Government getting cold feet on road tolls

With 1.7 million names reportedly on the anti road toll petition on the Downing Street website it appears that the Government may be getting cold feet over the idea. Tony Blair is emailing all participants to try to persuade them that the government is only looking at the idea... honest!

If there was any doubt before, the size of the opposition to the proposed new road tax makes it clear this could be a big vote loser.

But, while Government in London is making noises about backing away from a nationwide scheme, the Scottish Transport Minister Tavish Scott is proclaiming that his foot is still on the gas. He believes that Scotland should have road pricing... and soon. With the Scottish Parliament elections being just months away on May 3, it will be an interesting test of the unpopularity of such proposals with the electorate.

The Scottish Conservatives have jumped on the e-petition bandwagon at

This way for congestion charges?

Opposition to the proposals have been coming from some unexpected places.

One voluntary organisation who espouse a very environmentally-friendly ethos phoned me up to express their opposition. Somewhat taken aback I questioned why. Two reasons:

  • Concern about human rights. The system will know precisely where you are in your car minute-by-minute. Even if you are not concerned about the government tracking your movements, people are also concerned about the security of such information. I don't want a potential burglar finding out that I am at the opposite end of the country from my home.
  • The organisation was also very concerned about the cost implications for their organisation. They rely on road transport and see this as another potential cost to eat into the funds for their work.

That last point rings true because, as the Rowantree Foundation (a respected social research organisation) pointed out some years ago, road tolls would impact hardest on those living on lower incomes.

Part of the justification for milking the road user is to spread feelings of guilt for the environmental impact of road transport. But - with car use accounting for 10% (and falling) of household emissions that argument is weakening. Within ten to 20 years, most of us will be driving genuinely zero emission cars - so the 'guilt complex' will no longer work!

On the other side of the road pricing argument there are people, like myself, who might possibly support the principle of congestion charging if we could be
absolutely certain that other road taxes would be reduced proportionately, so that that it was 'revenue neutral' - in other words the overall tax burden was not increased.

The trouble is, every time I hear road toll proponents talk about reducing other road user taxes to compensate for road pricing, I see this squadron of pigs flying by my window.

That is why I remain opposed to road pricing and why I am one of the million-plus who signed the petition.
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