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Thinktank calls for massive increase in road funding with road user charging

Congestion on the UK’s road network is costing up £20bn a year according to research conducted by thinktank Policy Exchange.

The report, 'Towards Better Transport', suggests that traffic congestion is now, "endemic, affecting not just large cities but also the core motorway network and small towns."

Policy Exchange Chief Economist, Dr Oliver Hartwich said: "Britain's transport infrastructure is, quite simply, not fit for purpose and unable to meet the needs of a modern country.

"As a method of allocating a scarce resource, to ration roads without employing road user charges is comparable only with the Soviet system of queuing: something so discredited as to be considered ridiculous in almost every sphere of life but motoring."

Produced in cooperation with Serco and Bevan Brittan LLP, Towards Better Transport says the UK has the most crowded and congested roads, the fewest motorways, and some of the worst public transport among the leading industrialised countries. More than 1.6M passenger kilometres are travelled on each kilometre of Britain’s road network: more than twice the European average.

The research also suggests that the UK's road network is suffering from underinvestment. In 2006 private road users paid around £32bn in transport-related taxes. Of this, just £8bn was spent on the road network and of that, a significant proportion was spent on safety or other measures.

"Just 6% of passenger travel is undertaken by train, compared with 84% by car, yet the railways receive annual subsidies totalling almost £6.5bn – nearly as much as the government spends on roads," argues the thinktank.

Hartwich says road investment has become detached from consumer demand, making it difficult for planners to allocate expenditure efficiently.

They propose upgrading transport infrastructure now, and once users experience benefits, introduce the road user charges to cover the costs. Private finance should be allowed to fill the gap between the start of construction and collection of the revenue stream.

The report also argues for a significantly more devolved approach to transport. They say that small charges on congestion hot-spots would soon pay for improvements. "For example, a six-hour peak time weekday charge of 10p/km on a six-lane motorway priced to run close to capacity could in a year raise around £1.5 million per km – sufficient to pay for widening to eight lanes or indeed, to construct a brand new six-lane motorway in parallel."

Policy Exchange Chief Economist, Dr Oliver Hartwich Oliver Hartwich said: "While fuel tax is actually quite a good proxy for the carbon cost of motoring, it is a poor proxy for congestion; it is paid at the same rate by those travelling on country lanes at 3 o’clock in the afternoon as by those travelling on trunk roads during rush hour.

"Environmental arguments have been used to lend some legitimacy to governments' failures to match road supply to demand. However, even using the high estimates of the carbon cost of motoring contained in the Stern Review, these are covered more than four times over by fuel tax. Until an efficient economy-wide carbon tax is imposed, environmental justifications will remain nothing more than a smokescreen," he said.

Friends of the Earth's Transport Campaigner Tony Bosworth said: "Expanding Britain's road network would be environmental madness. UK carbon dioxide emissions have risen under Labour, despite promises of substantial cuts, and UK transport strategy is partly to blame. More road capacity will mean more traffic and more pollution. Road pricing could be part of the answer. But the revenue must be used to get people out of their cars and onto less polluting alternatives instead, not to build more roads."

The report echoes proposals made in a report from the RAC foundation in November.

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