Road pricing trial and its sweetener for motorists

 Government plans about how it should trial its controversial road pricing scheme, despite protests from more than 1.8 million people who petitioned against it, is already having problems.

My nearby city, Cambridge, is one of the cities lined up for this. Yet plans so far appear to be very poorly thought out, with the Government said to be looking for volunteers to try out its proposed congestion charging scheme.

One idea is that motorists taking part could be offered cheaper fuel in return for installing a black box in the car to measure journeys and charge drivers according to the mileage they drive. I have no idea how much the discount is, and it is obviously a sweetener to get them on board.

However, Cambridge is renowned for being a “cycle city” and has excellent park-and-ride schemes, it is not a typical city. Why not trial families who live in rural areas to see what impact this will have on their lives, those who have no alternative form of transport available?

This idea sounds very complicated, ill-thought out and impractical to me. What if there are no volunteers, or just a handful? Will it then be forced on all motorists in the selected cities? And will they all be offered discounted fuel?

Shouldn’t a trial be as realistic as possible – and as there will clearly be no discounted fuel on offer once this scheme is implemented across the country, it seems pretty pointless to me.


  1. I think it’s such a shame that the government seem to have lost such a lot of the initial PR battles on this one. Road pricing is inevitable – there’s an increasing number of cars, and a limited amount of space – and, as long as people don’t end up paying more than they do now, I can’t see why people are so against it.

    I actually worked to promote the London Congestion Charge when it was first introduced, so am bound to be a bit biased. But even so… And now, given a choice of paying a charge on the M6 toll, or trying my luck on the M6, I’ll pay the charge every time…

  2. electro-kevin

    The Association of British Drivers offers good resistance to such as this

    Of course we’ll end up paying more to use our cars and for poorly made roads that we’ve paid umpteen times for already.

    I feel that, contrary to all that we are being told, our country is in poor economic shape – in evidence of this I cite the ramshackle nature of our infrastructure and services and the increasing inventiveness of the Chancellor in order to extract money from us. Five wars and 1.5 million extra immigrants since Nu Lab came to power can’t be helping the situation either.

    The only carbon footprint I’m interested will be the one on New Labour’s arse when they get kicked out of office – hopefully for a very long time.

  3. When I was in Singapore, the government did a number of things to get people out of cars and into public transport and to ration road space. They have a very high tax, which is depreciated over the life of the car. It makes buying a car a very expensive proposition. In addition, there is road pricing, with cars having electronic boxes in the car, which collects differential charges, depending on the level of congestion and time of day. If everybody who could afford a car in Singapore, without these taxes, which is many, the place would grind to a complete halt.

  4. Sorry but hope the whole thing rebounds on them.

  5. stupid idea! they should be developing alternate fuels, hybrid vehicles..fuel should be dearer not cheaper… and this ‘big brother mentality” re black just horrible

    One of our maufacturers offers a black box in their vehicle so companies can track their staff.

    I have seen a fleet manager ‘watching” his staff on the computer…. also manages fuel consumption/driving style etc and print a report ..

    I loath it

  6. In Comment 5, Sheila said, “The Government originally promised that any scheme would be revenue-neutral, i.e. a new way of paying for motoring, not a way of paying more.”

    Unfortunately, revenue-neutral can only mean that the total amount raised annually would be the same as under the current system. It cannot mean that each of us would pay what we pay now. Therefore, there will be winners and losers.

    If I were a winner why would I want to reduce my car use? If I were a loser, I’d be angry that additional taxation was imposd upon me.

  7. Pavlov’s dogs… I’m not salivating at the thought! But glad I’ve got a bike. Michelle

  8. So we will all have a little gadget in our car wired up to a central computer which will work out how much we drive and what time of day and where and then send us a bill calculated to be “revenue-neutral”


    National Programme for Information Technology
    Passport Office Computer system
    Home Office Computer system

    Pavlov’s dogs?

  9. economically, road pricing is a good idea to ration a scarce resource.

    In the hands of a statist, tax-grabbing, IT incompetent government it is a gauranteed disaster.

  10. If we just had decent buses that ran on time then I believe more people would use them….. Young people especially want to be green, dont want to pay for petrol and are used to using buses for school but round here the buses are worst than ever before so people are forced to their cars.

  11. What is the point of having debates and petitions if a government will force things through against the will of the people?

  12. Somewhere, not sure where, I read this motto:
    “Save the planet, let the sick and the old die”

    or Dick Cheney’s favourite:
    “Save the planet – nuke China & north korea”

    Alas, I like the comfort of driving in my own ‘space’ – pedal to the metal on the german autobahn. But I can’t understand why all those people always get caught in the same traffic jam!

  13. Sadly, higher fuel (pump) prices, congestion charges, and road pricing – are regressive taxes – they hit those on lower incomes and small businesses the hardest. They literally force off the roads those who cannot pay.

    We should be aiming at providing a public transport service that is comfortable, convenient, frequent, efficient and cheap …
    encouraging people off the road – not pricing people off the road.

    After all if Ryan Air can fly people for £7.00 to New York, how mant people would choose to drive. If trains could get you to Scotland or Paris for £7.00 (and in three hours) how many would choose to drive (or fly).

    But hey if we need to take two million people off the road, better to force those on lowest pay – then there’d be more room for the rest on higher pay. But will the higher revenues be spent on more & better public transport … or simply on more roads?

    I remember tax on cigarretes was justified because it would increase NHS revenues, Now a smoker pays £3.00 a pack or £1,500 a year on NHS tax, on top of NIC – but if he hasn’t got private health insurance on top he may not be able to get treatment in a privatised health system. Ironically he may not be able to get private health insurance if he smokes – or if his DNA profile is not good, his premiums may shoot thru the roof.
    And if he needs dentistry he’ll still have to pay.

  14. I don’t drive and motorways in Italy have always had tolls so I can’t get worked up about this one. Here we have a new post office [which is as inefficient as the old one] and what amuses me is how everyone worries about the lack of parking near it, as it never occurs to anyone to walk 100 yards or so to it!

  15. The Government originally promised that any scheme would be revenue-neutral,

    Oh well that’s alright then , I can sleep safely now , that sounds really trustworthy.
    ( You see what I`m doing here . I`m using a technique known as sarcasm).You Sheila have signed up to the statist agenda with a green tinged disguise.
    In the New Statesman today Top Boffin Brian Hoskins ( Proffesor of Meteorology Reading) had this to say.
    Environment ..we are all going to die etc….. then.. “The political Parties have taken off on this but they have left behind then a considerable proportion of the electorate who are still wedded to Margaret Thatcher’s notion of individual freedom …” Damn right we are., I could it care less about what the RAC thinks it is doing for poor drivers which is not is job any way. Its job if it has one at all politically is to stick up for all drivers. Recant your support of this insidious assault on Liberty or I `ll report you to his majesty Jeremy Clarkson.

    Its your choice.

  16. Sheila, That’s the position we are in. My husband commutes to Colchester most days which is a 1 1/2 hour drive and we have really noticed the increase in petrol prices, it has affected us considerably. There is no easy train journey there, which would be a very welcome alternative. City dwellers usually have alternatives, those who live in villages like us are not so lucky, we will be paying the brunt of this.

  17. Hi Newmania,

    The RAC Foundation is trying to influence the debate on road pricing so that motorists don’t end up paying extra. The Government originally promised that any scheme would be revenue-neutral, i.e. a new way of paying for motoring, not a way of paying more. Also we think it is important to protect those on lower incomes, who already pay around 20% of their household budgets on transport – they can’t be asked to pay more just to get to work or college.


  18. What the hell is the RAC doing trying to encourage more taxes to fall on motorists ?Don`t they want any customers ?

  19. Well this is just another exampe, of the way they get their way . Road Pricing is universally loathed . People will not accept that only the rich can travel and that is that. The state is trying to give the illusion of Consultation but they will work their way slowly round to imposing their will . They have done it with Parking , with the EU with cameras and there are always similiar elements .
    Start with a Pilot scheme…ease into it slowly , begin to multiply pilot schemes and nevere ever ever ask any mass of people all at once if they want it.

    I saw this a few days ago and recognised the technique immediately .


  20. Thank you Sheila, that’s a really helpful response. Do you think the government should be offering discounted petrol to try and recruit volunteers this way? It seems very strange to me, almost like it feels sorry for these motorists. The local MPs who were asked about it also said they felt this system sounded complicated. What is the minimum number of volunteers required to make it a successful trial? And what will happen if enough do not come forward, even with the promise of cheaper petrol?

  21. Hi Ellee,

    The RAC Foundation – for whom I work, just to make disclosure here – has been promoting the voluntary concept. We see it as a way to take some of the uncertainty out of the issue. Motorists are very worried about road pricing because it is so hard to tell how it would affect their life and work. The US State of Oregon has pioneered a voluntary approach to see how road pricing technolgy could work in the real world and whether it would change behaviour. The fuel tax rebate offsets the fee paid per mile so that the volunteers don’t pay twice. Most motorists don’t think of fuel as a per-mile cost – they think of it in terms of “a tank” or “a week’s worth” so making the costs of journeys more transparent might help change behaviour where practical, for example, the 25 per cent of journeys less than 2 miles.

    Our road pricing blog, UK Drive Time , explains a bit more about how such a concept might work in the UK. Edmund King has also written a couple of pieces for Comment is Free, the Guardian’s blog site, to share a few more thoughts on the idea.

    It’s great that you’re blogging about this – one of the things missing from the debate so far has been the opinions of the man and woman behind the wheel.


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