I have been fascinated to read responses to my proposals on roads from people usually up for a smaller state telling me I am going too far. If you can’t take government out of the main road business, what can you take them out of? It should be one of the easier ones.
The criticisms all boil down to one thing. People see it as another opportunity to fleece the motorist, when I have in mind for the first time in more than ten years offering the motorist a better deal!
Some of the critics misread the scheme, and think the government will be collecting the tolls and benefitting from them. On the contrary. The tolls would be levied and used by the franchise owners. The last thing I want is the government to start charging us tolls on top of everything else they charge us. Nor do I want us to pay twice, which is why the scheme includes the abolition of the VED levy on everyone with a vehicle.
Some critics think the private franchise holders will be monopolists and will milk us all at the toll booths. Again, why on earth would I propose something like that? The scheme includes splitting up the roads into different packages, so whereever possible there would be choice of pay road. In addition, all single carriageway roads and many bigger A roads remain free, so there is always a free route home if you want it. On top of that the franchise sale would include an upper limit on how much per mile they could charge. The franchise holders would be free to charge less,and would doubtless charge less at off peaks to encourage a better spread of use.
What people are missing is the obvious improvements that would come from such a system. As one supporter concluded, the Highways Agency could be wound down, saving money. Private franchise holders would want to improve their roads to improve flows, as they will only get lots of business if there are savings in journey times by using their better roads. The competition would be for the length of the franchise they needed for the government to get the money it wants. We would soon see use of the emergency lane at busy times as already happens on sections of the M42. They would need a suitable duraration so it was worthwhile putting in more capital for improvements. Where they wanted to make a major improvement to the road they chould be able to negotiate a lease extension or a capital repayment from the new franchise holder if it ever changes hands.
Some of you worry about the congestion toll booths can cause. It would be up to the franchise holders to choose the least disruptive technology to get paid. The US system where you can buy a smart card in advance which allows you straight through toll points without stopping is an obvious way to do it. That could also reassure people they were not being logged and monitored where they were gooing, as if you had a valid card the system could be designed not to record your vehicle. Alternatively there could be monitors and you could receive a bill once a month like a mobile phone bill- which also of course can monitor exactly where you are at any time you use it. The Oyster card on the tube already logs whereever we go by underground. Two wrongs don’t make a right but it shows even us freedom lovers will put up with it.
We need to break the state monopoly grip on road provision. We need to get more access to private capital to invest to bust congestion by removing bottlenecks. I look forward to your response to future radical proposals for sorting out our deficit and poor public services. This was meant to be the less contentious one!