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UK freeways - only for wealthy?

2012-10-29 19:41

HIGHER ROAD TAX?: The UK is considering a new plan which will see motorists paying more road tax, however there are other options, of which sound similar to Gauteng's e-toll system.

LONDON, England - Drivers might have to pay higher road tax for using motorways they've already paid for under a plan being considered by the British government.

Does that sound like SA, or what?

The Daily Mail reported that the radical idea was being considered as the UK Treasury faces a budget shortfall caused by families switching to cars that incur lower road tax. Which, of course, is what the government wanted - less CO2 emissions and road congestion.

Two rates of road tax would apply: a lower tier for users of secondary roads and a higher charge for those who want to drive on the nation's extensive motorway networks and other major routes. Spy cameras would catch people drivers using the faster roads without having paid for it.


The AA warned that a two-tier duty system could see motorways become the preserve of wealthier people while the hoi polloi who had contributed to the roads' construction since the 1960's would be excluded.

Spokesman Paul Watters said: "We don’t want a first and second-class system on the roads. There would certainly be more traffic and, if enough traffic diverted, it would stick out like a sore thumb.

"It would lead to slower journeys and more congestion. It would also be an extra nuisance to towns and villages and increase the risk of accidents as A-roads become too busy."

The prime minister has already said private organisations could take over the running of roads in return for pay-as-you-go lanes or a share of road tax revenue. SA again?


A senior UK government source confirmed the two-tier idea was one of a number of proposals to reform a vehicle excise duty regime that raises the equivalent of R85-billion a year.

The source added: "It is true that there is work going on on vehicle excise duty, it follows on from what we spoke about earlier in the year, about making the roads more like utility companies and getting external sources of money into them. There is a suggestion that as part of that you could have a lower vehicle excise duty rate for people not using trunk roads and motorways.

"However, charging people who do use motorways a lot more is not politically attractive and reducing rates for people who don’t would mean raising less money overall. It’s difficult and the work is not concluded yet. This is not about making people pay more." Sure...

Labour claimed the coalition UK government was preparing to unleash a stealth tax on drivers already hard-hit by high fuel prices.


Another possibility being examined by ministers is to shake up the road-fund banding system. Currently, tax is paid on a sliding scale of 13 bands from zero to more than R14 000 in the first year of registration. Drivers pay according to how much carbon dioxide their car pumps out.

Another option is to replace the annual road-duty charge on cars with a one-off, upfront charge on new vehicles. A proposal to link the amount motorists pay in road tax to how far they drive on motorways, or their use at peak times, has been ruled out.

Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said reforming road tax could be acceptable if it led to better journeys for motorists.

“Ministers would go a long way to restoring trust among drivers," he said, "if the proceeds were ring-fenced and ploughed back into road provision.”

The idea for overhauling road tax is part of a review by officials at the Department for Transport and the Treasury which was ordered by Downing Street in March. Prime minister David Cameron said he wanted to kick-start the economy by allowing companies and investment funds to compete to build and operate and maintain motorways and trunk roads.


Vehicle users would not pay tolls to use existing roads that would effectively be privatised, though firms could create extra pay-as-you-go lanes that drivers could use to beat congestion. Read: if you don't want to be caught up in traffic, pay up...

A proportion of the Treasury’s annual R85-billion in vehicle excise duty would go to contractors, probably based on the number of vehicles using the route.

A report from the Institute for Economic Affairs, published in October 2012, calls for the state to privatise the entire road network, raising more than R2500-billion.

Motoring taxes should be phased out altogether and replaced with road tolls, it says. Road users would pay less under a privatised road network than they do now and would have a better network, the report claims.

It suggests tolls would be "as little" as the equivalent of R0.53/km on a new motorway, the Daily Mail reported.


Richard Wellings, head of transport at the IEA, said: "For too long British drivers have had to pay over the odds for a road network that is simply not up to scratch. It's lamentable that this vital area of infrastructure has been neglected by government after government. De-nationalising the network would ensure better roads.

"It would also be much cheaper and end the enormous burden of motoring taxes such as fuel duty.”

A transort spokesman said: "The government has made clear it will not implement tolls on existing road capacity and has no plans to replace existing motoring taxes with pay-as-you-go road charging."

He said the roads review was looking at increasing capacity and boosting economic growth.

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