Fleet News

Guest opinion: Penalising workers doesn’t make sense

THE worst case scenario seems to be £1.35 a mile at peak time on a congested motorway while the best is just a few pence on a rural road in the middle of the night. I refer of course, to the vaunted road user charge the Government is determined to introduce.

The Government says the new system is planned to be revenue neutral – so overall it will take no more from the motorist than it does at the moment.

The sceptical – I’m tempted to say cynical – among us might not be inclined to believe this. For example, Ken Livingstone said, when introducing the London Congestion Charge, that it would increase by no more than the rate of inflation for the foreseeable future.

Either he couldn’t see very far ahead or the circumstance of his scheme achieving a far greater reduction in traffic than planned led to a shortfall in projected net revenue, causing him to jump the charge by a whopping 60% from this month.

A second example has to be that of the yet-to-be-introduced Lorry Road User Charge (LRUC). As an organisation, we’re very much in favour of levelling the playing field between UK transport firms and foreign hauliers.

The latter often arrive at Dover with brimming tanks of diesel, carry out their deliveries and collections and depart without having paid a penny towards the wear and tear they have caused our roads. The LRUC should overcome this by charging for each kilometre travelled while giving a rebate on duty on fuel bought in the UK.

So far, so good. But already the signs are that the Department for Transport has hijacked this laudable scheme. Probably by varying the user charge by time and road, the Government can force trucks to move at night. As car drivers, we may welcome this, but consider the ramifications.

There may be a lower charge and a possible fuel saving through more efficient running but suddenly you have to pay night-time rates to drivers, those who load and unload, and people who warehouse goods or stack the shelves.

You can imagine our high streets filled with trucks disgorging their goods in the wee small hours and interrupting a good night’s sleep. All this points to adding extra cost and who pays? Me and you.

But the general road user charge, if implemented, has no such simple solution as moving the time of the journey.

Business travel has to be undertaken during the business day – whether it is a journey to or from work, or to see clients. It makes little sense to make the people who ensure the UK Plc is profitable – ie those who work and create wealth – should pay the most.

The same crazy situation exists on our railways. Peak time travel is the most expensive and, should the Road User Charge be implemented, the Association of Train Operating Companies is already looking at increasing commuter fares to price people off the railways at peak times. Has the world gone mad? What kind of reverse logic says that a train, when full of top-paying passengers, needs to have fewer people on it? I have always thought that the train should offer a reasonably-priced alternative to the car to reduce car travel, with consequent lower emissions and pollution.

When Stephen Norris, then a Conservative Transport Minister, said at a Fleet News conference in the mid-Nineties that he didn’t know what an integrated transport policy was, it seems he was merely acting as a precursor for this Government.

If we are ever to get transport policy on the right track, or even down the right road, we cannot leave it to politicians or academics who are well-versed in theory yet lack the practicality to make it work.What we do not need is an expensive, computerised system that keeps tabs on us all and charges us for what we already more than pay for – the use of our roads.

Better by far to put in place better traffic management, the elimination of bottlenecks, increased use of variable speed limits and improved traffic information.

All are available at a fraction of the cost of charging individual drivers for each and every journey. Seems simple, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

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