A FAIR DEAL FOR THE MOTORIST
ENABLING HIGHWAY ROBBERY,
BYPASSING VOTERS AND DRIVERS?
GOVERNMENT FOLLOW UP TO COOK REPORT
SPRINGS THE ROAD PRICING TRAP
(for those lucky enough to be in England)
The government’s own response was published on 24 May 2012. It is written in such awkward language that it can be interpreted in many ways. The DFT recommendations are given at the end (see below) with some questions, but here’s some context on possible developments.
Euro vision, nul points
Government assurances that they won't bring in road pricing (for cars) or prepare for same in this Parliament are looking pretty worthless.
Two pointers that the threat will arise in the next Parliament (i.e. after 2015): Firstly, they seem to be marching to an EU drumbeat, which wants a big push for road pricing from 2015/6.
Secondly, after hints from the RAC Foundation, the Treasury has been persuaded that fuel duty revenues will wane. – either through people travelling less, use of more fuel-efficient vehicles or (unlikely) the move to hyped electric vehicles. (Ironically, these would all be the result of tax-hungry or coercive government policies!)
Some might easily put money on the
strategy being to bring in the lorry road user
charge (‘LRUC’, in England) to get road pricing working, THEN roll it out to all vehicles. (The 2014/5 timescale
for the Galileo satellite matches that proposed for the LRUC).
General excuses for road pricing
The possible ‘reasons’ for wanting
road pricing include:
Some think that pricing private motorists off the road would give 'more reliable' journey times to business travellers, but I'm not so sure about the gains. Particularly on main roads where large vehicles are limited to 62mph or less.
Not needed to save the planet
The EU consultation launched in August 2012 hints at making money for infrastructure - including using road pricing revenue to tempt private investors with a secured income stream.
The EU questionnaire is highly leading, hinting at a more centralised European Electronic Toll Service, where drivers are charged by distance travelled rather than for a period of time, and for ‘externalities’ such as carbon emissions.
As for the ‘need to reduce carbon emissions’, even those who accept the suspect ‘science’ should note that in May, the EU judged that Britain was well on track to meet its national target without the need for additional policies, and would probably exceed it.
Not needed to avoid ‘gridlock’
As for the ‘doom and gloom’ predictions, the DFT has been wrong before. Several commentators disagree that there will be a massive percentage growth in traffic and universal ‘gridlock’.
Transport analyst Christian Wolmar rejects the belief of the RAC Foundation’s Prof Stephen Glaister’s that future growth demand will be mostly on roads.
“There has been no increase in road
traffic in last 10 years if you look at the figures,” says Wolmar. “Some of
that is to do with pricing and there has been some transfer from road to
rail”. In other words, road usage may have reached its peak.
This probably reflects increased travel times by car as roads became more congested, population redistribution to the big cities, particularly London, and higher density living. Unless the Government went back to massive road building and building on green belt land, then this is a permanent trend,” he suggests.
CHAMPIONING GOVERNMENT AND EVEN ANTI-MOTORIST INTERESTS?
The media just fell for a bland comment that the Government just accepted much of the Cook Report, and didn’t really look too deeply into the response.
Letting loose the Highways Agency as an asset developer, with due management perks, was not accepted – for now – its track record is hardly inspiring. However, there are some developments of concern:
Report Recommendation 3
- plenty of ticks against the EU tick-list.
Now you don't need too much
imagination to construe that if HMG appoints road pricing advocates and even anti-car
fanatics as 'voice of the driver', that 'voice' might duly 'demand' that the
government imposes road pricing to achieve desired sociological, 'environmental'
or even 'performance' ends!
Charging for 'new infrastructure' was just one example in the Cook report.... any money on charging for using existing roads being lined up as a solution?
Road pricing pundit Scott Wilson reckons that private investors will pressure the government to replace existing motoring taxes with tolls. Experience has shown that new toll roads by themselves are not viable, as they do not compete with ‘free roads’. For this to change, existing capacity either has to be regularly and heavily congested – or become tolled. (See article on plans for the A14 in Cambs.)
REPRESENTING INTERESTS – BUT ARE THEY MOTORISTS?
The Motorists’ Forum was a tame body set up by John Prescott, the former Labour Transport Secretary who was ideologically committed to driving people out of their cars. Hardly surprising that he set up a forum representing mainly political and commercial interests, although a minority interest (disabled drivers) was represented.
Look at the current representation – which amazingly includes a representative of an anti-motorist group,
It is fascinating to explore the interests represented on the Forum, and their track record. Some are commercial (e.g. ABI, BVRLA, FTA, SMMT) or government (e.g. DFT, TFL); and there are the controversial private company run by chief police officers (ACPO) and lobbyist forum PACTS.
None are truly representatives of grass roots drivers.
NEXT STEPS – WATCH THIS SPACE
Some ‘Next Steps’
are given....please note a certain cynicism.
[NB Cook was duly reappointed.]
The original ‘Cook Report’
(p66, p75) regards ‘route based strategies’ as an opportunity for local and
national government to ‘build a consensus’ on tolling routes that are currently free.
Cook envisages discussion in a local context involving local highways
authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (which seem to be half-seconded
from local councils).]
This is not just a DFT initiative – DFT is working closely with the Treasury, who have a major financial interest in national infrastructure. Under new guidelines, measures for ‘demand management’ (which may include ‘access rationing’) are to be considered in infrastructure planning.
By pure coincidence, the Treasury ‘Infrastructure UK’ Advisory Board includes a representative of Arup, a consultancy that collaborates with RACF over promoting road pricing.
Again, by pure coincidence, a report advocating road pricing was produced by the ‘connectivity commission’ of the lobbying group, London First, the Chairman of whose Board is from Arup. One of their ‘commissioners’ is from a consulting firm linked to asset sell-offs, and another from a specialist company in ‘Intelligent Transport Systems’ – a term that covers tracking and charging technology. Then there’s an executive of Australian bank Macquarie, who own the currently loss-making M6T toll road!
This London First report also gives a plug for the ‘Cook report’.
Tracking our movements?
Another coincidence is that Sir Mark Walport has just been appointed to the Infrastructure UK - NO2ID reminds us that under the last government, he promoted widespread data sharing between government departments.
The European Commission is another party with an interest in both road pricing and population databases enabling government agencies to search across records of where we go, what we spend and whom we talk to. (See Statewatch’s ‘Digital Tsunami’ report).
Apart from the surveillance possibilities, there is the prospect of the UK government (or its licensees) looking at money-making opportunities from selling extracted data or using it for marketing purposes.
Before scowling that she did not support a freeze in fuel duty, then-Transport Secretary Justine Greening had gone on about how her Department needed to show ‘acts of love’. Sounds like drivers are just to be loved for their money – and to think that Chancellor (and Treasury boss) George Osborne actually believes that “This Government has done more to support motorists than any other”.