Monday 10 January 2022

Environment Monday - The true cost of using our roads

I was contemplating the question of how the money the government raises from road tax and fuel duties actually relates the cost to the government of the cost of maintaining the road network. There was a heated debate on our local facebook group about the resurfacing of Lawrence St by Barnet Council. One local claimed that roads that service the wealthier residents are given preference. It got me think as to who get good value and who doesn't. 

There are two main elements tto the revenue central government makes from motorists. The first is fule duty and the second is the vehicle licence. There are many costs involved. These include maintenance and building of new roads and the associated infrastructure, maintaining lighting and paying for the electricity, costs of policing motorists and the cost of managing licences and driving tests. 

Road tax rates are based on value and CO2 emissions. The fuel duty is fixed and the more fuel you use, the more money you pay. It got me to thinking just how fair this is. If you think of it logically, as the road tax is fixed, the more you drive, the better a deal you get. There is little account taken of how much wear and tear that driving your car does to the road. The heavier your vehicle, the more damage it will cause. I couldn't find an answer to the question as to whether these taxes pay in full for the upkeep of our roads. 

The one thing which is not factored in, or even properly discussed, is the health care costs associated with car generated pollution and motor accidents. There is no financial incentive for motorists to drive in such a way that they produce less pollution or cause few accidents. Modern technology would make it extremely easy to charge drivers more if they pollute or drive in such a way that is more likely to cause accidents. Excessive acceleration and braking is a big cause of unnecessary pollution. We could also incentivise drivers to travel outside of rush hour. I used to have a job that involved driving around the UK to test new credit card soultions for retailers. I found that if I had to drive up to Manchester, it was far more pleasant to leave at 5am and beat the traffic. I'd find a cafe and have breakfast and avoid all the stress of heavy traffic. I'd also use far less fuel and create less CO2. Is there any way that we can justify defending the rights of inconsiderate drivers to cause asthma in other people's children. Logging our journeys, speed and driving behaviour would be easy for manufacturers to install in new cars. There is no reason that this couldn't be downloaded and drivers apply for a tax rebate for good driving practicies as well as driving greener vehicles. Each driver could have a personal driving tax statement. That way a driver who only uses the car occasionally, out of peak hours and drives considerately would get a rebate, whereas a driver who doesn't pays in full.

There are some precedents in transport for differential pricing. I was intrigued to find a spreadsheet that showed how much Network Rail charges train companies for using the railway  I'd never really thought about it before, but every different type of vehicle and every different type of load has its own rate and charges. The Royal Mail, for example pays £6.185 per mile for a train hauled by a class 37/5 locomotive and £6.5872 per mile for a train hauled by a class 47/7 locomotive. I must confess that I have no clue how these charges are calculated, but one assumes that the different fees reflect heavier axle loads, which have higher wear and tear on the system. I was surprised that electric locomotives are even more expensive, a class 86/2 costs £6.8908 per mile. It seems there is no discount for greener propulsion, which I have to conclude is regressive. It seems to me that simply securing access to the rail network is very expensive for operators, which given the fact that rail is far greener than car travel seems very counter intuitive. 

It is also worth mentioning the fact that bicycles attract no vehicle duty or fuel costs. Whilst many motorists complain about cycle lanes, they largely ignore the fact that cycle lanes are only really required because drivers pose a danger to cyclists. They are light and impose virtually no wear and tear on road surfaces. I wonder how long it will be before HGV's and cars are legally required to fit technology to protect cyclists. I used to cycle everywhere, this stopped when a frustrated HGV driver tried to run me over as we approached Fiveways Corner. The required evasive action wrote of my rather expensive bike and the bruises and truama has put me off cycling on A roads ever since. As the technology now exists to prevent such maniacs getting away with such actions, I'd like to see it become mandatory. I was OK, but I could have spent the rest of my life in a wheelchair, such costs are never discussed when we talk about the costs of driving. 

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