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Road pricing petitions

February 20th, 2007 · Posted by Skuds in Politics/Technology · 1 Comment · Politics, Technology

Now there are two petitions: you can either petish against it or petish in favour of it.  Either way it won't make a lot of difference but go ahead if it makes you feel better.

Personally, although I drive a car (well.. own one anyway. Jayne won't let me drive very often) I can't get too worked up about it either way.   I think the principle is right, but worry that implementation would be put in the hands of a project manager who's main qualification is to have been responsible for a previous major government IT cock-up.

I think my misgivings are based around the feeling that it all sounds complicated, which would make it so much easier for those who drive the most, and drive the most in congested conditions, and therefore pollute the most would find it easier to exploit loopholes.  Perhaps they would all suddenly acquire cars which are officially registered as hire cars in Calais or something.

However if something is right but difficult does that mean you should abandon it, or instead try to find a way to make it easier – or find an easier way to get the same results.

I don't have a complete, coherent idea of how to sort out the nation's transport problems (I doubt if anyone does, although every thinks they do) but I have a few observations:

Putting money from road pricing into public transport need not be complicated.  Although some areas or routes need massive infrastructure investment, in many parts of the country it would be sufficient to just subsidise fares on buses.  To take my example, Jayne and I work near each other and can share the 10-minute car journey – 10 minutes because we get in before the rush. If we took the bus it would cost us £5.60 a day. Each. Or we could buy season tickets for about £50 a month each, which would work out at about a fiver a day between us.  Since we already have a car it is not costing us anywhere near that in petrol, and parking is free. 

The relatively high cost of public transport is acting as a disincentive to use it.  If that equation was changed you might get crowded buses at first, but that is the sort of demand which can lead to more buses being added to the routes instead of routes being wound down.

Did I just say parking is free?  Of course it is.  Our company puts aside a large chunk of land for car parking, and has even built a new multi-storey car park on valuable commercial land.  It must cost them a fortune so its a real benefit for us, and we are not even taxed on it.  It was the same in London, where a few parking spaces were rented from Network Rail for shift workers at great cost – and yet there is no way they would pay us anything towards our rail or bus fares. 

I am forever being told that motorists are being screwed over, and yet now I have changed from being a rail commuter to being a car commuter I find that my costs have gone down, are only a fraction of what it would cost on public transport even for the new shorter trip, and I am getting tax-free subsidy from my company on top of that.  If that is being exploited then I have to say its not a bad form of exploitation.

We all know how popular tax breaks are. Why not allow companies to pay for all or part of employees' rail or bus fares tax-free?  Once employees have a free train ticket (you can't just give them cash and trust them to spend it on a season ticket!) maybe they will use it, especially if company cars, company fuel cards and company parking were all taxed at their proper value.  Put a limit on it perhaps to encourage shorter journeys, and obviously don't make flights and taxis count as public transport for taxable purposes.

The other idea about road pricing is that it should be offset by reductions in other taxes like road tax or fuel duty.  Actually that would work out well for anyone in my postion of having a short journey which our flexible hours allow us to take before 7:30.  Might it encourage others to maybe move closer to work the next time they move instead of further away?  Might it encourage more companies to introduce flexible working hours?

One thing about the whole petition business is the assumption that the majority of the working population would be worse off.  I guess it is easy to assume, when you are stuck on a slow-moving M25, that everyone drives to work, but actually lots of people walk, cycle and take trains and buses, its just that you don't see them from the car window on the M25. Many of them would be unaffected by road pricing, and would actually be better off if revenues went into public transport initiatives.

But guess what?  They are statistically less likely to use the Internet, and if they have it they are less likely to use it – it will be for the kids.  They are also statistically less likely to be able to use the Internet at work.   When the round robin e-mails about the original petition went around they were less likely to reach those who do not drive into work, or who only drive short distances.  If any e-mails go around about the new petition, they will still not reach them. 

Think about it.  When the e-mail goes around the office of High Street Bank Plc it will go to the managers, the back room accountants, the brokers, the business advisors.  It will not go to the counter staff, the cleaners, the electrician.  When the e-mails go around Big Supermarket Ltd. they will go to the marketing department, the buyers, the HR department, but not the shelf-stackers, the fork-lift drivers, the checkout staff or the security guards.  Now which of those groups are more likely to be driving log distances in peak hours, as opposed to taking a bus at the start of a night shift?

Don't imagine that a website with petitions can be treated as some sort of referendum when large chunks of society do not have easy access to it, or the awareness that it exists.  The petitions are not being filled out by a representative sample of the population.

Road pricing is not some panacea, and it is certainly not an easy option, but on the other hand it is not something which will cost everybody an arm and a leg.  It would result in some winners and some losers, but the most likely winners would be the 'have-nots' and the most likely losers would be the 'haves' – and the recent scaremongering about it has been coming from the 'haves' who quite like the way the world helps out those who least need help.  Isn't this the sort of thing the Labour movement is supposed to be in favour of?

I doubt if it will happen, and if it did it would have no impact on me one way or the other, but I would rather sign the "yes" petition than the "no" one.  Opposing is much more fun than supporting anything and its easier, but in this case I will be positive.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Jane Skudder

    I hear Friends of the Earth may have some doubts about road pricing but I don’t have the details. It may be as much, as you say, about implementation and mankind’s endless search for the loophole as anything else. Speaking as one of those who does make about half of my commute by bus I just get fed up of those people who assume that buses are full of rabid asbo-hoodies and drug addicts. And those that assume that waiting more than two minutes at a bus stop (in central Bradford, heaven forbid) is a short cut to a mugging. The worst part is that some of them are my work colleagues….