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The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"The government has said there is more planning underway"
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Friday, 29 September, 2000, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK
Fuel prices 'hit poor motorists'
Lorry drivers and farmers man the blockades during the petrol crisis
Farmers joined hauliers in blockades earlier this month
Rising fuel prices have helped keep down traffic levels and pollution - but the social cost to the poorest drivers is too high a price to pay for the environmental benefit, according to an AA report.

The report says the green impact of fuel tax is "modest", as high incomes and the falling costs of owning a car in the UK keep most drivers on the roads.

People are getting richer and using their cars more

Professor Stephen Glaister
But people on low incomes who need a car to lead normal lives, particularly in rural areas, have had no choice but to reduce essential spending elsewhere.

The report by Professor Stephen Glaister, of London's Imperial College, may offer some support to farmers and hauliers who brought the country to a near standstill with nationwide blockades over petrol prices earlier this month.

Professor Glaister told the BBC's Today Programme that evidence from Europe suggests that a 10% price increase did mean motorists used about 7% less fuel and there was 3% less traffic.

But he said economic factors in the UK offset this.

traffic jam
Drivers keep on driving despite costs

"Traffic and fuel consumption would have gone up much more rapidly had it not been for the increases in recent years," he said.

"But income is going up and people are getting richer and using their cars more."

Professor Glaister said changing the driving habits of the nation would not be possible by fuel increases alone.

"The overwhelming effect of increasing income dominates whatever you may be able to do politically by increasing fuel taxes," he said.

Time to talk

The AA says greenhouse emissions from cars have remained stable over the 1990s despite rising mileage because of the advances in technology.

The report suggests any long term advantages of high prices would be also superseded by engine efficiency improvements and other adjustments.

Chancellor Gordon Brown has so far rejected demands for a quick cut in fuel duties, saying the government will not give in to petrol protesters.

Professor Glaister says it is now time to open the debate and to change the structure of taxation.

"If the government wants to keep fuel taxes high maybe they should look at reducing tax the tax disc to make such groups compensated," he said.

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29 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Deal signed on fuel supplies
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