|London, 29 Sep 1999.
For immediate release.
In proposals launched at the Labour party conference, head of the Commission on Integrated Transport, David Begg, outlined a plan to begin taxing drivers for driving in towns. Labour suggests that this new tax might be offset by reductions in other car taxes, but this is just a cynical ploy to try to defuse opposition to fuel tax increases amongst rural motorists and so divide and rule amongst car drivers. Begg knows this will never happen.
Far from lowering the 500% road fuel tax and the cost of the tax disc, the Government will increase Vehicle Excise Duty in the next Budget for the vast majority of practical family cars. This could see the cost of a tax disc rising by 60% to £250. Labour has also flatly refused to remove the fuel duty escalator, adding further to the £32 billion it takes in tax from drivers each year.
This new tax hike will mean that the elderly, people in rural areas and those without access to public transport are hit particularly hard - and this includes many people in towns. If congestion charging is brought in, local councils will have a direct financial incentive to acually create congestion with the sort of obstructive and unpopular measures that David Begg himself has so ruthlessly introduced in Edinburgh.
"Many businesses will also feel the blow," says Mark McArthur-Christie, the ABDís Roads and Traffic Spokesman. "The new taxes, coupled with plans for charging people to park at work will mean a dramatic rise in the cost of doing business for many companies, putting an end to Gordon Brownís aspirations for full employment."
The whole thing comes down to freedom of choice. Who has the right to decide how individuals travel, Government or people? If the answer is Government, then people will be increasingly forced to get out of their cars onto inadequate and inflexible public transport, which will have no incentive to improve. If it is the travellers themselves, then public transport must win them over without the kind of restrictive practices which would be illegal in the private sector, and it will be forced to improve, and the government will have to invest some more of the £35bn they raise from the motorist.
Yes, letís have better public transport, particularly light rail links, but we need to recognise that the car needs to be at the heart of the integrated transport policy, not excluded from it. Labourís policy of "tax the driver off the road and onto the bus" wonít work. People will always need their cars and Labour needs to recognise the key place of the car in people's mobility plans, whether in the country, the suburbs or the town.