When a Good Idea Takes Its Toll

The trouble with having a good idea is that sometimes you don’t discover the consequences of its ‘goodness’ until much later on.

A prime example of the above is giving the drivers of lower emission cars the benefit of paying either little, or no, road tax as an incentive for running a more environmentally friendly vehicle. The government of the day must have thought their ‘good idea’ was foolproof until a bean counter from the Office For Budget Responsibility discovered there would very likely be a shortfall in income of around £100m per year by the year 2014 (it currently raises a massive £6bn)

In these austere times, that would cover the cost of an awful lot of ipads or second home allowances for our MPs.

What is urgently needed then, is a replacement revenue source for the depleted licence fee, that could still be raised from the easy target that is the road user.

Enter Plan B.

They could either:

  • charge a toll to use certain major roads or
  • reward those motorists who avoid motorways and main routes by allowing them to pay an even lower vehicle excise duty than before.

In both cases, the consequences would be the same.

When drivers (particularly professional ones) have the choice of paying either a higher charge for using a toll road, or using a slower more congested route, they are more likely to choose the latter. Profit margins are already at breaking point and it is highly unlikely their customers will be happy to pay a premium to cover the additional cost of using a ‘premium’ road.

You only have to look at the M6 toll road, around Birmingham, to see the toll road itself is virtually empty while the slower (toll free) original motorway is constantly busy and very often at a standstill.

While the government are presently denying they will make use of pay-as-you-drive charging, or make existing roads into toll roads, encouraging drivers to avoid motorways with financial incentives will cause exactly the same consequences on the minor roads as toll charging would; people will avoid increased costs.

Drivers who already feel financially overburdoned just don’t want to pay any extra to drive on roads that the existing excise duty is supposed to improve and maintain.

It seems like another ‘good idea’ needs to bite the dust!