By Paul Homewood

I’m surprised Roger Bootle has fallen for this nonsense.

Over the years I have been a strong advocate of road pricing – that is to say, charging motorists for their use of roads. Both Labour and Conservative governments have flirted with this idea but although they have established the odd toll road, they have shied away from introducing a full-blown system of road pricing for fear of the political consequences. But now the current Government is being pushed in this direction.

Having access to roads “free” at the point of use is hugely inefficient because it gives rise to what economists call an “externality”. When a driver considers whether or not to make a journey, of course they consider all the costs to themselves, both monetary and non-monetary, including delays. But they do not normally consider the costs that they are imposing on other motorists by increasing congestion. And these costs can be enormous.

Although electric cars do not have anything like the adverse environmental consequences that petrol and diesel cars do, they still contribute to congestion and congestion wastes time. At the personal level, it brings frustration, stress and anger. For businesses, it drives up costs. And the uncertainty about how long a journey is going to take brings added losses.

By contrast, if motorists faced a charge per mile, varied according to the level of congestion, time of day and other factors, then drivers could be incentivised to change their journey times and/or routes or even, at the margin, to decide not to make a journey at all or to share it with others. The result would be less congestion, shorter and more predictable journey times and a much more efficient use of our road network.

A comprehensive system of charging for road usage could also potentially be a major money spinner for the Government, as it either collected the pay-as-you-go revenues from road usage or banked a large lump sum gleaned from selling off the right to collect such revenues. This is one of the reasons why motorists have been so strongly against road pricing.

What he is saying is that you can drive if you are rich enough, but if you’re poor, hard cheese!

The road network is essential to the lifeblood of the country, and the freedom to drive wherever and whenever should be a fundamental right for everybody. It should not rationed.

Should we, for instance, charge to send children to school, or go into hospital, or when we call the police out? Of course not, so why should we pay to use the roads. They should be paid out of general taxation.

There is a very fundamental reason why road charging is grossly unfair, and that is that you pay the same whether you are a millionaire or pauper, whether you have a Maserati or Fiat 500, unlike of course the current system of fuel duty. It is therefore the poorer section who will bear the burden for these new charges.

Remember that often driving is not a luxury, but an essential, for instance travelling to work. It cannot be treated as if it were discretionary expenditure, like buying a bottle of wine.

On top of all this, of course, is the enormous cost of administering such a scheme. I note that there is talk of privatising this, so company profits will add another chunk of cost.

I am quite sure that these proposals would be thrown out if the public were given the chance to decide.


July 26, 2021