Sunday, 25 February 2007

Streets Paved With Gold?

I've been trying to get my head around the whole road pricing debate. Part of the problem is this debate is being led by discredited politicians. No matter what they say (especially Tony Blair), we don't believe them - we've lost confidence in those who govern us.

So, when we hear from both the UK government and Scottish Executive about plans to introduce road pricing, we assume they are merely trying to squeeze more taxes out of us. Are they?

Well, it's not as simple as that.

On the one hand, it's certainly the case that we can't go on as we are. Protecting our planet for the future means we have to reduce our carbon emissions, congestion in our cities and on major roads is getting worse, and the cost of driving is soaring - which is a problem when people have little option but to drive e.g. in rural areas with virtually no public transport. How do we tackle, and at the same time reconcile, these issues?

On this basis, road pricing would seem like an attractive option. It could reduce overall car use, cut congestion and reduce the cost of driving in rural areas (if it was balanced by the abolition of fixed driving costs like road tax).

But there are potential problems with road pricing.

Firstly, there is the issue of surveillance (and civil liberties). Like many people, I would be appalled at a system that tracked your every movement in your car.

Secondly, there is no guarantee that road pricing won't just become an additional tax on driving.

Thirdly, this scheme presents a problem for businesses, who often don't have a choice about when and where to travel. If business travel costs go up, these costs will have to be passed on to us as customers.

I can't make up my mind on this one. But I can't help thinking that no matter how expensive we make driving, until our public transport is up to scratch, our drivers won't hang up their car keys...

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