A fresh look at road charging needed, says think tank12 April 2010

A report published today argues that every citizen should be given a free, tradeable share in the road network, combined with the introduction of road user charging and the abolition of VED (vehicle excise duty).

The report, produced by the Social Market Foundation, a UK think-tank, suggests that, as the country faces up to a period of austerity post-recession, the transport infrastructure represents one of the areas that most needs assistance.

Congestion is set to cost business and households £22bn a year by 2025, it estimates, triggering a number of other factors, such as implications for vehicle emission levels and the environment.

Road user charging has been touted as the policy solution, but remains unpopular with voters, because it's seen as a way for politicians to raise more tax. To overcome such objections to charges, the Social Market Foundation advises that citizens must retain ownership of their roads.

It claims that the share would be worth more than £1,500. Any profits from road charging, or the sale of road shares, would then go to shareholders – the people – rather than to the Treasury.

The report calculates that, as well as receiving the road share windfall, the average motorist would be better off, paying less in tolls than he or she currently does in VED.

"Road charging is a fair system," insists Ian Mulheirn, co-author of the report.

"It means that people pay for what they use, including foreign hauliers who currently pay nothing at all.

"Charges will help to change driver behaviour, and make the most efficient use of a shared resource that is crucial to future economic growth."

Britain is gridlocked, he says, and this new proposal "will help to solve congestion and support the economy".

John Challen

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