The Sock Diary

Musings of a part-time Sweaty Sock.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Road pricing wheeze drives me crazy

This was originally intended to be a comment on the EverythingIsInteresting blog, but I went off on one, so I had to post it here and link. Sorry Dan :)

Dan, can't agree with you. Here's my reasoning.

I believe you have to go back to root causal. So the key driver is not the question "What do we do about all this congestion?", it's "Why have we got all this congestion?".

(Two things it isn't (which this policy explicitly targets) is:
  • because people have too much money and can afford to drive around like they just don't care
  • because people have nothing better to do than hang around in traffic queues.

Looking for the root causal(s), I believe the causes of congestion are threefold:
  1. A lot of people need to be in roughly the same place at the same time (work)
  2. Public transport has been so underinvested in (and terribly managed) that it costs a fortune and is too unreliable to be a viable option for many people
  3. Successive governments have ignored road planners' advice and built new roads too small to take the predicted traffic levels (but cheaper).

Despite what you imply, most people would rather kick back and let someone take the strain of getting them to work, but they either can't afford the train (£3600 for a yearly standard ticket (£20 quid for a single) to get into London from about 60 miles out) or can't rely on public transport to get them into work on time.

Cars are relatively cheap and you can work out how long it's going to take you to get in regularly. Currently, leaving at the same time everyday, it takes me between 1hour 10mins, and 3 hours to get into work, same place, same time each day) on public trnsport. 95% of the time it is greater than 1hr 20mins... to do 60 miles... on a train due to take 50 mins and a tube ride due to take ten mins. It would take me 1 hour on my motorbike, and two and half hours in my car, but at least those figures are constants, the train and tube are pick a time, any time. Many people would lose their jobs if they were late as often as I am due to trains not running correctly. You'd maybe say they could get the earlier train, but they're already aiming to be in 15 mins early, so you're demanding they give another 1 hour per day to the world away from their family because the public transport system is a bit crap. And possibly lose their job anyway, the third time the train's late this week.

If they go by car currently, it's relatively a lot cheaper, at least they nearly always guarantee what time they'll get in, and, crucially, 70% of whatever they pay for petrol (which is dependant on whether they have gas guzzler or not and how far they drive) goes straight to the government, do not pass go, do not have massive bureaucracy, just get the oil companies to write a cheque for 70% of fuel revenue for the month. Bish, bash, bosh. Admin? What admin? It's all part of the Inland Revenue.

What the govt is proposing is that every car owner on the road buy a £500 black box, register it, and then they create a huge bureacracy to administer it (anyone noticed the cost vs efficiency of the admin of the congestion charge?). Billing, accounts payable, human resources, debt control, baliffs, signage, letterheads, etc, etc.

The likely cost of going on the road will drive (ha-ha) the low paid off the road (many of the ones who are on timeclocks and get fired for being late, and/or who can't live close to work as they have been priced out of housing market), so they cram onto the already overcrowded public transport (which has put it's prices up as it still substantiatally cheaper than going by road now). So nurses, firemen, police, cleaners, back office staff, call-centre operatives, security guards, etc are crammed into cattle trucks. These journeys cost them more than their already crippling mortgage each month.

Meanwhile, the congestion free roads are superhighways for the rich and famous to swan about the place, taking less than an hour to do 60 miles in their 12mpg cars, being driven by their chaffeur (two people, that's car sharing, can't charge them). AND, because the petrol tax has been removed, they pay exactly the same road toll as someone who does the same journey in a 50mpg car (not that they can afford it, but hey, it's a comparison).

One guy worked out that his 60 mile commute (from a place that had a train station before the Beeching Axe, and has only one bus service an hour for two hours in the morning and two hours at night, if he booked it the previous day on a phone line that's never answered) would cost him £25,000 pounds a year, about 5K more than he earns.

Is it sensible to attack the symptoms and not the cause? Especially if that attack is targetted at the weakest and most dependant of society? I think not. The root causals need to be attacked before targetting congestion per se.

If tele-working and inexpensive waldoes and were widespread, everyone had a functioning, reliable broadband connection and a video camera (to keep in contact with people they can't afford to drive and visit), and the public transport system was as reliable as the Swiss transport system, maybe, just maybe, this might be a workable, equitable plan. As it is, it a sticking plaster too far on the mess that is this, and previous, governments "transport policy". Bring it on Mr Darling and Mr Ladyman, you'll likely be first against the wall when the revolution comes.


  • At 10:45 am, Blogger Jude's Law said…

    Surely Darling Alistair's idea was a pipe dream. I can't think of a less popular policy than that, apart from maybe introducing a totally pointless form of ID that will cost every single person in the country £80. Wait a minute....

  • At 10:01 pm, Blogger Dan B said…

    I agree with you on many points:

    Public Transport is awful, and to be honest many of my comments on my blog really do make the assumption that we have a proper alternative to private cars. A proper 'intergrated' transport system is a necessity and successive governments have failed to deliver on this. The road widening scheme is a fantastic example of this. Just today a was delayed on the M6 due to construction of an extra lane. But this is really endemic of our political system. Five years in office and 'popular' policy making will often fail to make the correct decision.

    Mr Darling's policy is not the ideal one, and I did not mean to suggest that it was. However, I still feel motorists should pay the true cost of owning and using a car and road pricing seems to be the best method of doing this; although it could be more progressive.

    With regard to the guy who won't be able to afford to go to work, well I have sympathy for him beacuse he is being let down by our pooor public transport system. But I feel it may be a case of taking one step back to take three forward.

    Thats for reading my blog, the sock has become a regular feature of my bloglines :)



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