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Road pricing would cut congestion- Roger Bootle

July 26, 2021

By Paul Homewood


I’m surprised Roger Bootle has fallen for this nonsense.



Over the years I have been a strong advocate of road pricing – that is to say, charging motorists for their use of roads. Both Labour and Conservative governments have flirted with this idea but although they have established the odd toll road, they have shied away from introducing a full-blown system of road pricing for fear of the political consequences. But now the current Government is being pushed in this direction.

Having access to roads “free” at the point of use is hugely inefficient because it gives rise to what economists call an “externality”. When a driver considers whether or not to make a journey, of course they consider all the costs to themselves, both monetary and non-monetary, including delays. But they do not normally consider the costs that they are imposing on other motorists by increasing congestion. And these costs can be enormous.

Although electric cars do not have anything like the adverse environmental consequences that petrol and diesel cars do, they still contribute to congestion and congestion wastes time. At the personal level, it brings frustration, stress and anger. For businesses, it drives up costs. And the uncertainty about how long a journey is going to take brings added losses.

By contrast, if motorists faced a charge per mile, varied according to the level of congestion, time of day and other factors, then drivers could be incentivised to change their journey times and/or routes or even, at the margin, to decide not to make a journey at all or to share it with others. The result would be less congestion, shorter and more predictable journey times and a much more efficient use of our road network.

A comprehensive system of charging for road usage could also potentially be a major money spinner for the Government, as it either collected the pay-as-you-go revenues from road usage or banked a large lump sum gleaned from selling off the right to collect such revenues. This is one of the reasons why motorists have been so strongly against road pricing. 


What he is saying is that you can drive if you are rich enough, but if you’re poor, hard cheese!

The road network is essential to the lifeblood of the country, and the freedom to drive wherever and whenever should be a fundamental right for everybody. It should not rationed.

Should we, for instance, charge to send children to school, or go into hospital, or when we call the police out? Of course not, so why should we pay to use the roads. They should be paid out of general taxation.

There is a very fundamental reason why road charging is grossly unfair, and that is that you pay the same whether you are a millionaire or pauper, whether you have a Maserati or Fiat 500, unlike of course the current system of fuel duty. It is therefore the poorer section who will bear the burden for these new charges.

Remember that often driving is not a luxury, but an essential, for instance travelling to work. It cannot be treated as if it were discretionary expenditure, like buying a bottle of wine.

On top of all this, of course, is the enormous cost of administering such a scheme. I note that there is talk of privatising this, so company profits will add another chunk of cost.

I am quite sure that these proposals would be thrown out if the public were given the chance to decide.

  1. Broadlands permalink
    July 26, 2021 12:15 pm

    “By contrast, if motorists [Green policy-makers] faced a charge per mile, varied according to the level of congestion, time of day and other factors, then drivers [Green protestors & politicians] could be incentivised to change their journey times and/or routes or even, at the margin, to decide not to make a journey at all”
    Especially to yet another climate conference.

  2. Eromgiw permalink
    July 26, 2021 12:37 pm

    I confess that road pricing is fairer than the vehicle licence tax and if they scrapped fuel duty as well I’d be in favour.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      July 26, 2021 10:51 pm

      Once a tax, always a tax. There is no way the Government would scrap this tax unless they could get a lot more money from another.

  3. Patsy Lacey permalink
    July 26, 2021 12:46 pm

    It is surprising that he states that electric cars do not have the adverse effects of petrol and diesel cars without any reference to the three stages of manufacturing, energy production and end of life. I don’t know the figures but I suspect there is very little difference.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      July 26, 2021 1:41 pm

      Hi Patsy, I had just copied that line to make pretty much exactly the same remark that you have! It really does appear that if you tell the same lie long enough it becomes the “truth”

  4. Damon Knight permalink
    July 26, 2021 12:55 pm

    “Although electric cars do not have anything like the adverse environmental consequences that petrol and diesel cars do”

    Well that’s an assertion

  5. bobn permalink
    July 26, 2021 12:59 pm

    Gosh Paul, I didnt know you were a socialist.
    Roads are paid from fuel duty and I see no virtue in them being paid for from general taxation.
    Road use pricing would be fairer and far better than a levy on general electricity bills to fund electric road use.
    ‘Should we, for instance, charge to send children to school, or go into hospital, or when we call the police out?’
    Yes if we can afford it. Part payment and insurance based payment would help reform these failing services. How about search and rescue? Idiot climbs mountain ill equipped in bad weather – yes he should pay for the rescue from his stupidity.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      July 26, 2021 1:54 pm

      What on earth are you on about? There is nothing at all “socialist” about using tax payer’s money to pay for vital infrastructure. Your argument for paying for everything is coming from an ultra right wing view point. Quoting extreme examples to support a case seriously questions the strength of your argument.

      • Phoenix44 permalink
        July 27, 2021 1:06 pm

        Utter nonsense. There is nothing “ultra right wing” about paying for what you use. Roads are no different from food or broadband or a flight. Saying “infrastructure” doesn’t make it different. And from each according to his ability to each according to his needs – as roads are now – is fundamentally socialist. Why should someone who hardly ever uses roads pay for them? Why should someone who uses roads a great deal not pay more than someone who uses them not very much? Just ranting isn’t any kind of argument.

  6. Damon Knight permalink
    July 26, 2021 1:11 pm


    Roads are paid for from general taxation in the UK

    Fuel duty is but one source of income for the Exchequer

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      July 26, 2021 2:24 pm

      It would be more truthful to say road users contribute about 5% of total government revenue, but only about 1/4 of that gets spent on roads (2019/20).

    • July 26, 2021 4:42 pm

      Roads and railways are paid for from general taxation with rail being used — if the former ridership numbers recover — by about 11% of the population as passengers. 100% of tax payers pay for about 11% to use. The supposed universal benefit of rail freight is another matter as much of that freight is for the operation of the railway system itself.

      The cumulative deficit from railway operations and infrastructure is immense. Fuel excise duty is in effect a payment for road use. The greater the use the more fuel is required. Cars are also taxed in steps on cost and emissions. So Roger Bottle is in effect advocating triple taxation or worse.

      In his article in The Telegraph Roger Bootle is advocating the reduction of road use , casting about for revenue benefits to justify it; in effect, advocating the encouragement of socialised public transport to the detriment of the marginal population without the funds to use for themselves..

      If road use charging is the way out of congestion it can only penalise those with modest funds as Paul says above. The wealthy will have all they want once HS2 is completed and in the meantime would benefit from less congested roads.

      As for publicly funded infrastructure for use by the public not being “socialist” are we supposed to have lost the meaning of the word.

      • MrGrimNasty permalink
        July 26, 2021 7:24 pm

        It’s smoke and mirrors to say roads are paid out of general taxation.
        They do that purely so that ‘road taxes’ can be used for other things.
        Road expenditure is covered by road taxes 4 times over.
        Road taxes pay for roads in their entirety and a lot more besides.
        It’s silly to make a distinction based on which account/pot of money it happens to pass through.

      • Phoenix44 permalink
        July 27, 2021 1:13 pm

        It’s largely false to claim that rail is significantly subsidised by non-rail users. Rail fares cover the majority of rail costs. Why is road uusediffdtent from anything else? Complete rich get to consume more than those less rich is absurdly trite. Yes they do. They have bigger houses, more flights, more gadgets. Thinking that should not be is “socialist”. And since the top 10% pay so much of total tax, claiming there is “public funding” for things provided by the state is simply false. The wealthy pay for most of us to have stuff. Pretending you sonehow pay for it is laughably false.

  7. In The Real World permalink
    July 26, 2021 1:24 pm

    Despite all of the Greenies lies , most road use is for commercial reasons , and something like 93% of all goods movements are by road .
    So , although some car drivers would like to think that they will save money , [ probably on their second or third car road fund licence ,] changing to a road pricing system would cost everybody a lot more money ,[ commercial costs would hit even those who do not drive ,] and the end result would be that a lot of the poorer people could not afford to drive anymore .

    But that is what a lot of the Green lies are aimed at , getting everybody but the very rich off the roads .

    • Russ Wood permalink
      July 27, 2021 1:48 pm

      And with commercial transport being ALSO liable for road usage tax, I can see the price of EVERYTHING going up. What was that about only the road users being taxed? The rise in transport costs would likely be equivalent to a rise in the VAT rate!

  8. roger permalink
    July 26, 2021 1:57 pm

    I Don’t think that this was the causal scenario that Norman Tebbit had in mind when he exhorted the poor unemployed to “get on yer bike”.
    That was a tad unpopular as I recall.
    It increasingly appears now that Boris employs the full stop not only as written punctuation to indicate the end of a sentence, but also as a terminator of any further thought.

  9. Ray Sanders permalink
    July 26, 2021 2:01 pm

    Road pricing is probably the most insane notion I have come across in a long time. There are already major problems with services in rural areas that charging for road use will only exacerbate. If the Conservative party wants to follow the long term path of the Dodo then road pricing would be a good career move.

  10. Tom Scott permalink
    July 26, 2021 2:42 pm

    He is correct, it would cut congestion. It would also cut quality of life and privacy. We have a government that sees everything as a tax opportunity. The non-financial costs of this will be too high.

  11. Tom Oliva permalink
    July 26, 2021 2:46 pm

    Can anybody here tell me what “Double Counting for Waste Biofuels” means ?

    I’ve read this several times and could really use a worked example (of how the shell game works in practice) !!

  12. chriskshaw permalink
    July 26, 2021 2:57 pm

    Presumably a smart meter could be put to use to measure the power going to your vehicles batteries… and apply a tax on that amount?

  13. Dr Ken Pollock permalink
    July 26, 2021 3:07 pm

    One point that does not seem to have been made already. Road pricing depends on the fitting of a little electric gizmo to every vehicle and then that transmits a signal to a central computer that calculates how much the registered owner should pay for that particular use.
    I foresee problems:
    1. There is the one that says that means HMG knows exactly where each car is for every moment of its life – and who knows what that info might be used for.
    2. Secondly, the gizmo might go wrong and send a false signal. How do you know, when you receive the monthly bill?
    3. Thirdly, suppose someone intercepts the signal and boosts it a little, but creams off the surcharge for their own use? Nice little earner, for the clever criminal.
    And remember the faith the Post Office had in its Horizon computer scheme? Dozens of honest citizens sent to jail and many others bankrupted and discharged from their businesses, all because of faith in “the programme”. Just imagine trying to insist that your road pricing bill is not quite right.
    The whole idea is quietly mad, and I hope some clever civil servant will appreciate what I have just written and decide to knock it on the head…

    • Ben Vorlich permalink
      July 26, 2021 3:21 pm

      The prime reason I haven’t even considered installing the NHS app, I don’t want a government agency to know where I’ve been and who I’ve been in contact with. I don’t have any reason to be concerned by my actions I just don’t trust politicians or their agents.

  14. July 26, 2021 3:21 pm

    Patsy makes an interesting point about the environmental cost of electric vehicles (EVs). Some years ago, it was proposed that the fairest way to assess the environmental cost of any vehicle was to compare the ‘dust to dust’ cost. That is to say from the extraction of minerals from the earth to manufacture the vehicle and all the processes associated with it, to the final end of life scrapping and recycling of the vehicle back into some sort of mineral state.

    On this basis, it was decided that the 1940s original Willys Jeep was the most environmentally sound motor vehicle, while the most environmentally costly were the Toyota Prius and Mitsubishi PHEV ranges of vehicles. Taking into account the exploitation of mining coltan from the DR Congo using child labour and the despoiling of landscapes, water courses and human health from mining highly toxic lithium, electric vehicles in their latest forms make a very poor choice for anyone seriously concerned about the environment.

  15. July 26, 2021 4:29 pm

    The usual warped eco-thinking; road pricing will stop people driving and fill a hole in public finances. How? If people stop driving, you do not get any extra revenue to fill any hole in public finances; in fact you end up with a bigger one to fill because you will be end up raising less revenue. We have seen this happen already; low emission diesel cars had VED reduced to zero by Gordon Brown; Osbourn raised it for the same cars because that model was (to use a greenie word) unsustainable. In Northern Ireland, Alex Atwood imposed the plastic bag tax, proceeds to eco-causes; the result was that people stopped using plastic bags and there was no money for the eco-causes, he doubled it to 10p a bag to get more revenue and ended up with even less. The short-sightedness of “sin taxes” is that once people stop sinning, you have to invent a new sin to tax.

  16. Mike Marsh permalink
    July 26, 2021 4:58 pm

    I’m also in favour of “user pays” … so long as they simultaneously scrap fuel duty.

    • Penda100 permalink
      July 26, 2021 8:17 pm

      Why would they scrap fuel duty when there avowed intent is to take ICEs off the road? Using taxes instead of an outright ban is likely to be politically more acceptable. And the Government needs the money.

  17. It doesn't add up... permalink
    July 26, 2021 9:16 pm

    I live several miles from town. Before setting out, I always check the traffic. If I have an appointment I do so in advance in case I need to allow extra time: appointments can hardly be altered on a whim these days. I can choose between several different routes in order to select the quickest. If things are really jammed up then I may abandon the trip altogether if it can be put off to another day. Longer trips into higher traffic areas are likewise planned to avoid slow traffic as much as possible, and en route checks on approaching riskier areas. “Long Delays Jct X” prompts a re-route. All without any road pricing, which would I suspect not change my journeys at all, except if the charging scheme is perverse, forcing me to sit in a traffic jam in order to save on per mile charges when I could avoid the jam and drive a little further. Doubtless routeing software would soon incorporate road charging optimisation.

    If you want to cut congestion there are probably better ways to do it than road charging. Start by designing the traffic system to promote flow, rather than impede it, and to reduce the risk of shunts that can quickly lead to chaos. Don’t let the police close motorways for hours on end for most accidents. Promote the use of traffic aware routeing. Spread working hours to smooth out rush hours.

    If you want to raise revenue, create congestion that people are unable to avoid.

  18. July 27, 2021 9:38 am

    if motorists faced a charge per mile, varied according to the level of congestion

    Who decides what the minute-by-minute ‘level of congestion’ is? This is so vague as to be meaningless. The supposed level could change at any time.

  19. Russ Wood permalink
    July 27, 2021 1:58 pm

    Until my last job, I used to live in the city and commute to my job at an airport. My last job was not an airport, but the commute was similar. Now, I was driving about 40 km each way just to get to and from work. The ‘travel tax’ on such commuting would probably make jobs such as mine (and the employers’) non-viable. The world of the early 20th century, where one lived close to one’s job, is long out of reach.
    Gauteng province in South Africa found this out when they put electronic tolling on the main road between Johannesburg and Pretoria. The only ones who got the ‘e-tag’ and were directly debited were the vehicle owners who could pass the charge along. Approximately 80% of users of the toll road refused to pay the billed charges, and the province has been arguing about dropping the system – for the last three years!

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