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Reason Foundation

UK debates road pricing

Samuel Staley
October 10, 2006, 9:18am

The United Kingdom is in the forefront of debates over road pricing. This article from the Transportation News Network has a revealing set of questions for those (like Reason Foundation) that support various pricing strategies:
Speaking at the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress debate on road pricing at ExCel in London today (Tuesday 10 October), James Hookham, FTA's Deputy Chief Executive, identified three potential road user reactions that politicians will need to overcome if road pricing is to be introduced nationally as the Government intends. 1. Why should I pay more when I already pay the most?British road users already pay the highest fuel taxes in Europe at 47.1 p per litre, so why should the Government help itself to even more of their hard earned money? The economic arguments of the need to pay the external costs of transport or the marginal social costs of road space will be hard pressed to overcome the injustice long felt by many road users about being the most highly taxed in Europe. 2. Why should I pay more when the service gets worse? Road pricing works by charging the road user more as roads become more congested. This is intended to dissuade journeys being made at congested times. Fine if you are an economist, but if you are a road user experiencing congestion and the cost of your journey has just gone up because of the delay, then you will find yourself paying a lot more for a much poorer service from the road network. It is like charging more for the food at a supermarket checkout because there are long queues, hoping that some people will put their goods back and go home. It would not be tolerated in the shops and those same consumers will take some persuading that this is fair on the roads. 3. Why should I pay when foreigners get to use the roads for free? Making foreign vehicles visiting the UK pay their fair share of road wear and tear costs has long been an aim of road pricing schemes aimed at lorries. With an estimated one in seven of the heaviest vehicles on UK roads coming from overseas, the road wear costs attributed to these vehicles is in the order of 240 million each year. But enforcing road pricing will require much better information about the ownership and identity of any non-UK based company operating trucks in the UK.

Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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