National Road Pricing on Back Burner
But Government Still Don't Get It - Road Pricing Can't Work as a Transport Solution
The recent announcement by Ruth Kelly that a National pay-as-you-go road pricing scheme is on the back burner is welcome, but her speech shows she still doesn't get why charging people to drive simply won't work.
She said that there was a "sterile debate" between those who regarded road pricing as the answer to everything and those who were opposed to it in principle on the grounds of fairness and privacy. But she is still encouraging local authorities to implement local schemes and suggesting "pay to drive" lanes on motorways.
The M6 Toll fiasco shows how pricing reduces the efficiency with which roads are used. Whilst the toll road is empty and struggling to pay its way, the "free alternative" M6 near Birmingham is top of the list for a hard shoulder running scheme!
"Road capacity is to be increased on one motorway whilst the alternative route is running empty - that's the nonsense of road pricing," said ABD Policy Advisor Nigel Humphries.
In urban areas, London's experience of road pricing has suggested that journey time gains have been minimal, and all that has really happened is that drivers have been charged for the privilege of driving in congestion.
This backs ABD's argument that, instead of spending millions on trying to promote its lost cause, the government should instead invest the money in road improvements to alleviate known bottenecks.
For the economists amongst our readers, basic economic theory also casts doubt on the validity of road pricing as a solution to the cost of congestion.
"Congestion regulates traffic based on time delays, which costs the economy an estimated £26bn (CBI). Since time and money are related, any attempt to achieve the same level of traffic regulation by a price mechanism will cost the economy at least as much as the congestion did in the first place," continued Humphries. "This is why the ABD has always placed the argument that road pricing will not work ahead of the very valid fairness and privacy issues."