ to consider and sell the idea of tolling routes that are currently free.
This would be a policy shift - see the article on plans for the A14 in Cambs, being discussed at the same time.
The Government has also brought in a lorry road user charge, ‘LRUC’. This has been controversial and there is speculation that it will lay the foundations for wider road pricing. The 2012 Budget showed that the Treasury still wanted more income from drivers.
Other interested parties
The Government is not the only interested party. The EU has a vision of compulsory road pricing for all vehicles on all roads, which it has long pursued
EU-wide road pricing proposals were released by the European Commission during a Bank Holiday week in May 2017 when the UK was tied up with its general election. They would at least require the London Congestion Charge and the UK Lorry Road User Charge for HGVs to be reset as a pay-per-mile charge which would involve comprehensive vehicle tracking – or dropped, with financial complications, like supplier compensation and loss of revenue.
The 2017 EU proposals push the prospect of extending road pricing to other vehicles like cars (in line with its still-current 2011 blueprint). The EU had also considered using ‘under-the-radar’ tactics such as laundering the proposals under a non-transport heading such as ‘Energy Union’. If EU legislation was passed before (nominally) March 2019, it would survive Brexit.
The EU also seeks to manage major routes
as a ‘Trans European Network’ under a common approach, and wants a large
increase in infrastructure investment to meet economic growth targets. Its
own road pricing consultation
was launched in August 2012. In 2016, it also proposed EU-wide
road pricing for cities.
The Government has set up a controversial Motorists’ Forum – in the name of representing motorists. However the range of interests represented are commercial, government and lobbyist rather than the voice of Britain’s 33 million motorists, and it amazingly includes a representative of an anti-motorist group.
In 2015, the Government passed the Infrastructure Act, turning the Highways Agency into a company (‘Highways England’) with road tolling powers. There is evidence that Government assurances that there are no plans to toll existing roads are looking very thin!
General issues that may be relevant include:
* propping up stressed public finances,
* addressing congestion,
* avoiding having to build more
* links with infrastructure expansion (e.g. housing) and population growth
* 'the environment' / carbon