FUEL and road tax in their current form are stealth taxes, which road users are paying dearly for without delivering them any direct benefits.
None of us should be fooled into thinking that road tax goes back into maintaining the roads.
The reality is that less than 14% of tax gained from fuel and road duties is spent on roads and public transport. With the promise of new road charging schemes on the horizon, road users are going to be the Government’s cash cow for the future.
The Commission for Integrated Transport states that the number of cars on Britain’s roads is expected to rise from 25.8 million in 2004 to 31.9 million by 2015.
In addition, congestion levels are forecast to grow by 11% to 20% over the next 10 years. This paints a grim picture for Britain’s road infrastructure, which as we all know, is already struggling to cope with increasing traffic volumes.
There are four million more vehicles on the road today than in 1997, with only a fraction of that proportionate growth in additional roads/lanes. All signs are pointing to the situation getting worse if it is not tackled soon.
Any new road charging scheme should see all money made invested back into improving road infrastructure, rather than becoming a bureaucratic headache that is simply a money-making scheme.
Too much fuel tax is currently spent supporting other critical, but non-road travel-related areas, such as hospitals and the police. This should not be the burden or the responsibility of the road user; it should come out of other taxes like income or council tax.
In 2005, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling announced plans to consider a new road charging scheme to replace road tax and petrol duty.
Motorists would be charged a set rate per mile, which would vary depending on the time of day. Vehicles would be fitted with a satellite system to track journeys. How realistic would this be? What happens if a vehicle is driven on private property – should the motorist pay then?
In addition, by implementing a flat rate, there is no incentive for drivers to use more fuel-efficient vehicles. Under the proposed road charging scheme, somebody using a ‘green’ vehicle would pay exactly the same as a driver in a fuel-guzzler. Where’s the sense in that? The UK is also the only country in Europe where diesel costs more than petrol – hardly an incentive to use diesel.
Businesses running vehicle fleets, including employees using company cars or vans, will be feeling the pinch, putting pressure on the UK economy as a whole.
I believe the best way forward is for the UK to fall in line with other European countries, where drivers pay tax according to fuel usage and ensure that these taxes are then fully reinvested back into the road and transport system. This system would encourage people to use less fuel and invest in more efficient vehicles, thereby reducing both traffic congestion and emissions.
The introduction of more road tolls, such as the M6 toll, is a more positive step forward than the proposed road charging scheme, especially from a rental provider’s perspective. Not only would it give people more choice on whether they want to incur that cost, but if roads are more congestion-free, people travelling on business would be more inclined to make the journey.
I would urge the Government to seriously look at where the money from road taxes and fuel duties is being spent. I would like to see the funds raised through any road user charges ploughed back into transport infrastructure investment. This should include investment in public transport. In this way we can ensure that the UK has a transport network fit for the 21st century, rather than leaving it to buckle under the weight of increased traffic.