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February 13, 2007

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mat

I'd be all in favour of road pricing if Britain's roads were being privatized. My neighbours and I would own our street and we'd be able to restrict access. MotorwayCorp A would own the M8 and HighwayCorp B would own the A9, so a trip to Edinburgh might be £3 and a trip to Perth £2. City centres would own their roads and price their use to compete with other city centres. There would be *competition*. I could travel on one route that happens to be a railway for £X, or on another that happens to be tarmacked for £Y.

However, this isn't what will happen.

The government will own the road network and the railway network, and it'll be able to charge me some arbitrary price just for me to drive from my house to the hospital, or to the voting booth, or whatever.

I suppose someone *could* build a competing private road network. But you know this won't happen. It is inconceivable that anyone could seriously compete against the government in this sphere. The government could so easily price anyone out of the market.

Of course, this is one reason why the government shouldn't compete with private individuals and firms in any sphere. Government should be limited to its 5 minimal functions: police, military, justice system, prisons, legislation.

mat

And what about hospital pricing, school pricing, library pricing, etc? The government wants to cut congestion on the roads. Well I think it should cut congestion in our hospitals. We could seriously cut waiting lists by installing GPS units into everyone at birth and sending them a bill every month depending on how much time the GPS unit is detected as being in a hospital or surgery.

Andrew

London congestion charging creates a record of every vehicle that was spotted by cameras in the zone -- I'm not sure how that is not intrusive.

mat's second comment is totally reasonable, by the same, correct, logic. I agree wholeheartedly. Just as you say, if the problem is that some people are too poor for medical care, they should be given more benefit. Just because you're poor doesn't give you the right to clog up the hospitals for others.

dizzy

In principle ont eh following grounds:

1: The statist nature of the policy.
2: Motorists have alreayd paid for the roads in the country hundreds of time over with road tax and fuel tax.
3: Your London congestion Charge agrument is inaccurate has has been pointed out. Every single car is photographed entering and exiting the zone. Numebr plate recogintion is in place for it.
4: This is not about introducing a market in the road space because it's not proposing the privatisation of roads. That is a false argument.

Dr Dan H.

The way I see this, the argument here is more or less between theorists and practical implementors.

In theory, road pricing is a very good idea and would massively improve upon the current system; it also need not increase taxation or cost much to administer.

In practice, it is an utterly moronic idea since the current Government has proved over and over again that it cannot organise a pissup in a brewery, especially not where technology more complex than a pocket calculator is concerned.

At the moment, the Government is provably unable to even administer the current system properly. There are two million untaxed vehicles on the roads, and the numbers are increasing. Imposing a new system of taxes will not magically make this better; it will simply magnify the problems.

The current government is also notorious for taxation. It loves taxing people, and it loves lots and lots of micromanaging rules; it is also demonstrably incompetent where running projects are concerned.

So, given that past behaviour is a very good predictor of future behaviour, it is likely that such a golden opportunity to raise taxes will be seized upon with glee, to pay back the huge deficit run up by the incompetently administered project that built the system.

In short, road pricing is a really, really bad idea for all road users.

Don Lloyd

"...It's that road space is a scarce resource. Scarce resources will be rationed somehow. And the best way to ration them is by price rather than queueing...."

This is a false choice. The fact that congestion can be reduced by any proportion up to 100% by charging a high enough price or tax is a foregone conclusion, not a proof that it is a good idea.

In a free market, market prices emerge from the interplay of supply and demand, and serve to modulate both. Arbitrary prices that only affect demand are different in kind.

If an access license fee is set so that the congestion level is reduced by x%, then any method that restricts the number of licenses to the same number will also reduce the congestion level by x%. The choice of price rationing over any other method of license distribution is arbitrary and inflexible, and likely welfare degrading. If an employer is granted only enough licenses for 25% of his employees, he will have to coordinate a response with his employees that that makes up the difference. This could include shuttle vans, car-pooling, telecommuting, scheduling changes, etc. The point is that no one-size-fits-all plan will work any where near as well.

While it is clear why the political and financial elites like road pricing as they can easily outbid the use of the roads away from the less well off, road pricing makes no sense unless it can attract privately provisioned supply.

Regards, Don

zorro

"3: Your London congestion Charge agrument is inaccurate has has been pointed out. Every single car is photographed entering and exiting the zone. Numebr plate recogintion is in place for it."

And that is 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, regardless of the hours the C charge is in effect.

dearieme

I think that I can just about remember a tax that was pretty good in theory but which proved to be a political disaster in practice when introduced. What was it again....?

(And, I am happy to boast, I was all for it in theory and dead against it in practice.)

anon

To me these sound like practical arguments disguised as principled ones. The question is: If the idea were implemented by a goverment you trusted/ supported (or at least, distrusted less), would you then support road pricing?

VS

Well, yes, I do wonder if a Conservative govt introduced it saying they were introducing the market principle into road transport and 'you can't get something for nothing' whether certain opponents of road pricing would have a more favourable opinion of it;)

VS

Well, yes, I do wonder if a Conservative govt introduced it saying they were introducing the market principle into road transport and 'you can't get something for nothing' whether certain opponents of road pricing would have a more favourable opinion of it;)

Mark Holland

What Mat said.

Plus, being a tightwad I'll park miles away and walk rather than pay and display, in all liklehood people will leave the expensive main roads and make for the side roads. Their sat-navs will be programmed for just that option. And, frankly, I'd rather as much traffic as possible was on the main roads and the side roads remained as quiet as possible.

sanbikinoraion

anon: no, clearly not, because governments are inherently untrustworthy - at least, UK governments, because there is little restriction on the shit they can pull with a big enough majority.

Even if the road pricing black boxes were anonymous prepay cards, I still wouldn't want the scheme on the basis that the government could, at some future point, require them not to be anonymous. In the wake of another terrorist attack, for instance.

---

Other people have made an excellent point in the comparison with the health service, and I await Mr. Dillow's riposte to that with great interest.

Phil

"I'll grant that New Labour will implement this in the most ham-fisted and illiberal way possible. ... But these are arguments about practice. They don't discredit the principle"

No. These are arguments against giving any kind of support - even heavily qualified /you-could-be-doing-this-so-much-better/ support - to what this government is *actually doing*. I'll vote against free beer if it's anti-democratic, illiberal, corporate-capitalist free beer.

"It's not obvious that road pricing must be a bigger intrusion than, say, an Oyster card."

That's a low standard - the quantity of data that gets harvested (and retained?) from those cards is fairly striking.

Gkgf

Dizzy, could you try reading you "It's not regressive" reference again, with the rural poor in mind? I am not quite convinced that because many "poor" live in the middle of potential congestion-charge cities and don't have cars, all of us on low incomes will merely reap the gains of faster city buses (woo-hoo!) and see no downside from whatever road-pricing scheme is brought in.

Guzzidave

OK in theory. But you just know that the implementation will be a monumental cock-up. Any government that tries it will lose the next election - guaranteed.

Cleanthes

VS

"Well, yes, I do wonder if a Conservative govt introduced it saying they were introducing the market principle into road transport and 'you can't get something for nothing' whether certain opponents of road pricing would have a more favourable opinion of it;)"

And I can't help wondering if quite a few current supporters of the idea wouldn't change to visceral opposition for good measure.

Your point is?

Sam

In principle, charging for road usage is an appropriate way of internalising the externalities of traffic congestion. Note that it is a completely useless way of dealing with CO2 emissions. If that's what you want, you need to make petrol cost more.

There are some practical problems, though:

1. Civil liberties. The amount of data stored and tracked by the London congestion charge or by the Oyster card system is intrusive. A scheme of national road pricing must be worse. You should note that charging tolls for motorway use won't reduce congestion - it'll just drive more traffic onto the A roads through town centres. If you want to reduce congestion with a charge on road usage, you have to apply a charge to all the roads.

2. Cost efficiency. I seem to remember that the Congestion Charge is rather expensive to collect, given that it has to pay for all the cameras, ANPR computers, database and the infrastructure to allow people to pay the charge. The Government can't even spend a sensible amount of money on a simple NHS computer system - what are the chances that we'll get something sensibly priced that works for this even larger project?

3. Determining the appropriate level of the charge. Let's face it - this won't happen. The road price will be a political football that managerialist governments of all political stripes will tinker with to gain support from one or other special interest group.

john b

Gkgf: if you're driving on rural roads, they won't be congested and you won't have to pay. Simple, no?

Stephen Harrison

We at The Car Party are vehemently opposed to road pricing and congestion
charging, increasing the population of this country beyond acceptable levels
and the ever widening poverty gap between rich and poor are essential
political failures. Road pricing will see a rise in costs for no benefit,
people will move home, forcing the low paid into ghettos of high congestion
and road pricing areas whilst the rich will be able to enjoy the benefits of
increased unemployment and a lowering of customer services due to being
served by more cheap and mobile migrant workers.

Road pricing will bring about the social upheaval that The Friends Of The
earth seek and the lower paid and working classes will pay the price for
academic meddling.

Re nationalizing the railways to escape the profit motive and allowing more
parking spaces and free public transport from a publicly owned transport
system is the way forward.

1.8 Million people have said No to road pricing it is unacceptable and The
Car Party has been formed to represent the majority motorist view.

Perhaps those who advocate such a scheme would prefer a means tested system
where only those earning say £30,000 plus should be allowed to own a car.

Kieron Talbot-Sykes

Road pricing as mentioned by many will lead to a greater social gap; the poor will have to give up their cars and maybe their jobs because of the inability to get to work on a costly, unconnected public transport system, while the rich drive around in huge gas-guzzling 4x4’s.

There are too many cars on the road, but rather than tax our way out of it lets take a sensible look at it; have a better immigration policy that restricts the amount of people to enter the country – less people = less cars, that is not rocket science. Retest all drivers when they get to 60, if they are not competent revoke their licence, this will reduce congestion and again, its not rocket science! There are plenty more fair ways to reduce traffic all we need is a government who has the ability to think.

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