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Tolling UK Roads – Is it a Good Idea?

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As a motoring journalist I get supplied with test cars from manufacturers. I appreciate I’m privileged, but I also have two of my own so I know about the cost of everyday motoring. One is the family runabout, used mostly by my wife for work and shipping the kids around. The other stays in the garage on a trickle charger and comes out on sunny days. Here’s what really winds me up; one does 12,000 miles a year, the other doesn’t do anywhere near 1,200. And yet I still have to pay exactly the same Vehicle Excise Duty – aka road tax – every year. Where is the fairness in that?

It might be a controversial opinion, but the sooner we all switch to a system of ‘pay-as-you-go’ road-charging in the UK, the better. I want to be charged for the miles I do, not the miles I don’t.

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Currently, this is a hot topic where I live. If any of you are familiar with the joy that is the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, you will know what I’m talking about. It’s been dreadful for years and is getting worse. There’s simply too much traffic for dual carriageway, particularly as it’s the only route into East Anglia from the Midlands and takes all the lorries to and from the ferry ports on the Suffolk/Essex coast.

A £1.5 billion scheme to upgrade it has been in the pipeline for years and one of the current proposals to help pay for it is a tolled section. I say bring it on! I will happily stick my hand in my pocket – and the suggestion is only £1 for cars – if it speeds up my journey.

People will say we fork out billions in taxes already, so why should we be liable for more? It’s a fair point. But in the current financial climate we have to accept that education and health are going to take priority over building new roads. So if we want to make the A14 better we’re going to have to help fund it.

I don’t see the problem with that. We wanted central London to be less choked up with vehicles and their emissions, and now we’ve got it. If you need to drive in there, you can. We wanted less traffic on the M6 through Birmingham and now there is. If you don’t fancy getting stuck, take the M6 Toll. The difference with both these schemes is you have to pay a few quid for the privilege – where’s the harm in that?

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The obvious natural progression is continuous charging. If I want to drive to the village shop in my car, I can. It might cost me 10p. If I want to do it during peak time, it might be double that. I get a bill at the end of the month and pay for the trips I’ve made. Yes, we’ll all need to have black boxes fitted in our cars so our movements can be monitored. Critics say it’s an invasion of personal liberties and human rights. They’re probably right, but I don’t have a problem with that and I don’t see why anyone else should either. If you’re not planning to rob the store while you’re there, or murder the lollipop man for slowing you down on the way, what’s the issue?


Thanks to John Spink, Mick Malpass and Chris Downer for the use of the images under the Creative Commons Licence.

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