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Transport Minister Says Road Pricing Is Dead End

It appears that the government is softening its approach to the nation's motorists. Coming hot on the heels of the decision taken in the budget to cancel the increase in fuel duty, the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, appears to have ruled out a national network of toll roads in the UK.

It appears that the government is softening its approach to the nation's motorists. Coming hot on the heels of the decision taken in the budget to cancel the increase in fuel duty, the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, appears to have ruled out a national network of toll roads in the UK. Mr McLoughlin took a conciliatory tone with Britain's hard pressed car owners when he confirmed: "I'm not looking at ways of taking more money off the motorists. I think the motorist has been hit hard over time." The idea has been around since the previous Labour government considered pay as you go 'road pricing' as a potential solution to congestion. Under the scheme drivers would pay more to use roads at peak times. The proposal was abandoned though after some 1.8 million people signed a Downing Street petition opposing the scheme.
 
The idea did seem to be making a comeback in recent months with a Liberal Democrat transport minister, Norman Baker, supporting the policy. Tory back benchers have also backed the scheme and some discreet preliminary work is reported to have been carried out by the Department of Transport to enable toll charges on some key trunk roads. Mr McLoughlin's apparent U-turn comes as he appeared to ditch any policy of privatisation on Britain's major roads prior to the next election. Previously, Prime Minister David Cameron had said that he favoured allowing private companies to run the nation's major roads to "increase investment to reduce congestion." Under these plans roads would be leased for many decades to private consortia that would then be paid a portion of road tax to maintain the highways under their control. 
 
The road pricing approach was backed last year in an open letter to government by 32 leading transport academics. The letter stated: "Our cities are simply not equipped to take further growth in road traffic and the benefits of faster journey times on the strategic network risk being lost in greater congestion on local urban roads where the majority of journeys are undertaken." The academic group went on to call for "smart demand management measures" before addressing successive governments' reluctance to go down this route: "Understandably perhaps, your predecessors and the Treasury have ducked the issue of establishing a new congestion based system of pay as you go motoring. This could continue, but for how long? Tax revenues are forecast to fall as vehicle fuel efficiency improves to fulfil a major plank of your carbon reduction strategy." 
 
With such widespread backing, it seems the idea might not go away forever.

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