July 20, 2004

Stand and deliver

Mark | Road Pricing

Transport minister Alistair Darling, one of the legion of chauffeur driven Scottish lawyers who make up the British government and a man who, lest we forget, does not have driving licence, has plans to charge road users up to 134p a mile... within 10-15 years. Should such a thing occur and if I haven't emmigrated by that time, then I'll probably just give up work altogether and go on the dole.

I drive about 20,000 miles a year (that's the equivalent of living 40miles from work) and my 43mpg car uses roughly £0.10 worth of petrol for each mile covered which equals a £2,000 per year fuel cost.

This is a heck of a lot money taken from my post tax wages; however it's not much more than Zone 6 London Transport card or rail commuters from Worthing or Wiltshire would pay (which is heavily subsidised by us car driving taxpayers I might add) and, unlike rail hostages, I am able to decide to travel anywhere at anytime, portage a bicycle, sing along to the radio and not be in the company of yobs. Money well spent I say!

I said I used £2000 "worth" of petrol but that's not strictly true. In fact I use £600 "worth" of petrol because that is what it costs Shell, ExxonMobil or BP to suck the crude oil out of the Earth, transport it across oceans to a refinery, separate the various parts into bitumen, diesel, petrol, kerosene, vaseline and goodness knows what else and then deliver the bit I want to the pump and pay everybody in the chain for their labours. With all that going on it's no surprise that Shell creates more wealth than any other company in the United Kingdom.

Of course we aren't allowed to just pay Shell, etc for our fuel. No Her Majesty's Customs & Excise, aka Gordon's Gestapo, levy a duty on that fuel and then charges VAT (sales tax) on top of that (yes tax on top of tax). Thus the tax fraction of a tank of petrol is roughly 70 per cent!!! or £1,400 per year. What have they done for all that money? Oh yea built hundreds of concrete and metal hazards in the road so no-one can overtake nowhere no how. Thanks a bunch! Has anybody driven up the Graveley Road behind the Lister Hospital in Stevenage recently? It's infuriating it really is.

So where were we? Oh yes road charging. I'm not against tolls per se. I used to pay to traverse the Tamar Bridge every day. But what I really object to is a combination of incredibly heavy tolls and incredibly heavy fuel tax. 134p per mile! That's just taking the piss! It's extortion! To travel along the New Jersey Turnpike from where the Pennsylvania Turnpike crosses the Delaware River, near where George Washington did like wise, north of Philadelphia up to the Holland Tunnel costs $4.95 for the 60 miles. That's just 8.25 cents per mile. And, needless to say, you can also fill up your car's tank for $16 too. Rip-off Britain eh? Compare and contrast.

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Comments

134p/mile is the tabloid headline cost. It could cost me £5000 to fly across the atlantic, but it never has.
I think there really are some great arguments to charge people who drive on congested roads and who cause the marginal cost of using that road to be far above average cost, (your 10p/mile).
Alistair Darling has also explicitly said road use charging will replace some of the non-mileage based taxes.

Posted by Neil on July 20, 2004

Ostensibly, this charge would replace the other taxes. The theory being that it wouldn't make much overall difference to the average driver.

There are, however, two obvious downsides...

1, these old taxes will creep back in by the back door.

2, the ultimate in continuous surveillance.

Paying per mile, I don't object to - being tracked wherever I go (and you can be sure the buggers will find a use for the data) I vigorously object to.

Posted by Mark Ellott on July 20, 2004

On the upside, the government does appear to have accepted the principle of privately owned roads.

I don't like the idea of tracking people's movements either. I'd prefer a system such as E-ZPass, but with anonymous accounts or anonymous digital cash as described briefly in this article by David Chaum.

Posted by Andy Wood on July 20, 2004

(These arguments assume government-owned roads, just to get that idea out of the way)

I don't really care for the idea of paying per mile driven on so-and-so's road, if it means tracking. I actually rather like the two-tier pricing schedule in my state at least. A base tax on gasoline sales, as that charges those who use roads in general, not particularly high traffic roads. An additional cost for those roads that are very heavily trafficked (like the proposed roads in this state (MD)). Hopefully those will go for capital and capacity improvements to those roads. Therefore, you have tolls where it is worth collecting them, you don't have comprehensive tracking of drivers, and you don't have the shell game of 'we're not going to charge you those taxes, we'll charge these taxes instead.'

Does anyone think that governments will be able to reduce fuel taxes when roadway pricing is put into effect? Such an incentive to drive more would certainly be opposed by environmental groups. Plus, what government ever gave up revenue sources?

Posted by Highway on July 20, 2004

I don't think that governments would, or even should, give up fuel tax. It is rather more likely that they will give up non-mileage based taxes like VED and road tax.

The real barrier to road charging is not the privacy issues but the scale of technology which could manage all the cars at even one charging rate let alone several different rates based on time of day or whatever.

Posted by Neil on July 21, 2004

Just so you know, most commuter lines aren't that heavily subsidised (or at least they weren't in the good old days before pseudo-privatisation). Most of the subsidy for railways goes on almost completely empty rural services and white elephants like the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and the West Coast Route Modernisation.

And I suspect that what subsidy there is, is actually on a few of the more useless lines.

I ought to dig out the figures one of these days.

Posted by Patrick Crozier on July 25, 2004

jersey turnpike, eh?

how about the delaware memorial bridge. i think it used to be $2 each way or maybe $2 in one direction. but, the authority that collected the money is now so rich that it has diversified into buying airports and ports.

and, the delaware turnpike. it takes so much money that it is one of the reasons why there is no income tax/sales tax in the state of delaware.

darling's proposals would be a good idea if the treasury could be persuaded to adopt the concept of hypothecation or to ring fence the road fund tax (in whichever form collected). but, can you see any chancellor doing that?

Posted by pete on July 27, 2004

Road tax was hypothecated until 1926 when the then Conservative Chancellor tossed it into the general taxation pot. There was some House of Commons speech justifying the action but I've not been able to find it. By the way that Chancellor was a chap by the name of Winston Spencer Churchill.

Posted by Mark Holland on July 27, 2004

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