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Many contend that road pricing can’t be put off any longer – it’s time to act

Andy Eastlake, CEO of the Zemo Partnership

By Andy Eastlake, CEO of the Zemo Partnership

Transport academics and specialists have been queueing up in recent months to publicise their conversion to the idea that some form of road pricing or travel taxation to replace our current system of fuel duty and vehicle excise is not only desirable, but inevitable.

Increasingly, as the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has said, doing nothing is now not a viable option, economically or politically – and perhaps even socially…but the road to an acceptable new equilibrium is uncharted and full of potholes.

It’s been widely observed that Government has to find a way of filling the £40bn+ gap in revenues from the current system of taxing motoring. It’s clear, too, that fuel duty and road tax (VED) are blunt tools that haven’t been able to deal with the real social costs of driving, from emissions to congestion.

Without other action to tackle car use, the lower cost of running EVs is likely to mean greater vehicle use with associated congestion and space occupation currently blighting many cities.

The recent Oxford CREDS report highlighted that we’re not going to be able to meet net zero targets without reducing car use in addition to transforming the technology we use to power those cars. (Some policymakers are already committed to change; Scotland aims to cut national car mileage 20% by 2030 while London is targeting 80% of journeys to be non-car by 2041.)

As Zemo’s lifecycle work shows, tailpipe emissions are only part of the story. The manufacture and disposal of vehicles and creating the capacity to supply energy to them all have an emissions impact.

As in many areas of life, for transport, efficiency must be a main focus of any new approach.

Road pricing has a back-story, of course, and as a label carries a great deal of baggage, so we’ll need to communicate much more effectively than in the past why it’s needed now; how proven (GPS and associated) technology is now commonplace, and how its introduction can be fair, reduce traffic congestion and accelerate a necessary transition to the cleanest, most efficient (and, perhaps, smaller) vehicles (some of which will still be cars, of course).

Importantly, the public is much more aware that we’re facing a “triple whammy” of emergencies in climate, air quality and congestion. But, because of the collective memory of the terms ‘road pricing’ and ‘road user charging’, perhaps we need a new term to describe the benefits a new approach could bring in terms of climate, air pollution and space.

More and more people are arguing that the time for road pricing has arrived. They say it has the potential to influence how, when and where we travel.

It could help to promote active travel choices, speed the introduction of EVs and other zero/low emission vehicles and provide policymakers with an effective lever to manage congestion.

It will have to be fair and not discriminate against those with fewer resources and limited travel choices. And it must be clearly understood if it’s to be accepted and effective.

As the Institute for Global Change says, the transition from our current system of vehicle taxation is under way whether we like it or not.

The transition offers us a huge opportunity to rethink our relationship with our cars and the incentives we put around their use.

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