NEW POLL: do you support road pricing?

The party has today launched its new transport programme, Fast Track Britain: Building a Transport System for the 21st Century, promising to “significantly increase long-term rail investment, introduce road user pricing to tackle pollution and congestion and hand control of buses back to local authorities have been launched today by the Liberal Democrats.”

You can find the full news release on the Lib Dem website here, and the full document is available in PDF format here.

There’s a raft of proposals – building a high speed rail network; introducing rolling contracts for train operating companies to increase long-term investment and improve services; giving power to control local bus services back to local authorities; and introducing a new fund for rural transport – but there’s no doubt what will attract most attention… The BBC website gives a clue:

Clegg unveils road charging plan

(The full details of the Lib Dem proposals for road pricing are copied below.)

Party policy has generally been in favour of road pricing – though we’ve been a bit quiet about it in the past couple of years – with most concerns centring on the privacy issues of the state collecting data on citizens’ movements.

Personally, I’ve never seen the problem (with reasonable safeguards in place). It is one thing to have to carry an ID card simply to prove to the state you exist – that’s bad; but quite another to enjoy the privilege of using a less-congested road system. The fact remains that the market is the most efficient – and certainly most effective – way of pricing road use according to the value we place upon it.

But that’s my view: what’s yours? Choose now in our new Lib Dem Voice poll asking: Do you support Lib Dem plans to introduce road pricing in return for the abolition of vehicle excise duty and cutting fuel duty?

You know the drill: simple yes / no / don’t know options are located in the right-hand column. (And of course feel free – I know you will – to use the comments thread to pick apart the question).

Motorway and Trunk Road Pricing
2.4.11 Liberal Democrats propose a motorway and trunk road pricing scheme covering all motorways and major trunk roads in Britain.
2.4.12 During our first parliament we would undertake preparatory work:
– Detailed consultation on the design of the scheme, including levels of charging and data privacy issues.
– Invest significantly in public transport through our Future Transport Fund.
2.4.13 The key aspects of our proposal are:
– Road pricing should be seen as part of a package of measures – it is not a solution on its own.
– To tax differently, not more. Our scheme will be revenue neutral for the average motorist, with the revenue from road pricing used to remove VED entirely and reduce fuel duty.
– Significant investment would be injected into public transport prior to introducing any charging, providing a viable alternative to the private motor vehicle, where possible.
– Pricing would be linked to car emissions, benefiting lower emission vehicles.
– A ‘Privacy Guarantee’ would be provided to motorists, by separating any personal details held from journey details. This would include the option of using an anonymous pre-pay system and would establish robust legal guidelines around the use of data collected (i.e. data would not be passed on to other organisations).
– Exemptions and discounts would be introduced for emergency vehicles, NHS vehicles, public transport vehicles, and vehicles used by disabled drivers who rely on their car for transport (following the disability exemptions for VED).
– We would make a firm commitment to provide political leadership in tackling emissions from the transport sector.
2.4.15 A number of locations have already implemented forms of road pricing including London, Stockholm and Singapore, and the Netherlands are currently considering a national scheme.
2.4.16 The benefits we would expect to see include:
– Fairer charges for using roads according to the polluting effect of each vehicle.
– Financial benefits for drivers who have no public transport alternatives and are dependent on the car (particularly in rural areas).
– An increase in the certainty of journey times (vital for the freight and services sectors) due to an incidental reduction in congestion levels.
– A commensurate improvement in viable public transport alternatives to the car.
2.4.17 We envisage that our motorway and trunk road user charging scheme would operate using the ‘tag and beacon’ scheme, covering motorways and trunk roads. To avoid a plague of ‘rat running’, the technology chosen must allow for penalties to be enforced on drivers who ‘rat run’ in order to avoid payment.

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  • “We already have a pay as you drive system in place, it’s called petrol tax.”

    Oddly enough, Clegg seemed to be supporting this option as recently as 4 days ago:
    “I want to see the environmental cost of fuel to be reflected at the pump …”

    But now he’s apparently advocating a reduction in fuel duty and road pricing instead. All very confusing.

  • The problem with road pricing is that it is not as good as fuel duty in encouraging fuel efficient driving. It is possible to vary the road charging by the car’s nominal mpg. But that is still not as good as fuel tax as an incentive. Fuel tax works better than road pricing for cutting global warming because it gives you a financial incentive to:

    1) get your car serviced regularly
    2) pump up your tyres
    3) change up at lower speeds than you might otherwise (to 5th at 26mph on the flat in my car)
    4) accelerate downhill not uphill where possible
    5) lose a few mph as you go uphill
    6) Drive more slowly on the motorway
    7) Glide forward when approaching junctions rather than driving and braking.

    It is not possible to use tag and beacon road pricing to achieve any of these CO2 reducing items.

    My car (1.8 petrol Mondeo) has a nominal combined mpg of 37.2. I drove to France recently and got 45mpg, because I drive with an eye to fuel economy (my record door to door is just over 48mpg, pretty good for a car of this size).

    Congestion charging at particular times is a very good idea when there is congestion at particular times, and building more roads is inappropriate. That will include some of the motorway network at some times.

    But we need to be aware – as the Eddington Report made clear – that road charging administered in a revenue neutral way will increase CO2 emissions (it also knocks net govt revenue, as quite a big chunk will go on admin). That is why its sensible application is relatively limited.

  • Andrew Duffield 3rd Jun '08 - 11:22pm

    Road pricing/congestion charging is, of course, a form of LVT and, as such, will be welcomed by all Liberals as a thoroughly fair and non-distorting fiscal measure – especially as we are intent on REPLACING the eminently unfair VED, which penalises car ownership irrespective of actual usage. Pity that we seem intent on fiddling about with VED in the short term (subject to Conference amendments of course) while Road Pricing technology catches up, but hey – softly, softly catchee monkey!

  • Jennie, I’d tinker with the proposal, but in essence it is a half-way house between two equally undesirable polar opposites.

    Describing the proposal as necessarily expensive, centralised or complicated is a failure of imagination.

    By connecting existing mobile telephony technology (and the associated payment systems) with satellite navigation systems already placed in large numbers of cars we have already effectively created the ability to implement road-charging on a wider scale than we propose.

    By making loud noises about the limited extent of our proposals we can push to ensure Labour and Conservatives lose any initiative to call for a blanket roll-out on all roads by distinguishing between dual-carriageway routes and the universal service roads we each live on and upon which ought to have our right to travel freely guaranteed.

    This is something which is too important to fudge or allow to be replaced by local ‘congestion charges’.

    I think another by-product of such a plan would be the increased emphasis on planning long-term transport systems around which regional development can grow with more certainty.

    Of course it will be controversial, but it is an argument which we need to win to prevent the inevitable organisational messes that a politicised plan would entail.

    It is equally important to highlight how by doing it our way we will make transport both freer and fairer.

  • This is an awful idea. How demoralising. 🙁

  • Andrew Duffield 3rd Jun '08 - 11:48pm

    Why the assumption that Road Pricing automatically equates with Big Brother? No one makes such a claim when they use a toll road, despite the fact that they are almost certainly being captured on CCTV as they pass through the toll point. Sure the technology may be more advanced, but it doesn’t have to be intrusive or sinister. Vehicle tracking is NOT an automatic consequence – and the “toll” goes into the public purse rather than private pockets.

    Collecting a fair “rent” for your temporal and monopolistic occupation of a valuable piece of tarmac is what this is about – and REPLACING unjust taxes in the process. As with LVT, marginal areas (i.e. quiet rural roads) could and should be exempted. The argument that this would just create “rat runs” doesn’t hold, since as soon as traffic volumes increased, a charge would apply.

    By the way, Congestion Charging was operational in Durham before London.

  • Jennie, I agree that tracking isn’t slightly or entirely liberal, but the fact is we already do it in many ways.

    Do you use cellular mobile technology? Do you use plastic money? Do you ever go into chain stores? Do you ever use computers?

    Um, I’m afraid to worry you but tracking potential is universal and ubiquitous – it would be far better that we defined the acceptable limits for it than ignored the reality to the extent that we let it control us.

  • Andrew Duffield 3rd Jun '08 - 11:58pm

    Jennie – fuel duty is better than VED, no question. But it doesn’t discriminate over WHERE you burn the fuel, so does little to alleviate congestion. It also penalises rural users who may have to travel further to access essential services. Fuel duty subsidies for rural users are open to abuse and just add complexity. Better to have a straightforward scheme based on the “value” ascribed by traffic usage (i.e. the market) to all roads – and automatically exempting those least travelled. AND NO TRACKING!

  • Andrew Duffield 4th Jun '08 - 12:23am

    You’re right – perception is everything and we have to be able to sell the benefits of this. The key is being clear over which hated taxes we intend replacing (which is why I’d rather we didn’t fiddle around with VED in the interim), and ensuring that tracking isn’t an automatic consequence. I think the best way around that would be a pre-payment system which simply deducted credit on a Pay-As-You-Drive basis and wouldn’t necessarily be linked to a particular vehicle. In other words, you would purchase a card from a retailer, slot it into the appropriate holder on the inside of your windscreen and pay as the roadside scanners read the barcode. The only way of tracking a particular individual would be if they were foolish enough to make the original purchase with plastic rather than good old cash – or barter of course.

  • The problem with toll booths would be importing all the french workers and managers to operate them!

  • Well that wouldn’t be so much of a problem actually, what would be is to try to reverse a policy after it has been implemented by the other side.

    Jennie, I’ve gotta repeat that the boundaries you are trying to mark out have already been surpassed and with the state of current technology it is unlikely we’ll get back to that stage.

  • Jennie, I’ll make the dyke-building metaphor now please.

    The first line of defence (ignorance) has been breached and we are forced to build a new levee (legislation). Once the flood has been stemmed, then we can dig the cross-dykes (gradual tightening of regulations) to get the continual data seepage under control.

  • passing tory 4th Jun '08 - 1:32am

    I am with Jennie. People should be allowed a semblance of humanity and not merely be treated as data points in some great tracking algorithm.

  • There don’t seem to be many people in this discussion, so I’ll throw in my tuppence worth.

    I think these are excellent, ambitious plans. The technical side is fascinating and (forgive the phrase) we should have clear civil liberties ‘red lines’ on how it is developed. But it strikes me as do-able.

    My unscientific guess is that the best analogue of the technology is the humble mileometer. Cars need some basic technology to read what the price is of the road they are on (achievable in more ways than one) and they then just need to mutliply by mileage and fuel consumption to generate a number that is broadcast from time to time – frankly, it need not even be that frequent. Let no one who wanders the world with a mobile phone say we’re on fundamentally new ground here.

    In the unlikely event we’re talking about the central computer knowing the minute-by-minute whereabouts of every car in the country, I agree that is unacceptable and probably unfeasible anyway.

    Is the idea worthwhile? I think so. Tim makes some interesting points which merit investigation, but this uniquely deals with (crude) fuel consumption, congestion and the extent of alternatives on offer. Before Yorkshire gets too wound up about all this being a London conspiracy, I’d suggest turning to Shetland where they’re about to pay £1.50 for a litre of unleaded – and more of it tax than anywhere else in the country. Journeys are often quite long, and buses few and far between (if any).

    We will need to make the case for these proposals, but at least they are built on good far-sighted liberal principles. When small rural communities see the alternatives which the two tory parties would settle for (as they do right now) I don’t think the job of selling these plans is that hard at all.

  • This is a really really stupid idea as well as being downright offensive. It involves tracking where everybody travels – another advance on labour’s move to Orwellian surveillance. At a time when people are making it very clear that they are sick of an all pervading state it should be dropped.

  • Road pricing is a device to introduce satellite surveillance of motor vehicles; nothing more, nothing less. Those (in Washington) who are foisting it on us couldn’t give a fig about environmental protection. They want to watch us and control us wherever we go. Only the feeble-minded and servile can support this. Let’s leave it to the robot radicals of the Green Party to advocate statist, Big Brother solutions. We are a LIBERAL Party. Let’s prove it, Nick.

  • Did Labour not float this idea a couple of years back and we went balistic calling it another form Big Brother and that it would cost millions?
    I for one would like to see the costings, prove to me that this will 1) save money 2)save the environment 3)will totally re-shape public transport in EVERY part of the country
    Then I may be convinced, otherwise I think we have handed the tories yet another un-costed and ill thought out policy to beat us with!

  • Jennie,

    The UK government isn’t intended to have any say in the matter. Once this system is up and running, our every move will be viewed in Langley, Virginia.

  • Hywel Morgan 4th Jun '08 - 9:58am

    What I don’t understand with road pricing is how it deters in a smart way.

    The London congestion charge, whatever criticisms are made of it, is simple and clear. Go in this area at this time and you pay.

    When I hear discussions of road pricing people talk about charges based on congestion, the type of road and the time of day. That sounds like a complex pricing structure which makes it hard for people to work out if changing their behaviour saves them money.

    There is a danger with such a model that it ends up like telecoms deregulation where the pricing structures are so opaque that people just stick with what they know and pay the bill

  • Andrew Duffield 4th Jun '08 - 10:15am

    Of course, if the state made a profit from Road Pricing (as Jock correctly asserts it should) and cut VED and fuel duty accordingly, public transport could be one massive beneficiary. If you were determined to avoid even the remotest possibility of being tracked (whether BB was operating out of Langley or Cheltenham), just get on the bus/train/bike/shanks’s pony. And wear a hat of course.

  • Jock: on almost all measures, road users (as a whole) pay far more than the cost of using the road, including environmental costs and anti-social costs (deaths, etc). This is more true as time goes on, as cars anti-social costs decline (deaths per km falling, NOX etc emissions down). Motorised road transport is the only form of transport that pays its way. Pedestrians and cyclists don’t pay, buses and trains are subsidised, and aviation is not close.

    Obviously there will be some roads that do not pay their way, either because they are on very expensive real estate, or because they inflict particularly high externalities (environmental, or death traps) or because so few people use them that they cost more to repair than they generate in tax.

    Last time I did the maths, the Stern value on the global warming contribution of a litre of fuel was 8p, given govt 42p of duty left over to pay for the roads and other externalities. (plus VAT).

  • Al McIntosh 4th Jun '08 - 10:39am

    The privacy issues have been well covered here but not the fact that road pricing will actually cause more congestion and pollution. The advocates of this policy do not appear to have read it properly. The proposal is not to charge for all roads which are congestion blackspots. The proposal is only to charge for using motorways and trunk roads. The effect of charging will be to move traffic off of the motorways and onto smaller roads, through residential areas, towns and villages, which will cause more pollution in the places where people actually have to live. These journeys will be slower and take longer causing more fossil fuel to be consumed. More night freight would pass through these towns and villages to keep costs down by avoiding charging but increasing noise pollution.

    The London based policy groups are actually proposing to move traffic off the M1 and divert onto non-trunk roads that pass through towns like Chesterfield. This is the sort of policy that Sir Humphrey would describe as “courageous”.

  • Jock,

    Read what I wrote.

    This is a GOVERNMENT idea, which Nick Clegg has rather foolishly indicated that he supports (he still has time to see sense and back off). The Lib Dem transport team didn’t think it up. I first remember the idea being floated by Blunkett as a means of controlling traffic speed (Big Brother cuts off the fuel supply to one’s engine). No doubt you will be defending micro-chipping of the population when it comes along. Honest people have nothing to fear from the (US) government scanning our brains.

  • Iain Coleman 4th Jun '08 - 10:53am

    Here’s how you do road pricing without tracking individual car journeys:

    Along the roads you want to charge for, set up a transmitter every mile (say). This transmitter sends a signal to every car going past, telling it the price of this bit of road. (This can vary in time, so a road might be expensive at rush hour, cheap or even free at off-peak times.)

    Fit every car with a reciever system that logs these price signals. This will record how much the keeper has to pay for the roads that the car has driven on, but NOT the identities of the roads themselves. For example, a record might say “20 miles on roads priced at £2 per mile, 30 miles on roads priced and £1 per mile”, but NOT “M6 from J12 to J18 on 14 July”.

    On a regular basis, the receiver system connects to whichever government department system is dealing with this, and generates a bill which is sent to the keeper. (Or the keeper pays by direct debit, or whatever.)

    Just like insurance and MOT certificates, the keeper has to prove that their bills are up to date before being issued with a road license for the car. The road charging effectively replaces the current vehicle licensing charge, but the rest of the licensing and enforcement system remains in place – fines for using the road without a license, and so on.

    So road user have to pay for the bits of road they use, but their vehicles movements are not monitored.

  • Iain – Great except:

    – To avoid rat-running on non-charged roads, every single road in the country has to have these transmitters, otherwise you just push traffic off the trunk roads onto minor roads. I fail to see how this is practical and affordable.
    – Then you still have a problem (under your system) of not being able to differentiate between a local resident using the road (which presumably should be lower), and someone that is rat-running through to avoid the presumably higher cost of the trunk road.

    – I don’t really have a problem with the principle of road charging, but as liberals we should be looking to the simple, non-intrusive, non-bueracratic system if at all possible. As far as environmental damage (CO2 emissions etc) is concerned that option is available – it’s fuel duty.

  • If no details of people’s journeys were going to be recorded, that would be different.

    But the document as quoted above says:
    “A ‘Privacy Guarantee’ would be provided to motorists, by separating any personal details held from journey details.”

    So, clearly, the intention is to record details of people’s journeys.

  • In all honesty Nick has been the invisible man since he took over , and this is the first thing i have heard from him and I cant think of anything that would alienate voters more,Labour suggested something similar and the public protest was huge.

    Tracking everywhere people go is not liberal its facist control. This is the main stumbling block to this as a Liberal Democrat policy.

    To get round that , abolish Road tax , lower fuel tax , have a “car tax return” you’d have to declare how many miles any car(s) you own had done in a year (by reading the tach) and the type of car, this would allow a calculation of enviromental impact without infringing liberty that would take 30 mins a year to fill out.

    Confirms that its excedingly unlikely the Lib dems will be elected if there going in this direction.
    All the worse of Labours “White Men (fathers,drivers most of all) are the only acceptable target for both intense nannying, disenfranchisation and taxation, PC bile all the while selling out to big bussiness and the EU”.
    No thanks.

    If the Lib Dems want a popular plank try reforming the Drug War. Gordo wouldn’t listen to the Science and Davis is a myopic “sending out the message” popularist.

  • “Anonymous (and others); detail, detail, detail.”


    Whether or not the party is proposing to set up a huge database, with details of everyone’s car journeys in it, is anything but a matter of detail.

    It’s as clear a matter of principle as you could wish for. If the Liberal Democrats don’t oppose this kind of thing, what is the point of carrying on?

  • I’m flabbergasted to discover that “we” support this policy. It is wrong-headed on every level: in principle; in practice; and electorally.

    I put “we” in quotation marks because I can’t possibly remain a member of a party that supports such a policy, or even vote for one, so when my subs lapse that’s it for me I’m affraid.

  • My problem has long been with us or any other party…what’s the beef?!
    As in what’s it going to cost me, my family and everyone in the country?
    Anyway (including me) can come up with an idea or policy, but until it can be costed and the infrastructure it would require thought out then its nothing more than just that…an idea.
    However with the Tory press like a pack of wolves at the moment we seem hell bent on throwing them scraps of red meat like this.

    I voted for Nick, I know & like Nick but as with our stance on the Euro constitution this seems to be a mistake.
    Nothing that would be a disaster but as and when this comes up at conference they are going to do a hell of a lot to convince me to vote for it.

    Others who may vote on its principle to the environment without digging deeper need to think if they want to spend at least another decade in the wilderness, I for one don’t. The Tories will use this and keep pushing on, I do sometimes think we have “speak before we think” syndrome!

  • It sounds a reasonable plan if it had not been for the cost of implementation.

    Vehicle excise and road maintenance should be built into the fuel price.
    If you use the roads – you should pay.
    If you have a powerful/unecological car – you should pay.
    Price petrol over diesel.
    We achieved all the the goals and a fair deal.

    On the negative side, the fuel cost rise will increase the cost of all consumer goods and we will have to pay a little extra whether we own an vehicle or not.
    Well there maybe consessions for commercial fuel stations… There is a way
    The main idea is not to build the system which may turn out ineffective inspite of the billions spent.

  • Paul Reynolds 4th Jun '08 - 1:34pm

    The way the Road Pricing policy has been prepared and announced is completely barmy and straight from good ‘ol Barmyland. Co2 emissions and other forms of pollution come from …. er….. petrol. So it’s petrol that should be taxed, and the income used as a form of taxation into the Consolidated Fund. Road pricing is designed to pay for…….ROADS ! To try and use road pricing to create disincentives for CO2 emissions, (eg lots of exemptions for the disabled, ambulances, and higher rates for cars with air con etc etc etc) just creates a huge complex bureaucracy. Road pricing to pay for roads and road usage/maintenance however is an excellent idea and works well in Singapore, Switzerland, and other relatively sensible places (administratively). This new Lib Dem policy – very general use of road pricing and lots of comlications – is the result of very heavy lobbying by the firms that produce and implement these technologies at vast (wildly inflated) expense. There have been lots of paid Westminster village lobbyists promoting road pricing for years, including…many of them in the Tory fold. Paul

  • Lee:
    “This really just wouldn’t work now would it? At least the tax man can follow a trail if they think you’re lying on your taxes.”

    If the tax man thought you where lying a visit to look at the miles on your car tacheograph would be sufficent. This could be done at random without suspicion by the police for every car they pull over any way. a small price to pay for not having a tracking device in the Car.

    Lying would be a criminal offence in the same way as lying on any other tax return is.

  • I agree with tim leunig

    No one has explained why they think this is a vote winner when so obviously, whatever it’s merits it will be misrepresented or even properly represented.

    I can’t see any justiication either re rural areas having lower rates – surely one could argue that in rural areas roads are more expensive to build and maintain with less usage so should charge more.

    The rest of the policies e.g. on buses seemed much more popular but they will be overlooked by the Lib Dem 12p a mile road tax, which even if the party was in power wouldn’t happen for years anyway.

  • Actual there is 1 case for road pricing in this country , and that is commercial HGV’s from the continent who currently contribute not a penny to our road system nor buy fuel here but still clog our roads sit at 60 in the middle lane have a very dangerous blind spot on the right of the cabin for pulling into said lane. Uk Lorrys often must pay tolls to use major roads on the continent so theres no quid pro quo at the moment.

    If the objective is to take cars off the road making motoring more expensive and massively improving the regularity and quality of public transport as Nick seems to be suggesting, inevitably people with less money will be first on the Bus.

  • “It wouldn’t work because there is no proof that you racked up those miles on a public highway, and that’s before getting in to the issue of variable pricing per road type and (as the lib dem’s suggest) some roads being tax free to drive on!”

    A car driven on a private road will have the same environmental impact as one driven on public roads. I would ignore where the miles where racked up and simply call it a “Motor Emmision & Road Tax” for semantics sake.

    no variable pricing thats daft and unworkable.price per mile flat + (much lower!) fuel tax to account for idleing in jams ect.

  • “Taxing people simply because they have a bigger vehicle without a much more inclusive taxation strategy that enables us to counter-balance high carbon usage in one aspect of life with low usage in another is simply illiberal, prejudicial and (worst of all) lazily implemented.”

    I can see where your coming from but i simply dont want any governent to know if i personally had a burger or a fair-trade-vege falafel for lunch. nor be required to account for it. PCT ( Prodution Carbon Tax) levied on items and a reduction in VAT is whats needed there so that low C02 products are always cheaper than comparible items with high c02.

  • Iain Coleman 4th Jun '08 - 2:36pm

    Jock: you are wrong.

    The mechanism by which road charges are to be collected is not merely an implementation detail. It is a critical aspect of the policy proposal.

    Consider two hypothetical policies:

    1. “We will charge people for road use, in a way that involves tracking the road movements of every vehicle in the country.”

    2. “We will charge people for road use, in a way that does not involve tracking the road movements of every vehicle in the country.”

    These are very different policies. Many people will be happy to support policy 2, but will vehemently oppose policy 1.

    Asking people to sign up to policy 0, “We will charge people for road use”, without stating whether this will eventally turn into policy 1 or policy 2, will lead to strong opposition from those who fear policy 1.

  • Iain Coleman 4th Jun '08 - 2:39pm

    Road use charging isn’t about reducing CO2 emissions (better tackled through fuel duty), it is about achieving a better allocation of road space. At the moment, road space is allocated on a first come, first served basis. Price incentives to shift journeys to less congested roads, or to less congested times, should help to reduce congestion. This is a worthwhile policy aim that is quite separate from reduction of CO2.

  • Tolls on conjested roads would be preferable to tracking ,which as you correctly postulate many pople are most opposed too.

    Also a tracking system might be fairly easy to “accidentally” break or sabotage the signal with something sure hi-tech like wrapping it in tin foil….. and you can be sure thats the very first response criminals would have.

  • Iain Coleman 4th Jun '08 - 2:49pm

    The most important, and urgent, thing is that Nick Clegg should be able to plausibly say to an interviewer “Our road charging scheme will not involve tracking individual car movements on the roads”.

    That means having a credible outline scheme that deliver road charging but which does not, and cannot, record individual vehicle locations. Saying you’ll record these but store them separately, or destroy them, isn’t good enough: a malicious person or government could subvert that kind of system.

    I sketched out one such system above – it has its flaws, and I’m sure it can be greatly improved upon, but it does achieve the fundamental policy requirement. A better scheme, thought out in more detail, that achieves the same thing would allow Liberal Democrats to rebut the “Big Brother” charge.

    If we can’t do that, if we insist on vehicle tracking for road pricing, we will be widely accused of hypocrisy. We will seriously damage our attack on the database state. Every interview Nick Clegg tries to giv, on any topic, will be dogged by questioning on this issue by interviewers who scent blood. It will be a blunder with far-reaching consequences.

  • Iain Coleman you have hit the nail exactly on the head.

  • Jock

    “But that’s not the policy or the aim, that’s an aspect of the implementation of a policy.”

    However you want to dress it up, it’s not a detail. Far from it!

    And the policy document quoted clearly does imply that details of people’s journeys are going to be recorded. That’s not acceptable to me. I would hope it isn’t acceptable to most party members.

  • Trackers would also allow them to issue speeding tickets based on how far your car has gone over a certain time. Issue parking tickets based on where your car was stationary for an amount of time, All automatically as very little cost to the State by an unthinking machine it is impossible to reason or negotiate with.

    If you think there using minor traffic offences as an alternate form of taxation now…………

  • Urgh. I don’t like this one bit.

    What use would a privacy guarantee or robust legal protection of data be against successive governments? Not a lot. It wouldn’t take much before the police bagged the right to track terrorist suspects with the technology, and from there on, it’s slip, slip, slide…

    Nick Clegg should take a stand against the ever-increasing culture of surveillance in the UK, rather than adding to it.

  • David Heigham 4th Jun '08 - 6:18pm

    There is an individual vehicle tracking (not individual person tracking) system that works accross the country at the moment. It is a Norwich Union car insurance policy that charges you for miles driven rather than a flat rate per year. I commend it to those who like ecologically desirable price incentives, and to those who drive few miles.

    As Iain Coleman says, there is also a non-tracking charging system available. For universal charging, I guess that one is likely to prove better value (even though it does not have GPS location thrown in) as well as better privacy.

    Commenters who think road pricing is electoral poison forget that the primitive London system – which does not offer compensating cuts in petrol duty and Vehicle Excise Duty – proved pretty popular.

  • I’m not against the principle, but I agree with Jock that it does depend entirely on the details.

    The ‘civil liberties’ line is not an excuse to react automatically against any proposal of this sort but an opportunity to clarify our rights and create means and methods to catch any abusers or intruders.

    This is an electoral goldmine. The other parties can’t be trusted with our data and can’t be trusted to put sufficient or adequate controls on corporations or the state.

    We can win this argument and thereby we can show we are to be trusted in government. Of course it is painful to go outside our comfort zone, but to do so demonstrates our foresight and our determination.

    I hear the sound of gunfire!

  • Norman Scott 4th Jun '08 - 9:42pm

    In respect of Iain’s anonymity scheme,

    i) How do you appeal against a bill if there is no record of where you have been, or is the answer that we assume the technology is infalible?

    ii) How do you track or police evasion if there is no record of where you have been?

    iii) If instead the ‘privacy guarantee’ is purely cosmetic as in of the same high quality protection as the Home Office data mislaid last year, what guarantee is it?

  • The legions of hauliers whining about fuel costs compared to the rest of Europe conveniently ignore the lines of toll booths across many of the continent’s motorways. Much as toll booths are low tech they do target long-distance journeys and push the cost/speed ratio in favour of other modes – ie you can avoid the tolls on local roads but it’ll take you a lot longer.

    If the public is too squeamish to accept the technology then some form of toll boothing may be the only answer. I disagree that it’s not a green policy that way – on the contrary, reducing congestion and getting people out of cars onto trains or coaches IS reducing emissions – and charging people for road travel where they have no alternative is not going to reduce emissions – it’s just going to impoverish them.

    A fair approach would be to tie individual road pricing schemes with public transport alternatives – for example halve trans-pennine rail fares, and double capacity, on the day you open toll booths on the M62.

    Rail capacity in and out of London is a problem, but a fleet of subsidised express coaches (with dedicated lanes if necessary) could easily complement toll booths on the M1, A1 and other key roads, at least until the proposed high speed rail link is completed.

  • Let’s stop calling busses, coaches, trains and trams public transport and start calling them mass-transport, eh?

    ‘Public’ transport ignores the fact that every company is profit-motivated.

    If we can be clear about the real motivation behind corporate behaviour by increasing economic transparency and accountability we can make sure we make the best economic decisions.

    This ties in with the simplest reason for pushing road pricing, which is to try to create price-comparability between different modes of transport so that consumers can make informed decisions about how best to get from A-to-B based on some real economic figures rather than some illusory sales pitch.

  • “There’s a motorway toll in the West Midlands which has signally failed to relieve congestion in the region”

    Seems to do a pretty good job of preventing congestion on the road itself though! The whole tragedy of it is that the toll is marketed as a means to avoid the congestion on the free route.

    Like I said, those using their SatNav to negotiate the free B-Road route will find themselves with a much longer journey; some will do it for sure, but I reckon most will either pay up or consider alternative modes.

    Because travelling long distances on B-Roads is a bit like travelling long distances on local buses with a free pass – it’s cheap and kitsch, but slow and awkward. And suddenly you have to worry about the additional costs of overnight stays and more sustenance.

    The public is so against hi-tech road pricing for now that I reckon toll booths are the only workable medium-term option. The issues with toll booths will ultimately pave the way for higher technology at a later stage.

  • Paul Reynolds 5th Jun '08 - 6:06am

    It is necessary to explain more directly why the new Lib Dem road pricing policy is so ill thought through and just plain barmy.

    First; the costs faced by the general voting public. Trains and track are expensive, but the majority of costs are covered by ticket revenues for each journey. Roads and traffic systems are expensive too but they are paid for (several times over) indirectly, by petroleum taxes, car tax, tax discs, and motoring/parking fines & charges. However, with increases in fuel economy and vehicle reliability, individual INCREMENTAL car journeys are much cheaper for car owners than trains, despite much higher fuel prices.

    Part of the answer is to SHIFT road financing from taxation to usage, to create ‘fairer’ competition between rail and road for individual journeys – thus reducing car usage and emissions and increasing rail usage where there is capacity.

    Higher fuel prices – especially in Europe – continue to generate improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency, and dampen increases in road usage. Even higher taxes will continue to do so.

    Paying for the costs of road building & maintenance directly in practice means basic ‘entry and exit’ charges like motorway tolls and congestion charges – and new electronic systems in Singapore, Switzeland and elsewhere are very cost-effective (and can be easily ‘hypothecated’).

    Cost per mile charges however, sever the link between the actual cost of roads and the revenues raised. In addition, when applied as a general policy, they are enormously expensive and complicated to administer. They require a vast electronic infrastructure, and systems of fines for non payment require number plate scanning technology as well as payment system technology, especially if complex exemption systems are proposed – as indeed the new Lib Dem policy proposes.

    Due to the technology needed to implement it, cost per mile road pricing also provides for government a database of everyone’s whereabouts, which will make Labour advocates of the nanny state, and civil servants, salivate.

    Promises of that such data will not be used by the State apparatus, are just laughable to anyone with a rudimentary grasp of recent history.

    Most Lib Dems support with their heart and soul the Party’s courageous stand over the ‘surveillance society’, and Nick Clegg should be admired for his principled position. But this new cost per mile road pricing policy has, with great sadness I’m afraid, driven a coach & horses through our anti surveillance principles.

    Civil servants and the lobbyists who persuaded our party on this one, will be celebrating a great victory. Our adoption of this broad cost per mile road pricing policy (as opposed to an entry and exit system and other feasible proposals) signals a terrible day for liberalism, but great day for the nanny state.

    For the bureaucracy, excuses to extend the nanny state will always trump more important aims, like making the UK free of harmful emissions – an aim we are forgetting in the rush to punish the ‘population’ and in our willingness to be cajoled by slick lobbying from the electronic ‘surveillance’ and payment industry.

    We need to focus more on non-statist innovations in public transport, and on leading the world in non-polluting private transport.

    Only when we have more stringent deadlines for zero emissions than California, will I begin to feel we are doing our best. Paul

  • David Heigham 5th Jun '08 - 2:10pm

    Just to comfort everyone: –

    1. Detailed universal road pricing can be done without a massive, insecure and shaky data base. A scheme of the sort that Iain rightly commends above works through YOU having a sealed record of every charging point you have passed. That record generates your bill, the total of which is read automatically and remotely from time to time.

    2. You can use that sealed record to appeal against a wrong bill.

    3. If you really don’t want anyone to be able to find out where you have driven to ,you unseal the record and delete it after you have paid the latest bill. Then no record exists. (Putting in automatic record deletion X months after the automatic bill reading would be no problem.)

    4. Proper flexible road pricing like this allows transferring many elements of motoring costs that are now overheads on to a per mile (or km.) basis – VED and insurance for starters. That discourages additional journeys.

    5. Nobody is suggesting eliminating road fuel duty. It is a key incentive for introducing more fuel-efficient vehicles.The best policy against our motoring danaging other people (which happens through both congestion and climate change) is a combination of road pricing and fuel duties. However, what produces changes in car design is the international levels of fuel duty: there is not much point in keeping our levels well above the rest of Europe. We do better raising the rest through road pricing.

    6. Proper road pricing can be introduced area by area, thus getting the bugs out of the system early. There is no calamitous disaster of a national switch-on day.

    7. LibDem policy is better the longer you look at it. It happens that way in a lot of policy fields.

  • “5. Nobody is suggesting eliminating road fuel duty. It is a key incentive for introducing more fuel-efficient vehicles.The best policy against our motoring danaging other people (which happens through both congestion and climate change) is a combination of road pricing and fuel duties. However, what produces changes in car design is the international levels of fuel duty: there is not much point in keeping our levels well above the rest of Europe. We do better raising the rest through road pricing.”

    But we are suggesting reducing fuel duty, which will reduce the incentives to pump up your tyres, drive carefully etc, as I outlined earlier. Furthermore, our fuel costs give an incentive to buy smaller and/or more economical cars, although clearly EU wide duty matters as well in terms of what manufacturers offer.

    I have looked at this proposal for road pricing long and hard. It will be costly to implement compared with just having fuel duties (the London scheme eats a majority of the revenue in costs), and it will worsen global warming. I don’t find it looks any better for having looked at it longer, quite the reverse.

  • David Heigham’s comments are well-meaning but naive. Can you really entrust the implementation of a ‘sealed system’ to British civil servants ? One thing one learns in politics from experience is that in IMPLEMENTATION you have to assume the worst from the bureaucratic implementers, or face disaster. Wildly optimistic assumptions about the ability of civil servants to implement perfectly, without self interest, is Labour’s psychological flaw, not ours. Of course it is POSSIBLE to keep public information ‘sealed’, it is just very unlikely, and a cavalier risk to our liberties that MUST NOT be taken. . NHS IT systems, tax credits, child benefit, rail privatisation/subsidisation, polyclinics, detention-without-charge safeguards, you name it ! Well will we learn ? When will will we enter the real world and vacate our armchair ‘I’ve got a theory’ fantasties ? When will we grow up, finally ?

  • Paul Reynolds 6th Jun '08 - 6:09am

    It is a scandal that Lib Dems have had our roasd pricing policy essentially established as a result of lobbying from fincincial consortia that stand to make billions, and who care not a jot about potential misuse of data and further erosion of civil liberties. Nick Clegg should be reprimanded for allowing this nonsense to slip through.

  • It seems the anti-camp have admitted defeat and are resorting to attacks on the messengers rather than concentrating on the message.

    If we react dogmatically we’ll get left behind, so whatever we do propose we’ve just got to avoid all assumptions and ensure we are fully aware of every possible eventuality to be able to make a judgement about what is most desirable under the present circumstances.

    I’d actually prefer my freedom of movement to be entirely free, but I know the best I can hope for is to pay the actual costs of travel, so I continueto fully support any measure to remove any market distortions between the different transport modes.

    Database issues regarding private information can be resolved, but there’s still no price that can be fairly placed on exchanging my freedom of movement for our freedom of information without recognising, defining and enforcing the natural limits on both.

  • Matt, the issues you refer to don’t arise if the design is got right in the first place: you want to ensure that the horse doesn’t bolt, so you close the door behind you in case of just such an eventuality.

  • David Heigham 6th Jun '08 - 3:34pm


    I was a civil servant. You are right that in implementation you should always guard against mis-use. My fellow officials are rather bad at seeing the possibilities that others with evil intentions may mis-use a system. It is therefore imperative that possibilities of mis-use are minimimsed. For road pricing that means leaving all the journey details in the car and never transmitting them to the charging system unless YOU choose to for a good reason at a particular moment. That is what I meant by “sealed”; sealed in the memory of your car’s automatic road price collecting unit, not circulating through a national system.

    tim leunig

    As yo uare probably aware, rising fuel duty (the Fuel Duty Escalator in thr jargon) was the most effective anti- climate change measure Britain has implemented(why Gordon Brown abandoned it is another story). But in the long run the major effects for reducing CO2 emissions from pricing up fuel work through the incentive to make vehicles more fuel efficient. The other effects, apart from discouraging journeys, are secondary. Road pricing discourages journeys just as well as fuel duties, and in a more discriminating way.

  • Paul Burall 8th Jun '08 - 9:17am

    While disliking this proposal, I would just make two points. First, for rural dwellers like me road pricing could actually be a benefit, as we are likely to be charged very little as our roads are (comparatively) uncongested, while high fuel costs hit us hard. Second, when (hopefully not if) we get cars that use very little fuel (100mpg is technically easily feasible) and/or cars are powered by renewables-generated fuels, the problem will not be one of emissions but of congestion and fuel taxes may then not be the best route to go.

  • I know an awful lot about this subject but if I told you why I would have to kill you. I have a huge degree of sympathy for the civil liberties arguments on here but I am afraid you are all way too late and way too naive. If you were to travel say from a suburb of London to a suburb of Leeds by car, you would be caught by dozens of ANPR cameras (automatic number plate recognition). Every police force would know instantly when you entered their area and when you left. Your number plate is flagged up and checked with DVLA for tax disc and insurance and if the police want to track you they can put a marker on your car and that is flagged also. This system is operational now and was used to track the cars of the 7/11 bombers (after the event) so they knew their entire movements for days beforehand.

    This policy seems to be a copy of the existing DfT proposal and is therefore not about the environment but about demand management.At current rates of traffic growth the strategic road network (motorways and trunk roads) will have major areas of congestion that will mean almost stationary trafic for long periods of the day. There are 2 ways to deal with this, build more roads or manage demand by pricing. Therefore the SW section of the M25 at 8 am Monday to Friday would be the most expensive road on the network. Other bits of the network would be free.
    As an “expert” in this field I am v conflicted about its introduction. I will ignore the civil liberties arguments as that horse has bolted already. In terms of whether we manage demand by congestion or pricing, I see the former as unacceptable for UK plc but see the latter as incredibly difficult to manage administratively. Whichever option is used we need to have far more imaginative public transport solutions to give people alternatives.

  • Sorry, I should have said 7/7 bombers.

  • Paul Reynolds 8th Jun '08 - 11:31am

    Ref ‘John D’ comments…

    I rest my case.


  • John D: there are not just two ways to deal with the problem: there is a third, which is leave it to the ‘market’. The fact that there is congestion on a particular road at a particular time is a function of hundreds or thousands of individual decisions. Human beings are highly adaptable and therefore so is the free market: individuals are deciding whether it is worth their while to travel on a piece of road at a particular time bearing in mind the amount of congestion they may encounter, the cost in fuel, and whether they will be able to arrive at their destination at a satisfactory time. If the cost seems worth it, then what is the problem? If it doesn’t then the individual has to find an alternative solution.

  • Matt, I find it quite eay to agree with quite a lot of what Mr Blair said, so I won’t take that as an insult.

    His words were fine and he did have an effective style of oratory, unfortunately his actions became increasingly divergent from his words: do you remember “we will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated to prevent them”?

    I understand the motivation behind the precautionary principle, but that shouldn’t lead to anyone to sit on their hands to avoid taking action, it should force us to get the design right before we introduce it (though political reality means this is rarely the case).

    Both the problems you raise are consequences of flaws in the design process which led to flaws in the design (or lack thereof) in the system.

    re John D and civil liberties: a notoriously brutal kidnap/rape/murder case from my area was solved by the ANPR system tracking a suspected vehicle within 30 minutes of the report being filed so I can recognise the applications. I still think however that it is important to make the distinction between dual-carriage highways and the universally accessible streets and by-ways which we live on and walk down, elsewise are we going to start charging pedestrians and cyclists?

  • tony hill

    “there are not just two ways to deal with the problem: there is a third, which is leave it to the ‘market’. The fact that there is congestion on a particular road at a particular time is a function of hundreds or thousands of individual decisions.”

    But the proposed policy is presented primarily as a means of reducing carbon emissions. Clearly “leaving it to the market” isn’t going to achieve that.

    Of course, it’s very questionable whether the answer is to reduce fuel tax and replace it with road-pricing for selected journeys!

  • Lee, similarly, if were a cash grab why are we arguing that it is fairer?

    “to tax differently, not more” – have you bothered to read the document yet?

  • Let me see. Massively complex computer system that needs to monitor the location of all cars and lorries (and by implication normally their owners), with a Lib Dem guarantee of privacy. We may believe that privacy needs protecting, but New Authoritarian Labour, Old Authoritarian Conservatives and the Home Office, the secret service etc, etc? Remember Local Authorities using legislation intended for fighting terrorism, to determine whether a family lived in a particular schools catchment area.

    I wonder if we really ever think through how our pronouncements can be misused by non-liberals. Which bit of “safeguard a free, fair and open society … fundamental values of liberty” don’t we understand?

  • Perhaps someone can explain how CO2 can be a pollutant when the Dutch use enhanced CO2 at levels of 1200ppm or more to get higher and faster growth levels in their glass houses, normal levels are 380ppm.
    Perhaps someone can show a link between rising CO2 levels and temperature, global temperature stopped rising in 1998 while CO2 carried on increasing, Co2 does not drive temperature and is not a pollutant.
    Don`t be conned, go on the net and type (Global warming skeptic) and learn the truth.

  • Not a chemistry specialist, but the relative density of CO2 molecules means it stores greater energy compared to the average atmospheric composition at similar pressures. Within the range of the process the rate of photosynthesis varies according to the relative values of sunlight, temperature and chemical and nutrient availability.

    Further to this different plants manage the process slightly differently with infinite variation in the by-products.

    Our friend Bob, above, seems to have a seen a definitve set of facts but has failed to understand how this knowledge can be applied to different situations with different effects.

    Pollution is like weeds, in that both are perfectly normal things which happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong to the wrong effect for our purposes.

  • Hywel Morgan 3rd Jul '08 - 8:04pm

    Bob – whether something is a pollutant depends on where it is found. Eg, ozone is very useful and important high in the atmosphere, less so at ground level.

  • David Evans 16th Aug '08 - 8:29pm

    A massive, enormously complex computer system. Can you imagine the fun consultants would have in interpreting “2.4.17 We envisage that our motorway and trunk road user charging scheme would operate using the ‘tag and beacon’ scheme, covering motorways and trunk roads. To avoid a plague of ‘rat running’, the technology chosen must allow for penalties to be enforced on drivers who ‘rat run’ in order to avoid payment” as one example.

    An example of the politics of dreams I’m afraid.

  • Andrew Davis 6th Nov '08 - 8:40pm

    We need a decent transport system and inter urban roads are a central part of that. We need to pay for their upkeep and a road-user charge is a good way to do it. You do not need to to have a spy in the sky, the government does not need to know who or where you are. All you need is for the vehicle to know where it is and it can work out how much it should pay. It collects the fee from a local nominated mobile telephone. The technogy in done and dusted. The rate to charge in most areas and for most vehicles would be to low to bother colecting (most roads most of the time around a penny a mile). Don’t do it on CO2 use fuel tax for that. Use it for raod damage and congestion. For more

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