Fleet News

Guest opinion: Road pricing - make your views known

Opinion: John Lewis, director-general of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association

I have reached the conclusion that road pricing will happen. Like it or not, the Government is determined to proceed with legislation and while nationally it may not be in place before 2015 at the earliest, there will be at least one pilot scheme in place before that.

All of our discussions with relevant departments now point inescapably to the fact that the Government is determined to change people’s driving habits so that traffic congestion is reduced, especially on our overcrowded motorways and main roads.

There is no stated – or unstated as far as we can see – additional agenda. It appears to be solely to reduce congestion and Government has said to us that it will not be hijacked for other causes.

As it is going to happen then, plainly the Government needs to introduce a simple, workable and ultimately economically viable scheme that we, the motoring public, will sign up to. Given the publicity surrounding the concept so far, that is not going to be easy. The £1.34 a mile cost gained wide credence irrespective of the fact that not only have no official figures been published – how can they this far away from implementation? – but only a minute proportion of our road space would bear charges even approaching this figure. And, of course, it would ultimately be down to supply and demand that determines the actual price.

So, given that the system has yet to be designed, let alone trialled, now is the time for us to tell Government what we all need. We need a simple, universal system. A system that will have clear and obvious benefits that motorists will not only accept but one that will actively encourage them to change their patterns of behaviour. And it is this latter point that will be crucial in the success of any road pricing scheme. There is little point in bringing such a scheme forward if people do not start to stagger their working hours or change their times of social travel so that they fall outside the period when congestion is at its peak and thus start to optimise the use of our road network. In terms of simplicity we just cannot have multiple technologies. We have been critical in the past, and rightly so, of the Government’s idea of allowing local authorities to go their own way and introduce their own systems. In our view that way madness lies.

We are one country and that means one system. And that involves London, as well. Ken Livingstone’s congestion charge is a deterrent to entry, not an encouragement to alter behaviour and while it has reduced traffic levels, it has also had a detrimental effect on businesses operating in London. Was this really what he intended to happen? I think not.

There are other benefits, too. The UK is helping to lead the world in the technology and software required to operate such a scheme and plainly, if successful, there would be spin-off sales to other countries. And of course, there are environmental benefits, as well. Less congestion means less pollution. It’s a simple equation that means lower fuel consumption and we would all approve of that.

So, how would such a complex scheme be implemented? There has to be at least one, possibly two, major pilots. These would have to be based on a major city surrounded by a number of satellite towns to give a good flow of commuter and commercial traffic. Maybe Birmingham and the West Midlands would be suitable. It has the right conditions and already suffers from congestion problems at peak times.

But we’d also need a wider pilot to help gain national acceptance and here’s where the rental industry could play a valuable role. The industry short cycles a large volume of new cars. This would quickly help the technology – fitted as original equipment – into the marketplace. A tax rebate scheme would offset any increased level of charge. It’s only an idea at the moment but obviously we’ll be consulting widely within our membership.

So, the signs are that road pricing will happen. And happen for most of us in our working life. We need to be planning and designing now, ensuring a scheme that will achieve its sole objective of reducing congestion while not increasing overall the level of taxation on the motorist. If it can achieve this it will be a world first. The BVRLA will be backing this objective.

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