Commercial insurance article archive
Road pricing after the petition - where to now?
As ideas go, it has never been a popular one. When the government announced plans to pilot a "charge per mile" scheme for motorists, 1.7 million people put their name to a petition opposing the idea, and over 70% of people polled by the BBC said they were against it.
The government, however, say that doing nothing is not an option. With road congestion and pollution on the rise, it feels something must be done to reduce the number of vehicles on Britain's roads, and while the proposals to charge motorists by the mile are by no means certain to go ahead, it seems clear that sooner of later, the way we're charged for transport will be changing.
At the moment, there are two different options under consideration:
1. GPS tracking for vehicles
Under this scheme, vehicles would be fitted with a "black box" under the bonnet, which would allow its movements to be tracked by satellite. A charge would then be levied according to the number of miles travelled.
2. Tag and beacon system
Under this option, vehicles would be fitted with a special transmitter, which would send a signal to roadside receivers as it passed under them, allowing mileage to be calculated.
Both schemes would result in a bill being generated and sent to the registered owner of the car, although there are suggestions that those with poor credit histories may be asked to make some kind of advance payment before they will be able to renew their tax discs. Already plans seem to be underway to allow “enforcers” from the Department of Transport to chase those who try to evade the charges – even although no final decision has yet been taken on what form charging would take, and whether it will even go ahead at all. And although the official Downing Street petition is no longer available to sign, a rash of other petitions have sprung up on websites, as motorists worry about the possibility of having to pay up to £1.28 per mile to use their vehicles.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, however, has refuted some of the costs cited by anti-tolls campaigners, saying that no firm decision has yet been reached on charging. In an email to those who signed the Downing Street petition in February, the PM insisted once again that that it was in the country's interests to at least explore the ways in which charging could help reduce congestion – and that's exactly what the government intends to do, hoping that the proposed pilot scheme will help to quell motorists fears.
Those fears, however, do not just revolve around the possible costs that such a scheme could involve. Some motorists are also concerned about the threat to their privacy if their vehicles are to be fitted with tracking devices. Some have described 24/7 surveillance of road users as "sinister", and have voiced fears that the trackers will also be used to monitor speed. In response to these fears, Transport Minister Alistair Darling has said that "safeguards" will be put in place to deal with the privacy issue, and the Prime Minister's emailed response to those who signed the petition against the proposed charges gave a slightly firmer promise to protect privacy. "Any technology used would have to give definite guarantees about privacy being protected - as it should be," wrote Tony Blair. "Existing technologies, such as mobile phones and pay-as-you-drive insurance schemes, may well be able to play a role here, by ensuring that the Government doesn't hold information about where vehicles have been."
Although the "pay as you go" proposals certainly seem to be the Downing Street favourite, many alternatives have been suggested to the scheme. Scotland's Transport Minister, Tavish Scott, has said that a road toll scheme, similar to that used in some states in America, could be an alternative for Scotland, although the idea has been strenuously opposed by Mr Scott's political opponents, with the Scottish Conservatives launching a website campaigning against the tolls.
In England, meanwhile, London's existing congestion charging zone has already doubled in size, with some residents staging protests against the £8 per day scheme. While those who oppose the scheme warn that it could damage local businesses and costs residents thousands, the fact that 55,000 residents within the increased zone are being given a 90% discount on the charges has also led to fears that it will do little to ease the problem.
With road congestion high on the political agenda, one thing seems certain: that some form of charging will be introduced in the UK sooner or later. The question remains: what form will that charging take?
23 Mar 2007