Emeritus Professor Roger Vickerman from the School of Economics explains why the UK must adopt a new pricing system for road use to tackle the ever-worsening congestion.
‘Once again road congestion has hit the headlines with a report that UK drivers spend an average of 31 hours a year in traffic jams.
‘This is far from new and the solution has been available for decades. What is needed is a nationwide system of charging for roads by use – road pricing. We already have blunt instruments such as the London Congestion Charge, but a sophisticated system of electronic tolling would charge drivers for their actual use of the system and by differentiating by time of day can encourage those with flexibility to adjust their journeys to times of lower traffic volumes.
‘The current system of charging motorists is a tax on car purchase and ownership, and doesn’t distinguish by area of residence or actual use. Cars spend an average 95% of their life parked. Residents of rural areas, many of whom have no alternative to using a car, typically travel on the least congested roads, but pay the same in road tax and fuel duty. Such drivers would be better off under a system which charged for the actual use of roads that reflected levels of congestion.
‘The usual response is to call for more road building, and whilst that and junction improvements can help in some cases, the evidence suggests that traffic typically expands to fill the space available. Eventually, as with any limited resource, the only solution is one that uses price as a means of allocation – that’s how we charge for the alternatives such as bus, rail or air.
‘The overall cost to road users would be less; the estimated average cost of that 31 hours of wasted time is £1168; that would pay for a lot of miles. Politicians need to grasp this nettle now.’