Cambridgeshire company directors have
called for a national debate on the introduction of a ‘road pricing’
system that charges motorists for travelling on certain routes as a
means of preventing worsening traffic congestion.
With road congestion already estimated to
cost the country £23 billion annually, members of the Eastern Branch
of the Institute of Directors (IoD) believe that the government’s
10-year transport plan will be ineffective in stemming the relentless
increase in car journeys.
While acknowledging that ‘road pricing’
could generate significant political opposition, they argue that
radical steps are needed to encourage more people to use public
transport and to help finance new road building schemes. Road pricing
would be more acceptable to motorists if toll charges were matched by
cuts in fuel taxes, they claim.
“We know this is a contentious issue,”
said Eastern Branch chairman Stephanie Smye. “However, decisive
action is needed to cope with escalating motor traffic which the
government anticipates will grow by between 17 per cent and 22 per
cent over the 2000 to 2010 period, depending on the success of its
10-year £59.1 billion roads investment plan.
“Even the lower figure means congestion
would rise by 15 per cent across the road network and by 28 per cent
on the inter-urban trunk network. It is obvious that pressure on urban
routes throughout the county and the A14 and Cambridge in particular
will be intolerable.”
In contrast with government spending
plans, the AA calculates that investment in roads needs to rise from
£6 billion in 1999 to £9 billion annually by 2003/04 just to cope
with the backlog of repairs and improvements and then build steadily
to £12 billion annually by 2007/08.
The IoD believes that introducing road
pricing could even encourage private investors to finance the
construction of new traffic routes in return for the income from toll
Between 1952 and 1999 the total number of
vehicle kilometres travelled by cars and taxis rose by 1,300 per cent
from 30.6 billion to 380.1 billion while total road lengths increased
by just 25 per cent. Cars and taxis now account for 81 per cent of
motor vehicle traffic.
Over the same period the number of
passenger kilometres travelled by car, van and taxi rose from 58
billion to 621 billion, or from 27 per cent to 85 per cent of all
passenger kilometres travelled. In contrast, the number of bus and
coach vehicle kilometres increased only slightly from 4.1 billion to 5
billion while the total distance travelled by bus passengers more than
halved from 92 billion to 45 billion kilometres.
Miss Smye added: “The government’s
10-year transport plan hopes to achieve a 50 per cent increase in rail
passenger traffic but that would account for only three per cent of
road passenger traffic by 2010 and rail travel is not a viable
alternative for many travellers.
“Currently only 14 per cent of road
user taxation is actually spent on roads. Road pricing would be far
more acceptable if there were commensurate cuts in other road taxation
and if the money raised was spent on improving the road
“The growth in car ownership is being
powered by improving levels of household income and social trends that
result in more women drivers and more single person households. At
present people simply fill their cars with petrol and pay for their
tax disc without considering the wider costs of motoring, such as the
impact on the environment, road damage and accidents.
“Advocates of road pricing claim that
it reflects the full costs of vehicle usage and would therefore
encourage some motorists to change their behaviour. However, opponents
believe it would be discriminatory because wealthy motorists would
simply pay the tolls while poorer people would be unable to afford
“However, electronic toll systems
already operate in some parts of the world, such as Australia, the
USA, France, Italy and Norway, and could be progressively introduced
in the UK if an equitable system could be devised.”
Miss Smye believes the future of road
pricing in Britain may depend on the success of London mayor Ken
Livingstone’s plans to introduce a £5 charge on vehicles entering
central London between 7 am and 7 pm with cameras at 112 entry points
checking registration plates.