UK Government Funded Study Calls For Mileage Tax, Satellite Tracking Boxes in All Cars
The biggest shake-up in the history of British motoring is to be outlined in a government-funded study that proposes a national toll scheme to charge drivers up to 90p a kilometre (£1.45 a mile) for using the nation's roads.
The Observer has obtained a draft copy of the year-long investigation into the feasibility of road-user charging, which reveals that the revolutionary new scheme could slash congestion in half, saving Britain from a devastating transport crisis.
Compiled by motoring organisations, environmentalists, government officials, economists and transport experts, the study was ordered by Transport Secretary Alistair Darling last year in a clear signal that satellite charging could be the only way to tackle rising levels of traffic and delays.
The scheme, which would involve fitting Britain's 30 million cars with electronic chips linked to satellite and charging for every kilometre travelled, could raise more than £10 billion a year for the Treasury and boost the economy by another £12bn through better transport links.
The draft road-pricing report, due to be published this month, stresses it is up to the government to decide whether to press ahead with a national charging system, but says such pricing would 'unblock roads, to the benefit of the economy and the environment'. The report adds: 'The real issue is that, without road pricing, we all lose - by higher and higher amounts as the years go by and congestion grows.'
The findings are likely to ignite a fierce battle between motoring groups, who want car taxes cut, and environmental lobbies and many transport experts, who argue charging must be implemented as soon as possible.
'The central issue is the recognition that road capacity is not going to be expanded to keep pace with traffic growth, and that means there's no alternative but to tackle growth. Road pricing is a powerful instrument to do that,' said Phil Goodwin, professor of transport studies at University College London. 'There isn't a more popular alternative on offer to [politicians] if they want to control or improve travelling conditions.'
The documents, which also outline 10 other suggestions for cutting congestion, reveal most charges would be in urban areas and on trunk roads, especially in peak hours, while more than half of drivers could pay less than they do now to use the roads.
They put forward 11 different models, most involving eight to 10 levels of charge, depending on traffic numbers on a particular road. At the highest price considered, with a cap of 87p per kilometre in today's terms, congestion could be cut by half in urban areas and one third on trunk roads. But the report says only 0.5 per cent of drivers would pay the top fee.
Ministers have also indicated that some, if not all, of the money raised will be offset by cuts in fuel duty and possibly scrapping vehicle tax discs. Nor would it be necessary to set the prices so high: one model examined would charge no more than 20p a kilometre; another showed just having charges in London and other main conurbations would reduce urban delays by 44%, but trunk road hold-ups by only 10%.
In a poll of motorists carried out for the study group, the 'vast majority' of drivers did not want to pay more, but six in 10 would accept a change if overall taxes did not rise, and two thirds would if there were good alternatives. Privacy worries about satellite-tracking was not a 'major issue' for 62%, but a sizeable minority held 'strong views'.
Before then, more local authorities could be encouraged to introduce local charges - like those in London and Durham - by getting money for transport or cutting local taxes. New roads could also have tolls before then, it suggests.
Last week the DoT appeared to have already acted on the last suggestion, announcing plans for a new 50-mile toll motorway between Birmingham and Manchester.
Currently, it would cost £3bn to fit the fleet of 30m vehicles with £100 of equipment - plus the expense of collection and enforcement.