Manchester has decided to make itself a little less attractive to business and investment. It has added its twists to the knife this government places near the heart of every motorist, by imposing a Â£5 congestion charge to go into and out of the City centre by car each day. The charge, we are told, is to pay for more public transport. Donâ€™t they realise the motorist already pays many times more than the cost of the service he provides? Where does all that money go? Why canâ€™t they order decent public transport which is mainly paid for by fares? All journeys pollute â€“ more public transport does not take us anywhere near zero carbon.
In a world where the rich travel more than the poor, where the government wishes to intensify the market signals to save energy by raising the price still further, and where both motorists and public transport users need public infrastructure to travel, I accept that there should be charges and taxes on motoring. I also think it would be better to charge those of who drive long distances more than the amount we charge those who drive less. The more you use the roads the more you should pay. The more you travel by whatever vehicular means, the bigger the fare or travel tax you should pay.
I am therefore proposing important reforms to the whole system. The principles of reform are:
1. No increase in the total taxes paid by motorists (In due course when spending is under better control they should come down)
2. More payment by use, less for just owning a vehicle
3. Better management of the roads
4. Reductions in public debt and public sector risk for transport investment
The scheme is:
1. Sell long leases on a substantial proportion of the principal highway network to the private sector.
2. Allow the private sector to charge tolls up to a specified maximum for use of this network.
3. Abolish Vehicle Excise Duty, making sure the total cost of VED foregone is the same as the first yearâ€™s toll charges on the highways.
4. Set contracts for the private sector to improve and maintain the highways to better standards than at present, encouraging them to expand capacity of the present route network.
A simple rough presentation of the kind of numbers I have in mind is:
1. Sell Â£110 billion of road leases.
2. Repay Â£110 billion of public sector debt, saving Â£5 billion a year of interest payments
3. Abolish VED, losing Â£5 billion of revenue
4. Allow private tolls of around Â£5 billion a year in the first year, rising as the private sector succeeds in making more capacity available and in setting flexi tolls to encourage better use of the road through out the day.
This scheme would save those on lower incomes more money, because they tend to have low mileage cars hit disproportionately by VED. It would charge people for use of the roads, improve the maintenance and performance of the roads as the leaseholders have an interest in maximising use, and act as some disincentive to each of us to drive more. Can you imagine a private owner of a road closing all or part of it down for long periods for maintenance as the nationalised owner does? Can you imagine them refusing to add an extra lane when they have a winner? There will b e more miles travelled whatever we do, so they might as well be less congested miles. It would help remoter rural areas where there are no main routes which would be tolled.