National Infrastructure Commission Chair calls road user charging inevitable

The Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission has told an audience at Highways UK that he cannot see how the future cannot include paying to drive on the roads.

Sir John Armitt CBE FREng FICE told the keynote session on day two of the event that , “I think that most people would agree with the logic – it’s more about how do you analyse the application.” He talked about the drop in fuel duty revenue due to the switch to electric vehicles and said this offers opportunities to better manage traffic. “Modern technology will enable us to charge and pay differently by every minute of the day, by every type of road that we’re on, remotely measured, remotely charged, deducted from your bank account or whatever other system there might be. And you can obviously make it a lot cheaper in rural areas than you do for people who are plowing up and down the motorway all the time.”

He did, though, warn that the system must be designed to keep the public on side. “The word fairness appears all the time when you talk to the public about any system, whether you’re talking about energy, whether you’re talking about water charges, doesn’t matter what you’re talking about, people will say, ‘Well, I’ll go along with it, as long as I think it’s fair’. And I think this is always clearly going to be a challenge, but because you don’t want to finish up with some phenomenally complex system, based on ability to pay etcetera, etcetera, which then the administration of which becomes a nightmare. But I mean, quite frankly, I do not see how we can continue without road pricing and road charging.

I think cities are more likely to lead the way than a national system. Because I think cities can actually move faster than you can at a national level. But we’ve got to increase the user awareness of this. The Treasury has got to fill a hole of 30 billion pounds a year from the loss of fuel duty. How’s it going to do that? We’re all going to pay some way. So do we want to pay more income tax? Or do we want to pay by how much we use our cars and the transport choices we make. I would rather it left to me to decide by what choice I’m going to make when I’m going to drive when I’m not going to drive and pay accordingly, rather than just have to be added on to income tax. So as you can see, I’ve strong believer in road pricing. I think the challenge, as always, is in the execution. But that shouldn’t put us off recognising the need.”

You can hear these comments on next week’s Highways Voices podcast, published on Wednesday morning and featuring other content from Highways UK. These podcasts are brought to you thanks to the support of Re-flowKier HighwaysCauseway TechnologiesNavtech Radar and SWARCO.

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