New research from the Independent Transport Commission suggests that the public is more open to accepting Road User Charging once they understand the issues surrounding the current revenue-raising methods.
It says it carried out the research because the £38bn raised in taxation from motorists every year – £32bn in fuel duty and £6bn in road tax – is fast diminishing as more fuel efficient vehicles enter the market and older models are removed. “With vehicles up to three times more fuel efficient than in the 1990s,” it says in a statement, “the decline in fuel duty becomes ever steeper, a trend identified by the Office of Budget Responsibility. But that £38bn pays for far more than roads. It makes a major contribution to the funding of policing, schools and hospitals. Something has to be done to deal with this rapidly more urgent issue.”
Its research was conducted by Social Research Associates and surveyed the opinions of more than 2,250 people carefully selected as a representative cross-section of the public across the UK. It was part supported by the independent grant awarding charity The Rees Jeffreys Road Fund.
The headline findings are surprising and include the following:
- When told how revenue is falling, there is less public support for maintaining the status quo than is commonly believed. Of those polled, 65% supported some new form of paying for road use in the light of declining revenue from fuel duty
- No options for reform of paying for road use are wholly rejected, including charging per mile and a new charge for using motorways as alternatives to fuel duty. There was also significant support by higher motorway mileage users (34% of drivers polled) for paying a congestion charge partly on the grounds that it would free up road space for those paying
- Citizens are much more willing to consider new forms of paying for road use when properly informed and when the full context is explained. They also have a preference for funding choices where they retain some control – such as peak hour only charges or different rates between local roads and motorways – rather than blanket measures such as area charging or general income tax increases.
- Concerns about equity and fairness are clearly important issues for the public and need to be adequately addressed if any reform is to be widely welcomed. However, although measures to reduce carbon emissions were supported, this was not a strong influence on personal choices.
Steve Norris, former Transport Minister and Chairman of the ITC Working Group, commented, “There is a potential black hole in the public finances as motoring taxes pay for more than our national roads. To a significant extent they also pay for schools and hospitals, so governments will shortly be facing the unpalatable political reality of either having to reduce public spending significantly or raising additional taxes elsewhere, unless they engage seriously with how the country pays for its roads and road use. As rapid progress in technology brings down the infrastructure costs of creating a charging regime and the use of travel information expands the traditional hurdles to road pricing on the national strategic road network decrease.”
He added, “this body of work gets under the skin of the issues and robustly tests long held assumptions about the public’s appetite for change. We commend this research to the Government and believe the time is right to consider new forms of paying for road use, learning from pilot studies elsewhere.”
You can read the whole report here.