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Survey finds public support for road pricing

Public support for road pricing could rise from 19% to 47% if the full details are explained, an RAC Foundation-commissioned survey has found.

The public were surveyed on whether they supported a pay as you go, pay-per-mile firstly on principle, and secondly as a fully explained package with road tax abolished and fuel duty reduced.

Some 65% said they opposed the former but only 35% opposed the latter, suggesting that the public could be won over to road pricing. Meanwhile, 17% had neutral opinions on the full road pricing package.

“When the details are explained and they realise the benefits then the opposition falls away dramatically.”

Stephen Glaister, RAC Foundation

The figures come after Conservative MP Tim Yeo published a book last week calling for road pricing on motorways to incentivise the use of more low carbon modes of transport.

In Green Gold: The Case for Raising our Game on Climate Change, Yeo said: “So far most politicians have been reluctant to embrace the huge potential which a truly radical road pricing system offers.

“Since it could also pay for a cut in fuel duty the upshot would be a cut in the cost of driving for drivers who make little use of motorways.”

Difficult choices

RAC Foundation director Stephen Glaister said the survey results show motorists could welcome such a scheme. “Most people are instinctively opposed to road user charging when they think it is an extra tax,” he said. “But when the details are explained and they realise the benefits then the opposition falls away dramatically.

“People are very familiar with the principle of ‘pay as you go’. For example we are already charged for gas and electricity on the basis of how much we use.

“If politicians shy away from making difficult choices then so be it, but it will be the next generation which has to live with the consequences.”

“So far most politicians have been reluctant to embrace the huge potential which a truly radical road pricing system offers.”

Tim Yeo, Conservative Party

The survey found that the highest support for such a package was in the North West and South West of the UK. Londoners – who already experience a congestion charge – were the least opposed to the principle of road pricing.

The East of England was found to be the only region where net support for the scheme remained negative even after the details and benefits were explained. This could be a reflection of local contempt for tolls on the Dartford Crossing.

That issue came to a head this week when Tory MP for Dartford Gareth Johnson met with transport secretary Phillip Hammond to discuss congestion on the bridge. The Department for Transport said it will review the possibility of lifting the toll booths during times of severe congestion to ease delays. Licence plate recognition for free-flow charging will also be considered.

Readers' comments (5)

  • What are the benefits of having a 'pay as you go' system of road pricing? Is it actually that different from the current system? Currently the more driving you do the more fuel you use, the more fuel tax you pay. Hence by reducing fuel tax and making people pay per mile all we are doing is shifting the payment from paying directly at the pump to receiving a bill at some point later. The benefit of paying fuel tax at the pump is that people who use fuel less efficiently (either because of their choice of car or because they use their car in rush hour when driving is less fuel efficient) end up paying slightly less and those who use efficient cars when the roads are quiet end up paying more.

    Can anyone explain the rationale behind introducing this system rather than just looking at how the government distributes income from fuel tax to ensure that it goes back into road construction/maintenance?

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  • Barry Walton

    The ICE should be much more careful in its reporting There is not public support for road pricing. Here are the headlines from the survey.
    B Walton

    The main findings from the survey include the following:

    · 65% of British adults oppose, in principle, the introduction of a “pay as you go” system on motorways and major roads.

    · 46% of British adults support a charging system on the motorways and major roads which also contains measures including the abolition of road tax and a cut in fuel duty.

    · 58% of drivers agree that a ‘pay as you go’ system across all roads would make them think about how much they drive.

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  • The rationale behind moving towards a form of payment based on usage is to attempt to address increasing congestion. Increasing congestion is evidence that the current system is not addressing this problem effectively. As I see it there are 3 tools which can contribute towards alleviating congestion:

    1. Increased road space provision - however, this comes at significant cost and induces further demand, merely pushing congestion further into the future. In the current economic climate, it is not realistic to expect this to be the main part of the solution. It is naive to argue that the government should increase road spending to better reflect road and fuel tax revenue. Evidence suggests that governments have and continue to consider transport to be a less politically sensitive issue than health or education - recent widely reported headline cuts in different government departmental spending are further indication of this.

    2. Improved public transport - however, increasing 'peak' provision also comes at a signficant cost (again in economically difficult times). Furthermore, rail travel is limited to the existing network and cannot provide the point-to-point convenience of road travel. Bus/coach transport also suffers similar congestion problems to car travel.

    3. Road user charging - this provides a more direct link between usage and cost, and crucially allows the external cost(i.e. not felt directly by the user - cost imposed on other users through their increased journey times) to be captured. Currently, costs are aggregated over several journeys (a full tank of fuel) and are reflected through increased journey times. However, the 'lost time' is an imposed cost on everyone - individuals are not normally reimbursed for 'commuting time' and businesses suffer from reduced productivity.

    As (1) and (2) cannot realistically be expected to address congestion on their own, and society in general does not yet appear to be willing to reduce total travel, I see road user charging as being the only logical solution. As mentioned above, it would make individuals (and presumably businesses) really consider the need for travel and, importantly, the timing of the travel. Changes in timing of travel would allow better use of the existing network.

    Road user charging allows 'Peak pricing' to be applied. This is widely used in public transport - it centres around the idea that it costs more to provide additional capacity at peak times than off-peak. For example, during peak times it costs more to provide additional rail capacity (through additional rolling stock and investment in signalling, etc.), whereas off-peak the only costs are additional staff/electricity/diesel to operate more or longer trains. Likewise, to provide additional motorway capacity during peak hours on an already congested motorway, money usually has to be spent widening the motorway or installing hard shoulder running sytems, compared to 'free' available space on a motorway off-peak. Peak pricing allows directly charging the beneficiaries the cost of the additional capacity provision.

    However,there is obviously a high degree of hostility to road user charging from the public, who understandably perceive road user charging to be an additional tax. Therefore, as recommended by the RAC foundation (in "Governing and Paying for England's Roads"), road user charging needs to be sold as part of a revenue-neutral solution, which logically would include reductions in fuel and road taxes. The government needs to face up to this challenge and overcome public hostility and introduce road user charging whilst not compromising existing tax revenues.

    My personal preference would be a gradual move towards road user charging coupled with reducing road and fuel taxes. I think the final solution should include all 3 forms of taxation:

    1. Road user charging - allows cost-effective management of existing assets and helps control congestion (and associated pollution).

    2. Road tax - means of encouraging the public to use less environmentally damaging vehicles (in this era of global warming those who wish to use excessively polluting vehicles should pay a premium for them).

    3. Fuel taxes - it is a finite, environmentally damaging resource and should be taxed to reflect this.

    I see the 1st Step of this challenge being selling the idea of road user charging; the 2nd Step is finding the long-term balance between the above 3 taxes.

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  • Another benefit of retaining at least an element of paying at the pump is as an incentive to fuel efficient driving technique, that is reducing energy used in unproductive acceleration and braking.

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  • I think the debate on paying via fuel or payg is missing the point somewhat. The idea of toll roads is that the revenue can be collected by a private company, therefore the road can be sold off. Thus the capital expenditure can be recouped by the goverment and we can then reinvest that in something else. Operating expenditure becomes the highway owners problem. There is no way to collect the revenue effectivley for a private firm via fuel tax as far as i can see. If it will work or not? that is a different question...

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