Bloody stupid idea

Officials have considered a new “two-tier” road tax system as part of a Government review of transport funding, it emerged yesterday.

The scheme would see drivers who only drive locally and stay off major roads paying a lower rate of Vehicle Excise Duty than those who use motorways.

That means you\’ve got to track everyone who does use the motorways. At some cost you understand.

There\’s a much easier way. Eliminate VED and whack the money onto fuel duty.

37 thoughts on “Bloody stupid idea”

  1. Tell you what, we could even agree this is the way to go, say, Europe-wide. I wonder if there’s an organisation there with the means and clout to get all the governments going the same way? That way, they can end their petty disputes about how many foreign cars from where are driving on their roads and are or aren’t paying something for it.

    And most importantly, put a stop to the stupid solution an increasing number of them are introducing – namely of making everyone buy a bloody windscreen sticker. What a waste of time, tearing down the immigration and custom booths only to replace them with kiosks selling stickers.

  2. The principle sounds fine, so long as it was being done as the motorways were being built.

    But to do it now is just stupid as the infrastructure costs (and the huge change to society) are soo high that it would not be worthwhile, especially when other methods are available.

  3. >you’ve got to track everyone
    This is a feature, not a bug — it will be another excuse used to prop up the money-pit that is the Galileo GPS-alike.

  4. Tracking cost is no longer significant: a smartphone app could easily cover it (tracking tech of Runkeeper combined with the security of mobile banking apps, job done).

    Putting it on fuel means someone who commutes from Thurso to Wick is paying the same as someone who uses congested roads, which defeats the entire point.

  5. tracking tech of Runkeeper

    You reckon the government wouldn’t find a more expensive, less accurate version of, say, Apple Maps?

    combined with the security of mobile banking apps, job done

    For the fraudsters, possibly. Some mobile banking app security is dire.

  6. The tracking is the real point of the exercise. The CC is a barely self-financing system of tracking londoners, and together with the Oyster card covers most journeys.

  7. “Putting it on fuel means someone who commutes from Thurso to Wick is paying the same as someone who uses congested roads, which defeats the entire point.”
    Uh? Fuel consumption is much higher on congested roads. A fuel tax would produce the result required. Which is why most countries use it.

  8. “There’s a much easier way. Eliminate VED and whack the money onto fuel duty.”

    I’ve been saying this for years. Make the VED tax a nominal fee for inspecting state of insurance, MOT etc, and increase fuel duty to make it neutral for someone doing, say, 10000 miles with a 35mpg vehicle. If one wants to incentivise manufacturers to improve efficiency, increase the mpg; conversely if one wants to discourage driving (e.g. for reason of congestion, or because public transport has been invested in and improved), decrease the mileage.

    I own a 1.8 Mondeo which is in VED tax band J. But I only drive <2000 miles per year, so it's not really a tax on its /actual/ emissions, is it?

  9. Not to mention charging for motorways is immoral – some people (possibly a very large margin) will avoid the motorways – the safest roads there are, and instead use those long, windy country roads, the most dangerous roads there are.

    Selectively charging for motorways kills people. CF the road death rate in England, Germany and other places with almost entirely free motorway networks against countries with charged-for motorway networks.

  10. Fuel duty is also (as already mentioned) an excellent congestion charge, and has the other benefit of encouraging people to use more fuel-efficient vehicles.

    Its hard to think of a better type of pay-per-use tax. It achieves several ends at once and the tax itself is far harder to evade or defeat than any tracking system would be. Imagine the number of people who would use fake numberplates to avoid a tracking/charging system, thus invalidating their insurance when they caused a pile-up.

  11. Fuel efficiency is maximised at about 50mph. Motorway speeds in heavy but still flowing traffic are about 50mph. The suggestion that fuel duty is in any sense a good proxy for traffic density is ridiculous.

    I agree that charging for motorways isn’t sensible in and of itself, because of perverse incentives.

    A full national system covering all roads based on overall levels of congestion would be far preferable (most importantly, with a switch by time of day: the M1 has plenty of capacity at 3AM).

  12. We do about 150 miles a week within 3 miles of the house. Probably use the motorway 20 times a year, though half of that is twice a year nipping to a local trade show every day the show is on. So most of the year not using the motorway at all.
    Whats the betting that government will want to charge for motorway use but not reduce fuel tax?

  13. @Curmudgeon, I wonder what the congestion charge on the A57M would bring in.

    @John B, free-flowing traffic at 50mph isn’t a situation in which we want to discourage driving – we want to discourage driving in the stop-start traffic on blocked, congested roads. For which fuel duty functions as an excellent congestion charge. A motorway running at capacity at speeds slightly slower than we are capable of is not congestion.

    I also wonder, per vehicle mile, which are the cheapest roads to maintain? Could it possibly be the motorways?

    I’d argue that charging what the market will bear simply because the market will bear it is fine for privately-provided goods and services but not generally the done thing with publicly-funded goods and services (heaven knows enough of them are provided at well below cost) – with these any charges should take account of costs rather than profit margins. But that’s a political position and motorists have long since been paying far more than the cost of providing the services they use.

  14. Or… here’s a radical idea… The government changed the rules to influence public behaviour. We have changed our behaviour by buying more efficient cars and revenues from transport have fallen. Tough. Titty. We’ve done exactly what they wanted and now they are coming up with ideas to penalise us.

    If they didn’t expect a fall in revenue they are idiots.

    I’m in agreement with The Sage – this will be added to the list of specious reasons for keeping Galileo going.

  15. As more and more people have hydbrid tech and stop/start on their vehicles, increasing fuel duty becomes less and less a proxy for a congestion charge.

  16. Not sure how much hybrid tech or stop/start is around. Maybe penalising those who haven’t purchased a new car recently? Or those who cannot be bothered to purchase something newish?

  17. Surely there can’t be any rational policy justifiction for moving people off relatively efficient motorways onto grossly inefficient minor roads, stopping at traffic lights every few hundred yards?

  18. @Martin Davies,

    I have a great idea. Why not pay people a lump sum to scrap their old cars and buy new cars? We can pay for it out of the taxes they are no longer paying because they have a more efficient car. And we could create lots of votes oops sorry jobs if we did that too!

  19. Tracking cost is no longer significant: a smartphone app could easily cover it (tracking tech of Runkeeper combined with the security of mobile banking apps, job done).

    The cost is not the basic technology of tracking, it is in forcing people to be tracked. The smartphone app is no use if the driver switches off their phone during the journey, so do we install this app on a tamperproof box to be fitted to every car? Fuel duty is not perfect, but it works well enough in practice.

  20. People are doing something you don’t want, because it’s better for them? I know, let’s wipe-out the advantage by taxing it into nonexistence. That’s clearly going to be a better solution than offering them a more attractive option.

    The reality is that in many cases motorways are the best option currently available – but that needn’t be the case. Or rather, driving on them needn’t be the way to use them. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but we could cut three-lane motorways down by a lane to build train tracks, then run (express) car-transporting trains with significantly higher capacity, lower journey times, increased safety, and reduced financial and opportunity costs. Say one stop every fifty or a hundred miles, and 100MPH average speed including stops and acceleration. Over just 100 miles you’re saving enough time over driving at 70MPH to make up for loading and unloading time.

  21. Richard>

    “Surely there can’t be any rational policy justifiction for moving people off relatively efficient motorways onto grossly inefficient minor roads”

    Of course there can be. If your intention is to encourage less car use by making it less attractive, it’d work fine. Not that I’m supporting the idea, of course – as I think I’ve made clear, I reckon the right way to decrease car usage is by making alternatives more attractive.

  22. James – my old car is working fine. Now if you want someone to swap it as a straight swap for a new one go ahead. But otherwise a new car is outside my current budget.
    On the other hand, having had the engine basically rebuilt last year (cambelt went), the car will probably run with only minor repairs for some years to come.
    Looking to trade it in against a 3 seater van with automatic gearbox or hand controls in a year or two – 2nd hand and converted if necessary.

    Remember a few years back, the car scrappage scheme? Benefitted workers in Spain, Poland, South Korea and Germany. Not so sure it benefitted workers in the UK beyond car dealership staff.

  23. I expect some awareness of irony among Brits. Not among the Germans I spend my daily life with. For them, I need to add tags. [/Achtung: Ironie]

  24. I thought that the completely obviously fake “votes oops sorry jobs” slip was a sufficient “don’t take this at face value” indicator as far as interwebs comments go. Personally. YMM(ifow)V. IMNSHO. Etc, etc.

  25. So Much for Subtlety

    10 JamesV – “Selectively charging for motorways kills people. CF the road death rate in England, Germany and other places with almost entirely free motorway networks against countries with charged-for motorway networks.”

    Correlation is not causation. Incompetent low trust societies like Italy and France may have a lot of people who don’t give a damn about their neighbours and so drive badly. But they may also have governments who don’t give a damn about anyone as well and so can’t manage a free national highway network. Meanwhile, a few countries with higher trust may produce polite drivers who don’t kill so many people. And governments engaged in something other than the looting of the public treasury.

    I think that calling any tax immoral because it might encourage people into more dangerous behaviour is a slippery slope we don’t want to go down.

  26. Yeah, correlation is not causation but you can look at motorways vs other roads within countries too.

    It’s on motorways you hear of “pile up involving 90 cars, 3 people slightly hurt”, and those country roads where teenagers drive up trees every night.

    And if a tax encourages people to involve in more dangerous behaviour, as a selective tax on motorway driving unquestionably would – at the margin – that to me is the most immoral tax imaginable. That’s a slippery slope I am proud to point out.

  27. The cost is not the basic technology of tracking, it is in forcing people to be tracked.

    Sporadic license plate cameras, gbp1000 fine if you’re on the motorway without a tracker.

  28. The problem is neither motorways nor distance. It’s congestion and congestion is time-related.

    Put charging devices on congested roads and set the rate by time. Once again, Singapore has it right.

  29. Sporadic license plate cameras, gbp1000 fine if you’re on the motorway without a tracker.

    License plates can be copied, as happens with the London congestion charge. What is the level of proof required in court? Do we need a picture of the driver as well? What is the admin cost of running the cameras and matching up images with data received from the smart phone apps?

  30. License plates can be copied, as happens with the London congestion charge.

    As was alleged would happen but basically doesn’t. But fine, auto-detect the make and model of car as well.

    What is the admin cost of running the cameras and matching up images with data received from the smart phone apps?

    Not very much, based on the countless gateless toll systems worldwide that already find it more cost-effective to match up number plate data with electronic pass data than to use any other combination.

  31. Look, the idea fails “this makes life unnecessarily difficult for ordinary Joe Bloggs” test.

    A few years ago, on one of my regular driving trips to the UK, I drove across London. And wondered thereafter if I’d unwittingly entered the CC zone. Figured with a German-registered car it wasn’t worth worrying about, but it might have been.

    Similarly, you might find yourself driving across Germany at some point. In some towns, mine included, you need a coloured sticker in the windscreen showing your vehicle particulate emissions class (euro 2/3/4). Indeed in several places you can only enter with a euro 4 (green) sticker. Note that this is all determined by every town and canton on a local basis. And yes, it applies equally to foreign vehicles. The sticker costs about 10 euro but do ensure you apply for it (at any German vehicle registration office, during their opening hours) before entering such a town.

    Who gets to drive on which road in what vehicle and what taxes and fees they have to pay for it is a decision that needs to be centralised as far as possible. The libertarian solution (which I would happily advocate in so many other issues) will end up in the erection of further turnpikes and bureaucratic nightmares wherever you travel. I freely admit to being a hardened europhile, but even those opposed to the current political structures, even our esteemed host, benefit greatly from the freedom of movement thing. If Tim can drive his car in Portugal, and can drive it all the way to Freiberg without getting his passport out, he should likewise not be dissuaded from so doing by a myriad of local and national regulations, and the risk of getting a big fine for transgressing some charging system there is no reasonable expectation of him knowing about in advance – let alone putting in a box and setting up some account to pay for use of selected roads at selected times at a price at the whim of the transport ministry.

    Congestion is a problem. Locals and regular long-distance drivers get a good feel for when it will happen and where, and adapt their behaviour accordingly. The naive, person on an odd long-distance drive, suffers enough by putting up with it. Making them conform to multiple layers of bureaucracy for the privilege only eases the congestion by dissuading people from taking trips they aren’t used to.

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