February 24, 2002
Every motorist in Britain will be monitored by satellite and charged for using busy routes under plans being presented by the government’s transport commissioner this week.
Under the proposals cars would be fitted with a global positioning device and drivers billed for sitting in traffic jams.
In a report to be published tomorrow, the Commission for Integrated Transport, chaired by David Begg, claims that the charges could reduce road congestion by up to 44 percent, saving 219 million human-hours, without increasing the overall tax burden.
The scheme would work by fitting all cars and lorries with a unit linked to a satellite covering the nation’s road network.
Drivers would be charged according to how busy the roads are and the time they are used. The scheme would be expected to raise £5.7 billion a year.
Prof. Begg, who was appointed to the commission three years after successfully introducing measures to curb car use in Edinburgh, where he was the city council’s transport convenor, suggested that vehicle excise duty and fuel duty be reduced to compensate motorists for the charges on busier roads, making the scheme tax-neutral.
He would prefer to see car tax scrapped altogether and fuel duty reduced by 2p per litre.
He said the proposals would be introduced once the public transport improvements promised in the government’s 10-year Transport Plan had been delivered so that drivers priced off the road would have an alternative.
Under the plan, an 80-mile journey from London to Rugby would cost £3.40. A journey of the same mileage on the M25 from Maidstone to Luton would cost £9.50.
Someone who commuted from Brighton to Croydon would pay £14 per day, but Prof. Begg says that the journey time would be cut by one-third to one hour, saving almost five weeks of working time per year.
“Our starting point was that roads are the only public utility that is free at the point of use. As a result, everyone wants to use the most popular roads at the same time, causing gridlock,” he said.
Although decisions on implementing the plan will be taken by ministers, the government has already mooted the possibility of using GPS technology to clamp down on speeding.
Edmund King, the director of the RAC Foundation, the motorists’ organization, said that charging would work only as part of a package that included spending to remove bottlenecks from the road network and introducing better traffic management.
“The other concern is that there would be obvious unfairness: drivers in rural areas would be much better off, whereas if you are a public-sector worker or on a lower income in the South-East you would be worse-off,” he said.
The proposals could find favour with business, however. The Confederation of British Industry calculates that traffic congestions costs employers £18 billion per year in lost time and lost business caused by delays.
Digby Jones, the director-general of the CBI said: “Reducing the multi-billion-pound cost of road congestion is a top business priority and making the way we all pay for road use fairer has to be part of the solution but the policy and practical implications are complex, as recent experience in London shows.” Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, is expected to say this week that he will impose a £5 charge on motorists entering the city centre from next year. Westminster city council is threatening legal action to block the move.
Toronto’s magic bullet
The satellite tolling proposal was first circulated six years ago by Urban Renaissance Institute‘s Lawrence Solomon, when he suggested using satellite technology to toll vehicles and rein in road building and maintenance expenses, stem urban sprawl, ease traffic flow, reduce air pollution, and eliminate city governments’ financial dependence on provincial and federal levels of government.
Read “Toronto’s magic bullet,” Larry’s most recent article advocating satellite tolling published by the National Post, please go to: urban.probeinternational.org/torontos-magic-bullet