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With new free-flow tolls like the Dartford Crossing opening for the first time last weekend, amongst the ambiguity there was praise for the reduction in daily congestion that the toll now provides.
But concerns remain as to whether the implementation of free-flow tolls at Dartford will pave the way for a roll-out of the same technology across Britain and the wider motorway network.
The Government has responded to remind onlookers that road charging has never been part of its strategy for Britain’s mainstream network, aside from ‘special’ roads such as bridges and the M6 Toll. However, in 2012 the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and economic research institute estimated that based on figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility, the increase in more efficient cars would leave the government £13 billion down in lost revenue by 2029.
So, how could this loss of revenue be replaced? Road use has been readily suggested as one of the more sustainable tax revenues of the future.
Colin Sowman, editor of tolling industry trade magazine ITS International said: “Revenues from road pricing would not erode as vehicles become more efficient, and the charge – assuming it varied by where and when the driving occurred – would provide the right signals to deal better with variation in congestion costs.”
Edmund King, President of the AA, said: “The Government does face a dilemma because as cars gradually become more fuel efficient and, ultimately, hybrid and electric, the fuel duty tax take will diminish. This is why [the US state of] Oregon introduced a pay-as-you-drive system – not because of congestion, but because of falling taxation due to improved gas efficiency.”
So, if road charging is inevitable, will charges have to be levied on top of, rather than in lieu of the fuel tax and VED? A recent poll conducted by the AA found that drivers were evenly divided on whether pay as you drive tolls were fairer than fuel duty/VED, yet 93 per cent felt the government was incapable of introducing a fair system of tolls.
Neil Addley, managing director of TrustedDealers.co.uk said: “As sure as eggs are eggs, oil will go back up in price and fuel duty with it, so the idea of creating yet another tax on Britain’s beleaguered motorists is surely a non-starter and would be political suicide.”
For this reason, King and many other motoring bodies believe that the introduction of road pricing is still ten years away, and with the forthcoming election next year, if any party was to introduce the policy it would prove highly unpopular if not damning to their campaign.
However, as cars continue to increase in efficiency and the freeze on fuel tax continues it doesn’t seem possible that the issue will go away, but which politician will be brave enough to speak out about it first?