Road congestion charging - (24.02.02)

It would seem certain that the UK will introduce road charging at some point in the next few years. A massive increase in road building or expenditure on public transport on its own will not reduce congestion or change people's behaviour pattern. The UK has some of the highest petrol prices in the world already and increasing this has had little effect on road use, with people having a very low level of substitution from car use to other alternatives based on price.

This is partly because the cost to most individuals of car taxation is less visible than the cost of public transport, particularly for company car drivers. Therefore road charging would at least make this more visible. At the same time charges would acknowledge the public disbenefit in terms of pollution that congestion causes, particularly in cities.

There are certain criteria that need to be fulfilled to have a successful scheme. First, it must cover all roads, to prevent tax avoidance through shifting congestion to more minor routes. This does not prevent higher costs for motorways than rural roads, but the scheme would need to be clever enough to reflect possible substitution of one type of road for another. Second, the pricing should reflect the suitability of the public transport alternative, again so that rural areas gain a net benefit from the scheme. Third, the amount of cost should be known to a driver well before they use a road. Perhaps the electronic equipment that would monitor road use could include a journey planner which shows the pricing for a road for any particular day.