Monday 29 October 2012

pricing roads and cities

This week the government is wheeling out the mad-think-tank idiots -the ones who no doubt blame the rail privatisation failure for "not going far enough", and now they are talking about privatising roads, presumably pavements too.

This is because the government is publishing something on car tax changing that is proposing two tiers of tax
  • Urban roads, country roads and most A roads.
  • Premium: All roads, including motorways and "some" A roads.
The "premium" deal will fund motorway "improvements".

This is bollocks for anyone who drives, as the "value" edition will mean you can never, ever, ever drive on a motorway. You may not get stuck on the M4 every weekday to have the option of using a motorway on a summer weekend. No, most car owners except for people who live in the scottish highlands will end up with the premium car tax.

It's like the BBC license tax that use to have a B&W option as well as colour: now everyone except for a very, very few all has a colour license.

This seems just like a tax increase then -but it's worse. It's the plan to fund a new generation of road improvements "to kick start the economy".

Those private-financed-motorway lanes? Here's the funding. Those new motorway exits? Here's the funding. The south coat m-way? The oxford-cambridge m-way? Here comes the money.

The government will hypothecate the motorway premium to building new motorways and expanding existing ones. This will generate extra traffic anywhere near the motorways, whose costs will be borne by everyone else.

This thinking shows how fucking simple-minded the DfT is. all they give a fuck about is how much it costs to keep motorways working. What the government doesn't give a fuck about is in-city congestion. It is in the cities that the external costs of driving are the highest -and borne by the residents, the pedestrians, the cyclists, the public transport users.

Anyone who drives on a motorway creates congestion -a cost imposed on everyone else on the motorway; everyone gets held up and the congestion costs are shared. (there's pollution, fuel consumption, the impact of oil imports on the UK economy of course)

In a city, the space taken up by each car on the move could be used much more efficiently: bus lanes, segregated bike paths, pedestrian/bike areas. The pollution caused by everyone sitting in traffic jams makes the cities worse places to live, the parking spaces they take up are where our segregated bike paths should go.

Would an inner-city car tax surplus work? No, still bollocks. Because per-use charging is the only way to make people change their actions. Once you've paid for an m-way pass, you may as well drive on them whenever you need to. There's no financial incentive not to. 

Per-use charging encourages people to make decisions based on the individual cost & benefits of that single choice. That's motorway and road tolls -though that may just push vehicles onto the roads we cyclists try to survive on. In town, a congestion charge used to fund public transport, cycling improvements and traffic mitigation policies would force every car commuter to consider their options every day. If those fees changes based on time of day, you'd even level out peak hour traffic.

A premium motorway-edition car tax will do nothing at all to improve our cities. All it will do is create unrealistic expectations in the people who pay it.

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