Channel 4 Dispatches Bottles Out
"Bottleneck Britain" Turns into a Sales Pitch for Government Road Pricing Plans
Channel 4 screened an episode of Dispatches last night (12 Nov) which showed the strength of public opposition to road pricing but made a terrible mess of laying out the real arguments against such schemes.
Starting with ABD member Peter Roberts' 1.8 million petition against road pricing, and covering ABD member Sean Corker's MART campaign against the Manchester pilot scheme, the programme also demonstrated the unjust lunacy and unpopularity of some parking and bus lane fines, and showed a local authority backing away from reliance on speed cameras.
"Channel 4 did a good job showing that many ordinary people are fed up of the way that motorists are treated by the authorities and are ready to make a stand against parking restrictions, speed cameras and charging schemes," said the ABD's Nigel Humphries. "But the programme failed utterly to deal with the arguments for and against road pricing. Instead, it weakly took the Government line that road pricing was the inevitable solution to congestion but that this is tough to sell to a cynical public."
Of particular concern was the "experiment" carried out by the programme to track and toll four drivers — doing 4,000 miles, 7,000 miles, 15,000 miles, and 73,000 miles (a van driver who made deliveries around Britain).
At the end of the programme the 4 drivers were given their annual bills for road pricing — £315 — an average of 8p a mile, £115 — less than 2p/mile, £212 — less than 1.5p/mile, and £616 — less than 1p a mile for the van driver.
The drivers could not believe how low their bills were — neither could we. Of course these figures are not sufficient to change anyone's behaviour. Petrol costs have risen by enough to make this kind of difference in the past year. They aren't even enough to cover the costs of collecting the charges! And they aren't realistic — the driver paying 8p a mile was commuting into central Manchester. We already know he will have to pay £5 a day for this under current plans — so his bill for a year will be £1200. That's four times what the programme suggested, already on the table.
Completely missing were the key points against road pricing:
- Traffic levels into city centres like Manchester are static and falling and have been for years. Congestion has been increased in such places by deliberately obstructive measures like bus lanes, traffic lights and road closures.
- Traffic growth is concentrated on major out of town routes where the charges suggested on the programme were minimal and public transport alternatives non-existent.
- The motorist already pays £45bn in tax and is getting a raw deal on transport
- Singapore, shown as an example of road pricing, is a small island with one city and a splendid, comprehensive mass transit system.
- Diversion effects of tolling as drivers change their behaviour to reduce costs, were not considered
"The bottom line is that road pricing is grossly wasteful to collect, massively inconvenient to pay, worrying from a civil liberties viewpoint and has to be punitive before it can have any impact on traffic levels," continued Humphries. "Its a political non starter — punitive, regressive and unfair taxes on transport will damage the economy and quality of life of British citizens far more than the congestion they purport to remove."
The worst thing about the Government's headlong and stubborn charge towards road pricing is that it blinds transport planners to the alternatives — better planning, teleworking and infrastructure investment — and delays the real solutions to Britain's transport problems for many years.
Channel 4 Dispatches failed to expose this — they bottled out of the road pricing debate.