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Pay as you go

  • 21 February 2014
  • By Hayley Pink

The public and hauliers are staunchly anti-road tolls, but are we missing a trick when it comes to a fairer way to pay for our roads?

The controversial plan to toll a section of the A14 in Cambridgeshire was unceremoniously scrapped last year by the government after fierce opposition from the public and hauliers alike.

Campaigners argued that the toll would effectively place a ‘tax’ on East Anglian businesses and threaten the region’s prosperity, as well as causing neighbouring congestion by displacing traffic. Instead, they insisted the much-needed upgrade to the area’s arterial route should be paid for out of the £58bn contributed by motorists in the form of VED and fuel tax each year (of which only £7.7bn is re-invested by central government in roads), and remain free of charge to vehicles using it (figures taken from the Road Users’ Alliance UK Road User Spending and Government Expenditure report 2011/12).

However, the principle of pay-as-you-go driving is one that keeps rearing its head, with advocates embracing the concept as a fairer way of taxation, and a necessary step to funding future investment in the UK road network. Those against it are adamant that such a system will impose more administrative and financial burdens on businesses, and be too complex to introduce.

RAC Foundation director professor Stephen Glaister told delegates at last year’s Conservative party conference that the Treasury faces a £30m a year deficit from falling fuel duty by 2027 (due to advances in vehicle technology), coupled with a national debt that will cost the UK £70bn annually by 2017. “So the amount of money coming in is falling, which makes it hard to increase investment in roads,” he said.

He warned delegates that if government traffic forecasts, which predict around 40% more vehicles on roads by 2040, were accurate, then congestion will have to be managed and distance-based charging would have to be introduced.

Jack Semple, director of policy at the Road Haulage Association (RHA), agrees the debate about road tolling is unlikely to go away any time soon. However, he adds that his members are vehemently opposed to the creeping introduction of a patchwork of tolls, such as on the A14. “The introduction of tolls on strips of roads is problematic,” he says.

On the subject of a national tolling system, Semple adds: “There are people who keep calling for it, but there are some pretty fundamental and difficult issues that have to be addressed.” These include whether it would be aimed at motorways and trunk roads only, or would include local roads; who would operate the tolls (the government or private companies); the cost of setting up a system; and privacy issues.

“The essence of where our membership is at is that they can see, in principle, the attraction of a national tolling scheme where you abolish or greatly reduce the current duty levels and recoup it in terms of a distance charge. The problem comes, however, from a strong scepticism over whether or not the amount we pay to use the roads would increase,” says Semple.

Make it simple

Fair Fuel UK (FFUK) co-founder Howard Cox says he would be supportive of pay-as-you-go driving if fuel duty was abolished. “It makes sense that if you use a service more, then proportionate taxation might be more acceptable to all,” he says.

“It would be wrong to have a mishmash of taxes on the road user: VAT, fuel duty, road charging, tolls, etc. It would be an administrative nightmare. So make it easy, one tax for usage – simple.”

However, with such strong public opposition to paying more to use roads, it will be difficult for any one political party to introduce a system of pay-as-you-go driving, according to Freight Transport Association chief executive Theo de Pencier.

He says it has always been the elephant in the room and, despite attempts to advance the idea, it has always been dropped by the incumbent coalition government.

Following their U-turn on the A14, the Conservatives have reiterated their commitment not to introduce charging on existing infrastructure in this Parliament.

The Liberal Democrats have said they would look to investigate a revenue-neutral system of road user charging.
The Labour party did not respond to CM’s questions, but last year said it would hold a review of the A14 toll if elected in 2015. 


Jeremy Desmond, transport manager, Sumo Heavy Haulage

“I think it’s a good idea. Having driven in the Benelux countries and Germany, where they operate road tolling, the quality of the roads is 10 times better, and the services are of a much better standard too. You wouldn’t dream of paying £24 to park your truck overnight in Germany, it’s more like £5.

“Germans operate the Toll Collect system on their motorways, which works on mileage. A sensor is fitted in your truck cab by a dealership, which beeps when your driver enters the motorway and records which junction you enter and leave the motorway on. You are then charged according to how many miles you have travelled, the Euro spec of your vehicle, number of axles, etc.

“It’s a much fairer way of doing it: some trucks might only do the occasional journey, whereas others might be on the road 24/7 depending on the operation. It could work on our motorways, but I don’t know how it could work on local roads – and the ones round here are in a terrible state of disrepair. It would be important that the money you pay goes directly to investing in roads. However, a tolling system would likely get messed up in the UK, as too many departments would get involved.”

Peter Barber, chairman, WH Barley Transport

“They are taking enough from us in VED and fuel tax, which is more than they spend on the roads. This gets put into other government coffers. Let them use the money they raise from people using roads to spend on the roads.

“With regards to tolls, we would find it difficult to get customers to pay for toll roads, especially our type of business, which is groupage and not full loads. It would be difficult to pass the cost on.

“I don’t like the idea of additional costs on open roads. If you could use GPS and work out the miles everyone uses, then, yes, it would be a fair way to do it, but I don’t think the government will ever drop VED and fuel duty. It would be a great idea and the fairest way to charge people, but it just won’t happen the way the government wants to collect revenue and tax.

“I’ve just seen reports that usage has gone up on the M6 Toll, after the RHA did a free trial, but people are not going to use those roads at the cost put on them. It makes people think ‘I would rather sit in traffic for 20 minutes’.”

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Article source: http://www.commercialmotor.com:80/latest-news/pay-as-you-go---road-tolls-investigation