A FAIR DEAL FOR THE MOTORIST
** DANGER ** Toll ahead Free route demolished to generate toll revenue
** DANGER **
Free route demolished
to generate toll revenue
DRIVER BACKLASH STOPS A14
(for now, but some threats remain)
TOLLING ROADS IS A TRY-ON. IT IS NOT INEVITABLE – THERE IS ALWAYS THE MONEY AVAILABLE – FOR THE
THINGS THAT THE GOVERNMENT WANTS.
Click for original article from 2012 on government thinking and toll issues.
In September, government plans proposed:
· upgrading the existing key A14 freight route in Cambridgeshire and
· new parallel local roads to the A14 from Cambridge to southeast of Huntingdon.
The new route would open by 2020.
There has first been an ‘informal’ consultation, with a final decision expected in 2016. Amazingly, this Highways Agency ’consultation’ allowed the public to express views on the best way to collect tolls but not on the principle of tolling. There have also been complaints that all of the roadshows have been in Cambs not Suffolk, where the opposition has been considerable.
Charged were proposed for car drivers £1-£1.50, and HGV freight £2-£3 to use the new toll road seven days a week from 6am to 10pm. (16 hours of the day compared with the 6 originally speculated. These figures are also ‘at current/2011 prices’, so could have been be higher.)
There was anger as it was revealed that if they don’t want to pay, drivers face a 30-mile detour via the A1 and A428 (‘a narrow road’).
To make the toll road profitable, there would not be a viable free alternative, as the government intended to demolish the existing Huntingdon viaduct route. Using the more local roads was likely to be subject to a weight restriction or aggravated congestion (see reader comments on latter).
A study by consultants Atkins had previously projected the tolled upgrade would cost £1.1bn to build, with high administration costs and a negative return on investment.
CFBT – no friends of the motorist – attacked the practicality of the original proposals. A £2 toll would remove the alleged ‘congestion benefits’ through drivers diverting, and higher tolls were not an option. However a £1 toll might not cover transaction (collection) costs, and could deter private investors (unless given exorbitant guarantees by the state). They added that the calculation for the lower charge was not explained in the relevant section of the report, and observed that the consultants also admitted major uncertainties over their models.
(Then) Roads Minister Stephen Hammond said he did not think a lack of alternative routes would be "an issue" in Cambridgeshire, claiming HGV benefits would balance out any cost of tolling. He was non-committal on whether the toll would be dropped once the construction cost had been met.
David Ruffley MP said he was facing “a grade one uproar from Suffolk residents”. He met with Stephen Hammond and asked him to explain why in January he had said that the A14 toll would be “entirely voluntary....”; the impression he and other MPs got was that anyone who wanted to use the existing A14 for free could still do so.
In Suffolk, there was opposition from within both the Suffolk and Bury Chambers of Commerce, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and the County Council. A report to councillors suggested that the introduction of tolls would cost the Suffolk economy £5.73 million a year.
Mid Suffolk District Council, Ipswich Borough Council, Ipswich Chamber of Commerce, the Suffolk branch of the Institute of Directors and South Cambridgeshire District Council amongst others added to the protest.
Labour politicians on Suffolk County Council urged the latter not to contribute to the new A14 project if it was going to be a toll road.
In Parliament, she was supported by Ruffley, Ipswich MP Ben Gummer and Waveney MP Peter Aldous; and questioned the impression given that capacity was being ‘increased’ when with the demolition of the toll-free route, it felt as if capacity was being reduced. She also criticised a reason for introducing local access roads not in the original proposals - allowing tolling to be put in more easily; in fact it seemed that the scheme had been designed to make tolling easier.
There were various other petitions against the A14 tolling.
John Bridge of the Cambs. Chamber claimed it was about raising more money from motorists under the pretext that it was for the benefit of road users.
Even though over motorists pay over £50bn a year in taxes, only around £10bn is spent on our roads. He called for toll plans to be dropped and the A14 to be fully funded by government.
Deputy PM Nick Clegg (whose party supports tolls) backed the A14 toll plans. "It is all part, frankly, of a new world we're in now where we can't just expect the taxpaying public to pay for everything”.
He might jog his memory that the Coalition had committed not to introduce tolls - or prepare for them - on the existing road network during the current Parliament (read: ‘for cars’). At the same time, the government overwhelmingly accepted the thrust of the ‘Cook Report’, which recommended looking at developing ‘route based strategies’ during 2012 – a Trojan Horse for looking at tolling routes that are currently free. (see related article.)
Prof Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation was in the media, backing wider national pay as you drive road-pricing. This made his stance of being pleased (it was“not the best advert for pay-as-you-go driving”) when the government finally dropped the toll look a little cheap.
After escalating protests and media speculation, the decision to proceed without the toll was finally ‘announced’ deep inside the long National Infrastructure Plan 2013 document.
The A14 upgrade may have escaped, but long-term threat of national tolls still persists. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
FOOTNOTE – ‘No Money Around’
West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock said he would rather not see the existing A14 tolled, but sighs that “there’s no money around”. He might look a little harder, as Britain is spending billions on dubious causes such as HS2 and wind turbine subsidies.
Our money is also helping Italy build motorways on the cheap with soft loans via the European Investment Bank (EIB). In June 2012, Britain committed an extra £1.3 billion to its EIB contribution. Arguably in October 2013, the government sold off Royal Mail shares up to 50% too cheaply; the shortfall being valued at up to £1.7 billion.
Ironically, the cost of developing the A14 was given at around £1.3 billion although the cost of the latest proposal has swelled to around £1.5 billion, as it included (untolled) upgrades to the A1 and local roads.
FOOTNOTE – ‘Toll for A14 in the Midlands’?
According to one FT report.
would presumably have been in the section from Huntingdon/A1 - Kettering –
Catthorpe, near Lutterworth, where it meets the M1.
FOOTNOTE – ‘A14 a pilot for remote vehicle control AND road pricing?’
The A14 looks like being the trial for vehicle platooning – or worse?
The Guardian reported:
"A network of sensors will be placed along a 50-mile stretch of the A14 in a collaboration between BT, the Department for Transport and the Cambridge start-up Neul, creating a smart road which can monitor traffic by sending signals to and from mobile phones in moving vehicles."
"Sensors in cars and on the roads monitor the build-up of congestions and wirelessly send this information to a central traffic control system, which automatically imposes variable speed limits that smooth the flow of traffic." Ofcom said. "This system could also communicate directly with cars, directing them along diverted routes to avoid the congestion and even managing their speed."
The Highways Industry blog adds: “People may not like the idea of losing some control of their vehicle and could raise several safety questions (what if there is a malfunction?)”.
Neul’s visions stretch beyond the A14; within two years we might see national, regional and city wide networks of such sensors.... these projections could be a reality sooner than you think.
Chief executive Stan Boland, spoke of the possibilities for road pricing, vehicle tracking, and breakdown, and enabling government systems to automatically manage car speeds.
Other links of interest:
An interesting coincidence is the report (1.9.13) of the European Commission’s Mobility and Transport Department’s desire to fit all cars with speed limiters.
Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, was said to be opposed to the plans. A Government source told the Mail on Sunday McLoughlin had instructed officials to block the move because they ‘violated’ motorists’ freedom. They said: “This has Big Brother written all over it and is exactly the sort of thing that gets people's backs up about Brussels”.