Having spent years spending as little money as possible on roads, and deliberately creating congestion by means of road narrowing, bus lanes, and closing off side roads, the Labour government announced that they intended to charge drivers for the privilege of sitting in traffic jams largely caused by government incompetence and malice aforethought.
You will be charged to drive on roads that have already been paid for many times over through VED and fuel tax. Road user charging is just another stealth tax targetted upon drivers.
But it is also much worse — in a move that constitutes an even greater threat to basic civil liberties than ID cards, Britain's drivers will be targeted 24 hours a day 7 days a week by a spy network comprising satellites, ANPR cameras, and roadside tracking devices. Privacy will become a thing of the past.
“Threats of 'gridlock' are false. There is no long term gridlock anywhere in the world and there never will be. People will avoid travel long before they sit in gridlock. In this way congestion self-limits traffic long before gridlock.”
Paul Smith, SafeSpeed
“It seems to me that we already have a perfectly fair system of road pricing which is fuel tax.”
“Our roads are vital economic arteries: the prosperity of a modern nation depends on the velocity of exchange. To be anti-car is therefore, in varying degrees, to be anti-countryside, anti-children, anti-women and anti-business.”
“The last time Britain had widespread road pricing, with the ‘turnpikes’ of the 18th and 19th Centuries, the experiment ended in tears, with allegations of a crippling tax burden, self-serving, unaccountable bureaucracies and fears that free trade was being stifled.”
Dr James Taylor,
Lecturer in British History,
Daily Mail, 2006-12-03
“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants. It is the creed of slaves.”
House of Commons 1783-11-18
“I don't know about you, but I'm not a spy. Neither am I having an affair or hiding a drug habit. In fact, I can't think of a single thing I do that is of interest to anyone else or how information about it might be useful. But I am desperately uncomfortable with the idea of my journeys being tracked and analysed by a faceless agency.”
“I'm going to be signing. These charges are just too much.”
“The Prime Minister's comments about not using road pricing as a stealth tax are simply not credible. I simply don't believe the Government's denial.
I know from extremely good sources that Gordon Brown and his team have had discussions about the possibility of using the revenue from road pricing to fill future black holes in public finances.
Given the Chancellor's track record on stealth taxes and the fact that Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander is one of his closest allies, I think motorists should treat what the Prime Minister is saying with extreme scepticism.”
Tory Shadow transport secretaryDaily Mail
“At the end of the day it is us who have the power. Stephen Ladyman, the transport minister, only has a majority of 600-and-something. You can guarantee there's more than 600 people in his constituency who have signed the petition so, he's out.”
“The Government are trying to blackmail local authorities into introducing policies which many of us think will be damaging and we're not prepared to do that. The Government have got to accept that if they want the North of England to close the productivity gap between here and the south they have to start properly investing in transport infrastructure and no amount of ducking and diving will get them out of that.”
Crucial to government plans is the EU's satellite navigation system Galileo. Now you may be wondering why on earth the EU has already spent 3–4 billion Euros on a satellite navigation system when we already have one. Ah, but you see GPS is an American system, and the EU doesn't like that, they're scared (paranoid would be a better word) that the US might turn it off.
The Russians, supported by India, are establishing a system too (GLONASS), which is scheduled to be operational two years before Galileo, but unsurprisingly, the EU don't want to use that either.
So the EU has spent all those Euros on something that nobody really needs. And now that it has spent all that money, the EU intends to make sure that there is something that Galileo can make money from. And you're it.
Galileo is already well over budget and behind schedule.
Galileo won't track your car, it will just allow your car to know where it is. Something else will do the tracking.
You may have noticed in recent years the dot matrix signs, and buried purple pipes that the government is spending hundreds of millions of pounds installing alongside motorways and some trunk roads. The system is known as National Roads Telecommunications Services (NRTS). The ABD has been sent insider information that shows the fibre optic cables in the pipes have massive spare data capacity, and that the system is easily capable of supporting electronic real-time Roadside-Vehicle communications and Electronic Road User Charging.
You didn't really think they spent all that money just so they could put out nanny-state messages like "DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE" did you?
£62 Billion Down The Drain
The cost of setting up a system to enforce road pricing is astronomical. SafeSpeed have calculated that it is equivalent to the cost of doubling the size of the entire motorway network, something that would with absolute certainty make a massive cut in congestion.
At least 75% of the operating revenue in London is spent on collecting the charge in the first place!
Most of the money would go to private technology companies, who are unsurprisingly keen on the idea, and equally keen not to raise their corporate heads above the parapet by saying so in public.
"We're all doomed" (again)
As is usual with most unpopular government proposals these days, the road pricing proposal is accompanied by tales of doom and gloom if we don't do what the government says.
We are told that our cities and motorways will ‘grind to a standstill’ unless we pay lots more stealth tax. This of course is complete rubbish because if any road grinds to a standstill people and businesses will simply change their route, journey time, or even relocate. Thus the road will rapidly cease to be at a standstill.
"It's good for the planet"
The government, clearly trying to hitch a lift on the tin god of political correctness, also claim that road pricing is 'green'. In fact it is anything but green. Road pricing is likely to persuade people to find an alternative (and longer) route on inferior roads, thereby increasing fuel comsumption.
The government is bribing local authorities to introduce supposed 'trials' of road user charging in certain areas. It claims that local authorities are under no obligation to introduce such schemes and that it is entirely up to them. Let's not beat about the bush here, they are offering bribes. £1.4 billion pounds of bribes to be exact. Local authorities won't get any of this 'transport fund' money unless they introduce a road pricing scheme.
Targetted areas include:
Another area threatened with tolls is Greenwich.
And guess what? The government want some of this money to be spent on bus lanes, which as everybody knows, increase congestion, giving them an excuse to increase the road pricing.
Ex Transport Minister Condemns Idea
Former transport minister John Spellar has condemned the entire principle of road user charging. He told the Daily Mail:
“It is hugely expensive to introduce — not just for the motorist, but the country. The idea that it is not going to be used as an additional tax is absurd. We are already paying a road user tax every time we sit in traffic in the form of fuel duty. This is a tax on going to work.”
The First Petition
In November 2006, Peter Roberts, a member of the Association of British Drivers, set up a petition on the Prime Minister's e-petition website.
The petition read:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Scrap the planned vehicle tracking and road pricing policy.
The idea of tracking every vehicle at all times is sinister and wrong. Road pricing is already here with the high level of taxation on fuel. The more you travel - the more tax you pay.
It will be an unfair tax on those who live apart from families and poorer people who will not be able to afford the high monthly costs.
Please Mr Blair - forget about road pricing and concentrate on improving our roads to reduce congestion.
After it closed on 20th February 2007, the petition had amassed 1,810,264† signatures, with every indication that the number would have continued to increase significantly.
† Figure is till increasing as signatories respond to confirmation emails.
In response to the petition, the Prime Minister sent this email to all signatories:
Thank you for taking the time to register your views about road pricing on the Downing Street website.
This petition was posted shortly before we published the Eddington Study, an independent review of Britain's transport network. This study set out long-term challenges and options for our transport network.
It made clear that congestion is a major problem to which there is no easy answer. One aspect of the study was highlighting how road pricing could provide a solution to these problems and that advances in technology put these plans within our reach. Of course it would be ten years or more before any national scheme was technologically, never mind politically, feasible.
That is the backdrop to this issue. As my response makes clear, this is not about imposing "stealth taxes" or introducing "Big Brother" surveillance. This is a complex subject, which cannot be resolved without a thorough investigation of all the options, combined with a full and frank debate about the choices we face at a local and national level. That's why I hope this detailed response will address your concerns and set out how we intend to take this issue forward. I see this email as the beginning, not the end of the debate, and the links below provide an opportunity for you to take it further.
But let me be clear straight away: we have not made any decision about national road pricing. Indeed we are simply not yet in a position to do so. We are, for now, working with some local authorities that are interested in establishing local schemes to help address local congestion problems. Pricing is not being forced on any area, but any schemes would teach us more about how road pricing would work and inform decisions on a national scheme. And funds raised from these local schemes will be used to improve transport in those areas.
One thing I suspect we can all agree is that congestion is bad. It's bad for business because it disrupts the delivery of goods and services. It affects people's quality of life. And it is bad for the environment. That is why tackling congestion is a key priority for any Government.
Congestion is predicted to increase by 25% by 2015. This is being driven by economic prosperity. There are 6 million more vehicles on the road now than in 1997, and predictions are that this trend will continue.
Part of the solution is to improve public transport, and to make the most of the existing road network. We have more than doubled investment since 1997, spending £2.5 billion this year on buses and over £4 billion on trains - helping to explain why more people are using them than for decades. And we're committed to sustaining this investment, with over £140 billion of investment planned between now and 2015. We're also putting a great deal of effort into improving traffic flows - for example, over 1000 Highways Agency Traffic Officers now help to keep motorway traffic moving.
But all the evidence shows that improving public transport and tackling traffic bottlenecks will not by themselves prevent congestion getting worse. So we have a difficult choice to make about how we tackle the expected increase in congestion. This is a challenge that all political leaders have to face up to, and not just in the UK. For example, road pricing schemes are already in operation in Italy, Norway and Singapore, and others, such as the Netherlands, are developing schemes. Towns and cities across the world are looking at road pricing as a means of addressing congestion.
One option would be to allow congestion to grow unchecked. Given the forecast growth in traffic, doing nothing would mean that journeys within and between cities would take longer, and be less reliable. I think that would be bad for businesses, individuals and the environment. And the costs on us all will be real - congestion could cost an extra £22 billion in wasted time in England by 2025, of which £10-12 billion would be the direct cost on businesses.
A second option would be to try to build our way out of congestion. We could, of course, add new lanes to our motorways, widen roads in our congested city centres, and build new routes across the countryside. Certainly in some places new capacity will be part of the story. That is why we are widening the M25, M1 and M62. But I think people agree that we cannot simply build more and more roads, particularly when the evidence suggests that traffic quickly grows to fill any new capacity.
Tackling congestion in this way would also be extremely costly, requiring substantial sums to be diverted from other services such as education and health, or increases in taxes. If I tell you that one mile of new motorway costs as much as £30m, you'll have an idea of the sums this approach would entail.
That is why I believe that at least we need to explore the contribution road pricing can make to tackling congestion. It would not be in anyone's interests, especially those of motorists, to slam the door shut on road pricing without exploring it further.
It has been calculated that a national scheme - as part of a wider package of measures - could cut congestion significantly through small changes in our overall travel patterns. But any technology used would have to give definite guarantees about privacy being protected - as it should be. Existing technologies, such as mobile phones and pay-as-you-drive insurance schemes, may well be able to play a role here, by ensuring that the Government doesn't hold information about where vehicles have been. But there may also be opportunities presented by developments in new technology. Just as new medical technology is changing the NHS, so there will be changes in the transport sector. Our aim is to relieve traffic jams, not create a "Big Brother" society.
I know many people's biggest worry about road pricing is that it will be a "stealth tax" on motorists. It won't. Road pricing is about tackling congestion.
Clearly if we decided to move towards a system of national road pricing, there could be a case for moving away from the current system of motoring taxation. This could mean that those who use their car less, or can travel at less congested times, in less congested areas, for example in rural areas, would benefit from lower motoring costs overall. Those who travel longer distances at peak times and in more congested areas would pay more. But those are decisions for the future. At this stage, when no firm decision has been taken as to whether we will move towards a national scheme, stories about possible costs are simply not credible, since they depend on so many variables yet to be investigated, never mind decided.
Before we take any decisions about a national pricing scheme, we know that we have to have a system that works. A system that respects our privacy as individuals. A system that is fair. I fully accept that we don't have all the answers yet. That is why we are not rushing headlong into a national road pricing scheme. Before we take any decisions there would be further consultations. The public will, of course, have their say, as will Parliament.
We want to continue this debate, so that we can build a consensus around the best way to reduce congestion, protect the environment and support our businesses. If you want to find out more, please visit the attached links to more detailed information, and which also give opportunities to engage in further debate.
Despite stating clearly that petitioners would be allowed to email signatories, the PM's website have refused to allow Peter Roberts to respond by email; instead acting childishly by providing a page on another obscure section of the PM's website that is not linked to from the petition page.
The government seem to be under some illusion that they can control communications in this country. Not so.
Elsewhere on the ABD website