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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 10:35 GMT
Road pricing: Should motorists pay?
Plans to track motorists by satellite and charge them for every mile they drive in rush hour are to be put before the government.

The Commission for Integrated Transport (CFIT) suggests the charges should be levied according to the time of day the car is travelling, and the type of road used.

Drivers would have a little black box containing a Global Positioning System (GPS) on the dashboard which would track their every move.

Opponents of road pricing say motorists already pay enough taxes, and many have no choice but to commute by car because UK public transport is so poor.

Supporters see it as one way to deter motorists from making unnecessary trips by car at peak times, while the money collected could be ploughed into improving roads.

Is it fair to impose even more charges on motorists? With the UK reportedly suffering the worst traffic conditions in Europe, what else should we be doing to improve the situation?

This Talking Point was suggested by Grant Valentine, Reading, UK:

Are the government's recent plans to use satellites to monitor motorists' habits another sign that Big Brother is coming?

If you have any suggestions for Talking Points, please click here.

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

This isn't very far short of mass electronic tagging

Rodger Edwards, UK
There are basic civil liberties issues associated with this madcap scheme. The tax aspects of the proposals are bad enough, but I am certain most people would not approve of the idea of the Government knowing where they driving at a given time. This isn't very far short of mass electronic tagging.
Rodger Edwards, UK

The Government is not interested in reducing congestion or pollution, just making more profit. If they where serious they would reduce the cost of public transport so it would be cheaper to use than the car, therefore encouraging people to use public transport.
Ruth, UK

There are so many reasons why this will not should happen. 1) We already pay 90% tax on petrol, so why should we pay more to drive on the roads we already paid for? 2) It is a restriction of free movement, and is the worst example of big brother Government trying to control the population. 3) The traffic jams would be moved back onto the smaller local roads that the larger trunk roads were built to alleviate in the first place. 4) The fact that cars will be moved from one road to another less suitable road proves that pollution will not be reduced by these measures but increased. 5) Try forcing me to fit such a device to my car! I feel very strongly about being numbered and told where I can and can't go like a criminal.
C Jenkins, England

I passed my driving test in December. I didn't want to take it but the incentive of cutting the journey time to commute to my new job was to great to miss. Instead of a 30min walk, 30 min bus ride, 25 min walk to work (7 miles away) it now takes me 25 min in my car. If there was a bus service to my work I would take it. I've always travelled on public transport before. But there isn't and the idea of taxing me to travel to work in my car when I cant get a bus is ridiculous. If they improved public transport I would use it. So don't tax me for a situation I can't change.
Rebecca, UK

We're talking unnecessary journeys here. Take those out of the equation and you have more freedom to move for buses, for example. Journey times for those who have no choice will be reduced. Mothers will put their little darlings on a school bus. Overall, it doesn't take a genius to see that single occupancy cars against multi occupancy buses just doesn't add up. Selfish drivers, too stupid to see they cause the very congestion they complain about.
Randy, UK

A car is an absolute necessity for some people. I drive around 100 miles per day to and from work. I can't move nearer to work because I'm freelance and my place of work changes regularly. I can't use public transport because it takes far too long - the network is designed to take people in and out of major towns, but not across country. Stop hitting the motorist, and improve public transport so people can use it.
Richard, UK

Why doesn't the Government just increase fuel tax? The machinery for collecting it is already there, everyone has to fill up so it can't be avoided, no massive increase in public spending on complicated technology is needed (with our record it will take 10 years to get right and cost billions!), those that use the most pay the most. And whilst they are at it why not make people display an MOT disc and Insurance Disc as well? Road tax can be made minimal to help pay for the upkeep of the DVLC who should also integrate the records to help tell the police not only the registered keeper but also if the vehicle is taxed or not. What could be simpler? I can't think of a single drawback that cannot be overcome apart from convincing old Johnny Two Jags!
Philip Heafford, England

It doesn't take a genius to realise that when the schools break up for holidays the level of congestion suddenly becomes acceptable and the time taken to get to work is cut dramatically. What we need is a good school bus system and maybe lanes on every road that are blocked off for motorcycle use only. I for one would definitely ride a motorbike if I didn't have to contend with the dangers of cars on the road.

As it is once again the government of the day is creating a better service for those with money and hitting the poor where it hurts. When will it learn and realise that most of society's problems stem from poverty? Eliminate that and you create a better and safer society overnight.
Scott, UK

Tolls will not cut congestion in the short term. Car use is intertwined with the way people live now

Max, Scotland
Tolls will not cut congestion in the short term. Car use is intertwined with the way people live now. People will have to move house or move job to cut their car use. Congestion is a good thing because it prevents speeding, cuts noise and sets an absolute limit on pollution and traffic on other roads. More off peak cars will be a disaster for noise and pollution. Here in Edinburgh whole streets are closed. Not even rich people can kill pedestrians on a closed road.
Max, Scotland

Andy of London - you may be right in your comments about London's public transport, in fact I would agree with you. Do not, however, extrapolate your experience of London to the rest of the country. Try using public transport in North Cornwall, and then you will know why many people are dependent on their cars. Put the "integrated public transport" in place throughout the country BEFORE car users are punished for daring to use their car.

How many of the critics of public transport actually ever use it? Few, I doubt. In London, despite all the criticisms, the public transport system is pretty good. Outside of the morning rush hour, the tube is quick, pretty reliable and not especially crowded. Buses are frequent and, even in rush hour, on most routes you can get a seat. I use public transport everyday - it is quicker, cheaper and less stressful than car transport. Tax the motorists off the road, and make buses even faster for the rest of us.
Andy, London

This is a potentially excellent solution to the problem on London's streets

John Harnett, England
This is a potentially excellent solution to the problem on London's streets. Many, but not all, car users will be infuriated as we can see by some of the postings already but they are suppressing high levels of frustration in order to use their cars at all at the moment. I only hope the political will is there to persevere and solve the real problem of our unnecessarily overcrowded roads.
John Harnett, England

The real winner here will be the environment. I live in a big city and transport is generally good. I have never felt the need to learn to drive. I'm sure a lot of people in towns and cities across the UK could use public transport effectively - it's just that they have become accustomed to the convenience of a car. I would rather see a tax increase that led to a decrease in cars on the road and more investment into public transport. Maybe then the few cyclists on the road could take their dust masks off.

I'm afraid the Commission for Integrated Transport is living in cuckoo land, not the UK. Not only are they discussing monitoring where people are around the UK, they are also suggesting people should be penalised for having to travel during busy periods to make a living. A scheme like this would be a restriction of free movement. How would they charge foreign tourists and lorries for using our roads? Or would they go free and yet again penalise our lorry drivers for using their own roads? Public transport is not a viable or even a serious alternative any more.

That's fine, as long as the government force my employer to allow me to turn up after rush hour or provides a cheap, safe mode of public transport that doesn't involve getting up an hour earlier and sitting at various stations in the freezing cold.
John, UK

I think it is a secret plan to make living in Britain so expensive and unpleasant people will emigrate, thus less traffic. Let's face it, fresh motoring charges, NHS in ruins and company pension schemes shut down because of Browns removal of tax incentives - might as well go and live somewhere sunny!
S Harrison, England

For many people, the car is the only viable way to get to work. I only work 7 miles from home, but to get there on public transport takes between 2 and 3 hours, which in turn contributes to my health problems. Travelling outside of rush hour in unworkable for many people, and as someone said earlier, people will already try to avoid as much congestion as possible. To tax the motorist even further is obscene.
Jo Perrett, UK

If I remember correctly from the fuel crisis, less than 10% of all the money raised from road fund, fuel tax etc is spent on the ENTIRE transport system (roads, trains tubes etc). Perhaps the government should think about spending a fairer percentage of this money on transport before charging us even more for what is noting more than a disgrace compared to transport systems elsewhere in Europe!
Paul, England

I cannot ever envisage going back to London to face the torture of public transport there

Chris Powell, Germany
I worked in London for 18 years before moving to the continent. In Munich where I now live, the public transport is so good, my car has not been out of the garage for nearly two months. I cannot ever envisage going back to London to face the torture of public transport there. This does not mean, however, that the roads in Munich are traffic free, far from it, but to tax people who have no alternative for getting to work seems daft. As mentioned elsewhere, tax incentives for teleworking are a much better idea and my US colleagues tell me it is now very popular in the States and indeed, I see promising signs here in Germany.
Chris Powell, Germany

Would Mr Blair be paying for the GPS boxes? I certainly can't afford to. The last time I tried to go anywhere on a bus I ended up walking several miles along a dark pathway with my nine-month old daughter in my arms to get home. The bus didn't come and next time I'm taking my car.
Chris, UK

So let me get this straight - the government wants to bring in a toll to use roads at peak times (i.e. when people are travelling to work). Surely an easier way to ban congestion would be to prevent lorries from travelling during the rush hour? Although my guess is that the unions would protest and they would all be exempt from the charges.
Mark E, England

As unpleasant as it may be making it too expensive is the only way to reduce the volume

Dave Bevington, Canada
I moved to Canada from the West Mids six years ago and traffic conditions contributed to my decision to move here. In my opinion Britain's roads are the best in the world. Unfortunately the sheer volume of traffic results in premature deterioration of their structure and the ridiculous delays that British motorists have to endure. More and wider roads is not an option. Asking people not to travel won't work so as unpleasant as it may be making it too expensive is the only way to reduce the volume.
Dave Bevington, Canada

Having lived and driven in London for over 10 years until mid-2000, I can say that the intelligence of the average driver is far higher than that of any central government computer when it comes to working out ways to avoid congestion. People are already highly motivated to plan journeys to avoid jams and rush hour traffic - nobody enjoys sitting in a jam. My fear is that any simple scheme would not have the right incentives built in, and any complex scheme would never work.... and what about foreign vehicles visiting the UK? I already pay my road tax in Germany - should I pay again in Britain? In which case all UK cars would soon find themselves being charged in the rest of Europe!
Edward Clayton, Germany

Yet another motoring tax: these charges would end up as additional to Road Fund Licence and Fuel Duty, not instead of them

Paul, England
Yet another motoring tax: these charges would end up as additional to Road Fund Licence and Fuel Duty, not instead of them. Motorists in this country already pay exorbitant levels of taxation, and the majority of us drive because there is no viable alternative. I drive 6 miles to work each day which takes me 10-15 minutes, but if I had to use what is laughingly called public transport it would take me over a hour.

Then there is the "Big Brother" aspect of having our car movements tracked all the time. What next - tagging all of us electronically and charging us for walking along Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon? What happens when someone's car is stolen? Theoretically a GPS unit would enable the police to track the stolen car and arrest the thieves, but I bet that what would happen in practice is that the car owner would be charged for the mileage the thieves clocked up.
Paul, England

I stopped using a car 18 months ago and have not looked back once. A heart rate at rest of 59 beats per minute, no fat and blood pressure that is the envy of my doctor. A stronger body and a more alert mind has been my reward. I only cycle about 40 miles per week now too.
Simon Devine, United Kingdom

Has the commission for integrated transport completely lost the plot? Congestion charging is totally unworkable and unenforceable. 'Little Black Boxes' on the dashboard of your car? Don't make me laugh. Do you think people in this country will sit meekly by and watch themselves get charged by a device in their own vehicle. Of course they will be taken out and left at home, so it appears that the car hasn't moved all day. Either that, or they'll be doctored to provide incorrect information. Why doesn't the commission come up with workable solutions for the real world, such as more cycle lanes and allowing motor cycles to use all bus lanes, as already happens in some parts of the country.
Andrew W K, U K

We need to break the dependency of the car, particularly of long and medium journeys. We wonder why our kids are getting fat. If you have the chance walk to school with them. Short journeys in our cities and towns are no longer pleasant. Many countries have different forms of GPS - look at Melbourne and Sydney. It's not comfortable for them but it eases tracking. Remember how hassle-free traffic was in the Sydney Olympics after the fiasco at Atlanta?
Cheow-Lay Wee, UK

To go to work, I currently use the train. WAGN trains are expensive (2000 a year), overcrowded, unreliable. Using a car would be impossible. Nowhere to park in London, use of congested roads which could attract a double whammy with Ken Livingstone London congestion charge and the CIT proposals.

Two solutions remain. Motorbike is the one I am considering, but I don't know if the CIT charge will apply to them. The far better solution would be to work from home. I would save 2 hours commuting a day, would avoid many headaches. Unfortunately, for my company (and most companies in the land) it matters more to see people in the office than the quality of work they produce. There should be tax incentives for companies who encourage their workforce to work from home. That would greatly diminish congestion.
Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)

Why should my taxes subsidise the maintenance of roads, and the cost of the damage to the environment, when I don't even own a car?

Stone, UK
Why should my taxes subsidise the maintenance of roads, and the cost of the damage to the environment, when I don't even own a car? I can't stop everyone from owning one, so why the hell should I pay? Tax them all off the road now! Its time people woke up to their responsibilities.
Stone, UK

As a frequent traveller on the M25 I am horrified to hear that I will be 'taxed' again for going to work. The only reason I use the car is because there is no economic, efficient or effective alternative. Most motorists I know would be happy to go by other means if they could. Commuters are like rats in a corner with no way out and the Government seems content to milk the situation for all they can get out of it.

Tracking everyone's movements by satellite and recording them sounds mind-boggling! This would open up a whole avenue for expensive mistakes in charging as well as cheating by some people, not to mention the expense of running such a system. Don't we already pay more than enough tax on the petrol we use (and those who use their cars more pay more tax on petrol anyway)?

We need to break our addiction to the car

Gill C, UK

In a country the size of ours, there are bound to be problems with so many cars. Short of building more roads and actually making public transport a realistic and safe alternative (buses are a joke where I live), I can't see any easy answers. Having a car enables me, as a woman, to be self-reliant and to work and to enjoy life with a reasonable degree of personal safety in a way that would be impossible, not to mention far less interesting, if I didn't have one.
Gill C, UK

About time too. We need to break our addiction to the car. We're already the fattest, unhealthiest population in Europe. More of us should get on our bikes.
Iain, UK

We should be paid for all the 'torture' we go through every day!

We pay the highest taxes in Europe already and have the worst services and roads. I live 15 miles from work and drive daily there and back. I take back roads to miss the thousands of heavy continental lorries blocking up the roads. If I did not drive I would need to travel by train 15 miles in the wrong direction and change trains and operators to get 30 miles back to the town and then take a bus to work if there is one. The journey would take two-and-a-half hours against 25 minutes at present. This would add four hours to my day.

Never mind the civil liberty infringement of being tracked in your every vehicular move. In the same way that a child cannot chose its parents but can choose its friends, I could not choose the country I was born in, I could choose the type of government once but cannot now, therefore the last option is to choose a country in which to live. I'm off to Spain - bye rip off Britain.
Stewart Johnson, England

If transport was reliable things would be different, but it's not. We should be paid for all the 'torture' we go through every day!

See also:

18 Feb 02 | England
Road toll could be delayed
06 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Tories attack 'traffic stealth tax'
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