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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June, 2005, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Should road tax be pay-as-you-go?
Traffic on the M4
Would you prefer car tax to be based on how far you drive, and which roads you take?

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has announced that plans to replace road tax and petrol duty with a pay-as-you-go system could be trialled within five years and if successful applied nationwide as early as 2015.

Every vehicle would have a black box to allow a satellite system to track their journey, with prices ranging from 2p per mile on quiet country roads to 1.34 on motorways at peak times.

Are the proposals fairer than road tax and petrol duty? Would the planned scheme be better or worse for the environment?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we received:

My 15 minute journey into work by car takes 1 hour on a bus
Mike Moore, Newport, Shropshire
Fundamentally the idea is good but has many flaws. I live in a rural area where public transport is at best abysmal. My 15 minute journey into work by car takes 1 hour on a bus and is also expensive. The charges should be made on the busiest roads at peak times to encourage car sharing etc. I also fear that like car tax there will many who simply will not pay and money will be wasted chasing them down. At least with fuel charges you have no choice!
Mike Moore, Newport, Shropshire

We already do have a pay as you go road charging system - it's called fuel duty.
Stephen Charlesworth, Leeds

We already pay per mile through fuel tax; this is just a way for the government to attempt to increase fuel tax without the road blockades. They think we are stupid, perhaps we are!
John Vaughan, Rayleigh, England

The answer to road congestion is simple build more roads and ensure they will be suitable for future upgrading.
Johnno, Widnes

I think the tax is unfair and will be a high burden on low and middle earners. In addition we don't have a reasonable, reliable transport system to compensate.
Linda Evans, Merseyside

This is social engineering - rationing road usage dependent on ability to pay. Not having any differential between fuel-efficient and other vehicles also shows its just a policy for raising taxes and keeping the riff-raff off the roads when our 'betters' want to travel.
Allan, Surrey

What next? The personal thought chip?
Ann, UK
Not only the identity card then but a scheme that will allow government to know where we've been and our current location at all times. What next? The personal thought chip?
Ann, UK

Improve public transport and give those of us who currently have no choice but to drive a car an alternative. This proposed scheme will clog up minor roads and make some private companies very rich, while I may not be able to afford to get to work.
Ciara, Belfast

I would give this scheme a cautious welcome, my only worry is that the cost of motoring for my fuel efficient, low emission Smart car will now be no cheaper than my thirsty 46year old Land Rover. Is this really an environmentally responsible plan?
Peter Wray, Nortwich, Cheshire

If the government were to scrap fuel duty and car tax, this idea might be OK. However, I don't believe politicians' promises when it comes to scrapping of taxes. In addition, the scheme would penalise those in rural areas who have to use a car, and as a by-product, it could do away with the need for speed cameras as tracking technology could also measure speed.
Rik Bean, Milton Keynes, UK

That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. What about those who drive 60 miles a day, during rush hour, on busy motorways, to get to and from work? Why don't we try and learn a few lessons from our European counterparts? Scrap road tax and petrol duty and introduce a toll system on our motorways only. They don't charge that much for this in Europe either.
Arwen Hunt, Hampshire

An excellent use of technology.
Dave Miller, Wellingborough Northants
Wonderful idea, and an excellent use of technology. Vehicles could have their tariff individually tailored according to time, route, and need. Tax and insurance avoidance could be checked instantly, and stolen vehicles apprehended quickly.
Dave Miller, Wellingborough Northants

As petrol will be much cheaper without the tax does this mean I can get rid of my small fuel efficient car and go and get the biggest four wheel drive I can find at little extra running costs?
Mick Prosser, Kidderminster

Fitting a tracking device to my car and monitoring my journeys? Very Orwellian. Personally I consider tracking my movements to be an infringement of my civil liberties.
Tom, Milton Keynes, UK

It's a stupid idea. It would be extremely expensive to implement, extremely expensive to police and very easy to get round. Fuel duty on the other hand already exists, is cheap to implement, penalises heavy users and makes environmentally friendlier fuels attractive. If you don't like congestion, use some other form of transport. Motorcycle, bus, train, bicycle etc.
Colin Smith, Glasgow, Scotland

I thought we already did this. It's the tax on fuel - the more you use the more you pay. But it is funny that we are one of the most highly taxed countries for motor vehicles, but they still want to charge more.
Andy Jump, Ipswich

Just another government scheme to make more money out of us all, given that most of us drive on urban roads quite frequently. In addition, I would object to the government being able to track my every move by satellite - it's a clear infringement of my privacy. What we really need is more roads, and to widen existing ones, not more taxation!
Chris, Cambridge

People travel by car because it is cheaper than rail, bus and taxi in many cases. Improve local public transport and reduce their cost and more people will gravitate to using them.
Munir, Guildford

Compulsory ID cards with chips and now satellite tracking devices in our cars. Sounds like big brother wants to keep an eye on us.
Kevin Grist, Brighton

It's another demonstration of the government jumping on the technology bandwagon
Roy, Welwyn Garden City, UK
I have GPS in my car - there are times when I can't get a GPS lock because of satellite positioning and at other times it puts me on the wrong road! This proposal in not well thought out - it's another demonstration of the government jumping on the technology bandwagon with absolutely no idea of the possible consequences.
Roy, Welwyn Garden City, UK

Taxing fuel has a larger effect on inefficient vehicles. Why should owners of more efficient and environmentally friendly hybrid/electric cars and motorbikes be forced to pay more?
Chris, UK

Payment for road use should be based upon miles driven and size/weight/power of vehicle i.e. larger/heavier/more powerful vehicles are more destructive of road surfaces so should pay more. The most logical and least bureaucratic method of payment would be duty on fuel - this duty is already punitive so little more should be added to replace the road fund licence. Savings can be made by dismantling at least part of the DVLC bureaucracy.
Richard jemielita, Glasgow

This sounds like a good idea however there are a number of loopholes and moral issues that need to be looked at. If this is going to replace fuel tax (I very much doubt it) then what's to stop "fuel cruises" from Europe appearing to stock up in Dover? If living near Calais I'd be quite happily spend a couple of hours a week topping up my tank in Britain!
Chris Rowland, St Albans, UK

Money raised will be used elsewhere for certain
David R Williams, Rugby, UK
This scheme is being considered because alternative to petroleum fuel cannot be side-lined much longer by the petroleum company lobbyists. Money raised will be used elsewhere for certain. Anyway if we woke up we would notice that just as the motor car replaced the horse so the internet will replace the car.
David R Williams, Rugby, UK

Great! I am a field based systems engineer. I currently drive some 30,000 miles per year travelling to and from customer sites. If this proposal goes ahead I will be paying out more in travelling tax than I currently earn! There has to be a system whereby legitimate business users like myself and haulage contractors are not penalised for the mileage they do. People have to remember that not everything can be undertaken from home.
Andrew, Northampton, UK

This idea is bound to be opposed by motorists. It's just another stealth tax, and, a lot of motorists and particularly pensioners, who may rely heavily on their cars to get about, won't be able to afford it. It would be better to put a tax on the fuel, and do away with the road fund licence, instead. Tolls should be applied to motorway driving only.
Thomas Lowry, Leeds, UK

I would be very happy if the public transport were to improve and my car became surplus, does the government have the will to turn rhetoric into action?
Shabir Ahmed, Exeter, UK

My work hours are at peak times so I cannot avoid paying a fortune. I have had my car converted to LPG at full cost to me because its greener and half the cost of petrol, what more can I do? Pay-as-you-go is only a way of getting more money out of the driver, I can bet you it will cost me more than my car tax each year. So I say it's time we hit back at all these money making ideas.
Matt Leggett, Stevenage, Herts

Without better public transport this is just another way of fleecing the motorist. Already our money is not used on the roads but to fund other areas. If it has to happen then abolish road tax, add a cost to petrol duty, then we have a simple pay as you use systems with those who drive more paying more, and those who drive gas guzzlers are paying more and we have the added benefit of no road tax dodgers. But it won't happen as this is too simple a method.....
Paul Allen, Stourbridge, UK

Consideration also needs to be given to disabled drivers
V Boy, Lydney, Glos, England
It would be fairer, certainly, but consideration also needs to be given to disabled drivers - the petrol tax did not take them into consideration either, but they have no choice but to use their vehicles and there is no public transport in rural areas, therefore the distances that the disabled driver needs to travel per outing is increased due to the distance between towns and amenities.
V Boy, Lydney, Glos, England

As this will all be based on computer technology, I wonder how easily it will be bypassed. What price a "mileage tax defeater" down the pub or at the car boot sale? And what chaos will reign when the system crashes, or a "mileage tax virus" hits? And don't let anyone tell you these things won't happen. The incentives for people to develop them for profit or harm will be enormous.
Lawrence, Crowthorne, UK

What an overcomplicated system! Is there some reason why the government can't simply put road tax onto petrol? The more you use the more you spend! Simple!
Anon, UK

That's the stick... what about some carrot? How about providing tax breaks to people that move closer to work or home work? The real problem here is that we have car dependency and an expectation that it is OK for everyone to drive 40 miles to work everyday. I would hope that there is a discounted rate for people that need a car to do their work and the disabled
Pete, UK

After the highest rail fares in Europe now we are going to have the highest car journeys as well. Lower rail and bus fares to compete with the cars, that is the solution!
Christos Gionis, Billericay

This would be good for congestion, but terrible for the environment
Andrew, Stafford, UK<
This would be good for congestion, but terrible for the environment. It would make driving a gas guzzlers and an electric car no different. We still need a way to make people who drive 4x4s in urban environments pay a lot more than those who are considerate to the environment.
Andrew, Stafford, UK

Through no choice of my own, I currently have to travel 100 miles a day to and from work, and have two options, M6 or via Kidderminster. All that will happen is, Kidderminster (which is bad enough at times!) will become gridlocked. This will do nothing more than take cars off the main rounds and drive them onto the country lanes. Utter stupidity!
Tess, Redditch

To avoid gridlock? At the same time there is the building of thousands of new homes in the south east every year? How about people think about the causes rather than the symptoms? That, and the ever worsening state of the nations railways.
Robin, Chelmsford

As expected, those in favour will generally be those with no family or friends and no desire to travel more than a mile from their house. A visit to my parents in Hampshire could potentially cost 600+ in one go unless I pick a time inconvenient for my work, my wife's work and my parents. Has anyone looked at what impact this will have on the economy, with people more wary of travelling longer distances? I very much doubt it. Try improving public transport and developing better green fuels than idiot concepts like this.
Jonathan Harmer, Preston, UK

A poorly thought-through initiative and one that could end up pricing drivers on a lower income off the roads
Rob, Maidstone, UK
In principle, it is good that efforts are being made to solve the current overcrowding of our roads. However, yet again, what we have here is a poorly thought-through initiative and one that could end up pricing drivers on a lower income off the roads. The wealthy, and those whose driving costs are met for them, will enjoy the clearer highways; while others would effectively be penalised, having to resort to using our dismal public transport services.
Rob, Maidstone, UK

The government seems to have missed a huge point about congestion. It is not just people travelling long distances that are the problem, it is people travelling short distances regularly. They should charge highly in urban areas for short distances.
Matt Wood, Bristol, UK

I'm in favour of this scheme. It seems to me that motorists pay an unbalanced tax. Those that travel vast distances pay the same as those that only do local shopping journeys by car. This kind of tax will be much fairer and, I think will reduce wasteful car journeys. Of course because this is a satellite tracked system it will also provide an opportunity to beat car theft as well as allow the government to know if a untaxed or uninsured car is driving on the public roads. The technology is there already.
Philip John, Swansea, UK

What about those who have to travel a lot to make a living? What about parents whose kids go to a more distant school than most? What about those who go to work at a place public transport goes nowhere near? You get the feeling all of them are going to be losers under this "new" scheme. I say "new" because didn't they propose something like this a few years ago? Only the public's reaction was less than enthusiastic. You can bet whilst they're at it, they'll check if you were speeding at any point in the journey and fine you for that too.
Stuart, Warwick UK

Having experienced one too many times just how irritating, uncomfortable and inconvenient our public transport "network" is, I've just bought my first car. I never plan on using public transport again. Living in rural Norfolk and commuting to university is much easier with a car, and I, like the majority of road users, am prepared to pay the penalties the government charges: this scheme will not reduce congestion; it will not save the motorist any money; it will not help the environment and it will not make the roads any safer. What it will do is increase government revenue and set a physical precedent of intrusion by the state into our lives - the uses for black boxes do not merely have to be limited to tax collection.
Charlie, Norfolk/ Sheffield, UK

What this country needs is a public transport system that runs on time, has better provision for rural areas, is clean, and is affordable. How can a government attempt to discourage motorists with no viable alternative? I am getting very tired of a remote political class mandating for the rest of us. Hasn't Europe taught us anything over the past two weeks - how disconnected politicians are from the electorate. We need a change, but I fear the change really required is a better form of democratic representation.
John, Mid Wales

The black box approach has many disadvantages; reliant on technology and complex software; cost of implementation and maintenance; no incentive for lower emission vehicles; cannot go ahead for many years; will probably create a black market for 'hacked' systems; does not take into account foreign registered vehicles (a loophole surely to be exploited); will create many arguments on the thousands of different 'pence per mile' rates. In comparison, tax on fuel deals with all the above more efficiently - and now.
Vincent Amari, Kingsbury, London

Haulage companies' expenses will go through the roof
Paul Saunders, Caerphilly
If this scheme goes ahead prices will rise everywhere across the country. Haulage companies' expenses will go through the roof, their customers will have to pay the increased rates, their customers' customers will have to pay the increase i.e. everybody!
Paul Saunders, Caerphilly, UK

Surely the more simple way is to increase the fuel tax. The more a vehicle uses and the more it is driven the more tax. Where is the billions for setting up the satellite system coming from and how do you ensure every vehicle has a box fitted?
T Newman, Bournemouth UK

Yeah right, a government IT project involving 25+ million users, because we all know how successful government IT projects have been in the past ( Child Support Agency, Tax Credits, etc ), reliant on a US satellite network (GPS) and requiring every vehicle in the country to be modified...dream on. I know this government has ambitions for an Orwellian society, they just will not be able to do it...thank god.
Pete H, Windsor, UK

It will never work! Its economically unviable, we are talking hundreds of millions of pounds to set up such a network and if it makes it cheaper to use rural roads then surely that encourages more congestion on them, and if its cheaper for those in rural areas then it will be more expensive than the current tax and duty on those that use non-rural roads. Plus the government will want a return on its investment because let's face it they do nothing in the interest of the motorist - simply grab all the money they can. Sounds like the millennium dome all over again.
Dale Wilson, Braintree, UK

Certainly a fairer option - you only pay for what you use and it would cut down people using vehicle needlessly
Maureen Davison, Herts

Another reason to consider moving abroad
Andrew Jones, United Kingdom
As usual, this sounds like a good idea if you either: (a) live a short distance from where you work, so walking or cycling is an option, or (b) you live and work close to railway stations on the same line. For the rest of us who have to travel considerable distances to work at inaccessible industrial estates, it's just another reason to consider moving abroad. I mean, does the government think we drive on motorways in the rush-hour for the fun of it?
Andrew Jones, United Kingdom

The cost of maintaining this system may outweigh the low cost basis of the present system of road tax. Surely more research should be done. If the benefits outweighs the costs, then its wise to implement, hopefully the benefits won't just be a better pay check to the taxman. Isn't this a privacy issue as well? Your movements constantly tracked and costed by the state?
Rudi Ball, Canterbury, Kent

What about civil liberties? If they introduce this tracking system, then the authorities will know exactly where you have been and when you were there. Things like satellite tracking, ID Cards and DNA sampling, are all fine on there own merits, but put them together and you have a government intent on controlling the population, and a massive invasion of privacy and civil liberties.
Craig, Paisley

Another stealth tax, can we trust the government to use such a system honestly? How will this ensure everyone pays, satellite systems are easily defeated and will lead to far more people avoiding payment. Why not just add the road tax to the price of petrol, there is NO way to avoid paying then!
Kevin Minett, Northallerton, Yorks

Surely by charging people per mile with 'Black Boxes' fitted in cars, car theft will increase. If its not your car you don't pay!
Ed, Lincoln, UK

How will visitors from Europe pay?
Martin, Stroud
How will visitors from Europe pay? Would it not be better to add 1p per litre of fuel. This would be cheaper to administer. The more you drive the more you pay, also the more efficient your engine the less you pay.
Wayne Kirman, Lincolnshire

Great. Can we apply the same principle to education and health?
Martin, Stroud

Living in the countryside, I think that this is a good idea. Country roads receive far less maintenance than motorways, so it seems fairer to have different prices. On the other hand, I'd be very worried that this would just be another stealth tax!
Alex, Suffolk, UK

Hopefully it will make businesses think twice about sending people in cars on lone journeys. However, this will only work if the rail networks work with the government and lower their exorbitant prices.
Adrian Evans, Exeter

Stop digging, for victory
25 Nov 03 |  Magazine

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