Sunday 18 September 2011

Congestion and road pricing links

It's been an interesting couple of days in the wacky world of congestion and road pricing. First, the House of Commons Transport Committee tried to identify some ways to address congestion without resorting to road pricing and came up with ... not very much really, just a lot of well-meaning but essentially small-bore stuff about trying to make motorists behave better or think smarter, and the usual griping about roadworks. None of these are going to have a very big impact on congestion, as the committee probably knows. So this report is actually another piece of evidence in support of road pricing, if only by omission.

Secondly, a much less noticed but more rigorous analysis of the issue was provided by the IFS in its Mirrlees Review of Taxation, which looked at a range of issues including 'Taxes on Motoring'. They make the very important point that while the existing fuel tax regime acts as a sort of indirect tax on road use, increasing fuel efficiency has made it less and less effective in this role, which means that our only national brake on congestion gets weaker over time:

However it is done, we do not underestimate the political difficulties of introducing road pricing nationally. But in addition to the long-standing case for such a move, we need urgently to wake up to the fact that, if the UK and other countries are to meet their targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, petrol and diesel use by motor vehicles is likely to have to fall and eventually end as alternative technologies are introduced. This will leave the UK with no tax at all on the very high congestion externalities created by motorists. So, if we all end up driving electric cars, it seems that we shall have no choice but to charge for road use. It will be much easier to introduce such charges while there is a quid pro quo to offer in terms of reduced fuel taxes ... Of all the challenges raised in this volume, this seems to us one that is simply inescapable. It may be another ten years before change becomes urgent, but urgent it will become and the sooner serious advances are made to move the basis of charging to one based on congestion the better.
(emphasis added)

Lastly, Dave Hill of the Guardian makes the case for the crucial role of road pricing in particular and transport policy in general in fostering urban prosperity and quality of life here.

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