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Roads must be included as part of the UK's transport mix

The cost of motoring in the UK is too low and road user charging is needed urgently to redress the balance, argues NCE editor Antony Oliver.
It’s a long story involving a lawn mower, but I found myself driving on the UK motorway system between London and Birmingham last Friday and Saturday.
As I set off I was somewhat concerned. Usually London to Birmingham is a dead-cert train journey – surely only a madman would attempt this journey by car on a Friday afternoon?
Well given my luggage transportation requirements and time limitations I could see little option. I allowed plenty of time.
Yet the surprising thing was that, aside from the fact that I couldn’t read the paper, do any work or sleep en route, my car journey did actually work.
Not only did I get to my destination early, but I also was able to return home, as planned, having successfully negotiated several roadworks, the Friday rush hour into Birmingham and the Saturday morning rush hour into London.
And I arrived home with more luggage than even a standard intercity carriage would allow – let alone a Pendolino’s meagre allowance – and spent just £40 on petrol compared to the £70 demanded by Virgin.
OK, I realise that this time I got lucky. I will not be attempting to repeat my act of lunacy this weekend. But clearly the car provides the only realistic way to transport a large amount of luggage and crucially it also remains the cheaper alternative.
Hence my absolute conviction that we must support our roads as part of the UK’s transport mix. We must increase not only the amount we invest in the UK’s vital motorway network but also the amount the individual motorist pays for the privilege of using it.
While it is not right for every journey every time, the convenience and flexibility of the motor car is undeniable. Yet as my case demonstrated, it is still too cheap.
Worse still the majority of the cost that I did pay went directly to bolster the already burgeoning and over-inflated oil company profits reported this week. Of the cash I did pay to the Treasury most went towards health and education.
All of which underlines the case for road user charging, if not across the whole UK road network, at least on our motorways.
And according to a survey by the AA this week, 42% of motorists support the principle. OK there are still 45% who don’t agree, but surely only such a system will charge car-use fairly while also providing the cash to ensure that the road network is fit for purpose.
Just two riders. First is straightforward – abolish the vehicle road tax so as to directly link charging to usage. The second is a bit trickier – force oil companies to channel more of their profits into combating the environmental impacts of car journeys…harder and perhaps a separate subject of its own.

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