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29 July 2004
Travel Survey 2003
Department for Transport have published the provisional results from the 2003 traffic survey.
The number of journeys we make is not going up, but the average distance travelled is increasing slightly.
90% of person miles travelled are by road. Breakdown is:-
Cars 77%, Bus 7%, Other road (vans, bikes, taxis etc) 6%, Trains & Underground 6%, Other non road (trams, planes, ferries) 1%, Walking 3%.
You can see the DfT press release and link to the full figures at:-  DfT survey

Tolls are bad news everywhere
Almost every day there is a story about the spread of tolling around the globe, despite the universal dislike of tolls.
Perhaps the reason that this is happening is the same in all those countries affected. Here is a short version of Toronto Star editorial today:-

"Tolls are bad idea for Ontario roads"
Why is Ontario talking about more toll roads as part of the plan unveiled this week to improve schools, hospitals, water systems, sewers, transit and roads?
Ontario already has a user fee system in place to pay for new roads and highways. The system comprises drivers' licence fees, car licence plate fees and a fuel tax on every litre of gas sold.
So why the sudden interest in toll roads?
In theory, the revenue from licence fees and gas taxes goes to pay for the maintenance and expansion of our network of roads, as well as to help finance public transit.
If licence fees and fuel taxes are not generating enough revenue to pay for our transportation infrastructure, the obvious solution is to increase them.
It is a bad idea to single out a particular group of drivers and whack them with tolls just because they happen to rely on particular roads.
Why should a young suburban family living in a new outlying area with inadequate public transportation have to pay tolls to drive to work when someone who lives on the subway line pays nothing extra for driving their SUV downtown, where there is already too much congestion and car pollution?
In large urban regions roads are the arteries of economic life. To put artificial impediments in the form of financial speed bumps in the way of some people and businesses makes no more sense than a government access charge on just one shopping centre.
The federal government redirects tax dollars from the more prosperous provinces to the poorer ones in the form of equalization payments to ensure that every citizen can have access to the same level of public services at the same level of taxes.
Yet what is proposed with tolls is just the opposite. Some will pay more than others for the same level of services, while paying the same provincial tax rates. That is neither equal nor fair.
And why apply the user pay principle just to roads? If the principle has so much to commend it, why not propose a hospital toll system, where people pay for each hospital visit they make? To do so, of course, would be to discriminate against the sick, which would be rejected out of hand. So why discriminate against certain drivers on the basis of where they happen to live, work and travel?

24 July 2004
Where has the money gone?
Rhodri Clark of the Western Mail has reported on a 63 million windfall gain on the Severn bridge debt. Apparently 38 million of this has gone to the company that operates the Severn crossings. The other 25 million seems to have gone to the Government.
Has anything at all been used to reduce the debt on the bridge? :-  MP attacks bridge windfall

23 July 2004
Congestion Charge fines
We heard today that the London Congestion scheme is proving to be such a success that they are increasing the fines. We tried to confirm this at the official site, but no one seems to have told them yet. You can see Ross Lydall's story on "This is London":-  Evening Standard - London Congestion Fines Increase

Tolls on M6
Some of the transport and business establishment lobbies have been expressing "delight" at yesterday's announcement of a cut in tolls for lorries.
For example, the Director General of the CBI is reported as saying:-"This is great news for business. Now it's up to the haulage industry to rise to the challenge and make full use of this road, which cuts journey times and aids productivity..."
One can only wonder what they would have said if the toll had been scrapped altogether!
We also wonder what they will say when the toll for lorries goes back up on 1 January 2005.

22 July 2004
The operators of the M6 toll road (opened in December) have today announced that tolls are to be revised.
There is to be a substantial reduction in the tolls for lorries from 10 to 6 from tomorrow,
but the toll for cars will increase from 2 to 3
from mid August.
The government agreement with the operators of the road means that they can charge what they like till the concession ends in 2054.
NAAT view of today's development is:-

Reducing the tolls for lorries makes sense, as at the moment most lorries are boycotting the new road and using less satisfactory alternatives.
But the ultimate logic of this step is that there should be no toll at all.
The increase in the toll for cars was expected, but is still not welcome.
The new road is substantially underused as according to the government's own figures it only takes 20% of the traffic.
But the road operator will do whatever they think will maximise their profits, and the road will continue to be underused till the tolls and this two class system are scrapped.         BBC - "M6 Toll charge cut to woo lorries"
Thames Gateway Crossing
Planning applications were submitted today to London boroughs of Newham and Greenwich:-  BBC - "Application for new Thames bridge"
From what has been published, the cost seems to be about 400 million, with half of it coming from Transport for London funds, to be backed by government subsidy.
But if the bridge is built as a PFI scheme, then the construction cost might be a lot less than the quoted 400 million. The company that will pay for the cost of the bridge (less the 200 million grant), will make its profits by charging tolls.
All of the existing Thames crossings are free, apart from where the M25 crosses the Thames at Dartford.
A new bridge will take some traffic away from the M25 and Dartford Crossing. And one assumes that the TfL / Government subsidy is partly so that the tolls won't be too high to deter such traffic from using it.
But upriver from the proposed new crossing is the Blackwall Tunnels which with their 4 lanes carry nearly 30 million vehicles a year between the A12 and the A102. It would make good sense if some of this traffic was encouraged to use the new crossing. But if the new crossing has any toll on it, then this will not happen.
As well as its impact on the wider London area, the bridge is expected to benefit the area immediately around the bridge. That will be so, but studies in other areas show that tolls act as an economic blight on such areas. So they will not achieve the full benefits of the improved transport link.
Another demonstration of why tolling never makes good sense and why the tolls on the other London bridges were removed over 100 years ago.

Mersey Crossing
There was another story today (by Ian Chevau of Weekly News) on the long delayed new crossing of the Mersey at Runcorn:-  Bridge fee could be death toll for firms
This is an almost identical situation to the Thames. There are already other crossings and only one is tolled (the Mersey Tunnels).
Before the Mersey Tunnels Act completed its passage at the end of June, there were suggestions of a domino effect on the other Mersey crossings. Oddly many of those who wanted higher Mersey Tunnels tolls wanted the new Runcorn bridge to be free.
The postponed decision on the new bridge should be announced later this year. We have no idea what the decision will be, but wouldn't be surprised if the question of tolling was deferred.
Even they must know that it doesn't make sense.

21 July 2004
Yesterday there was a meeting in Staffordshire of people objecting to plans for the extension of M6 toll road:-  BBC -"Meeting held over M6 Toll plans"
We don't have any information yet to judge whether it makes more sense to build a new road or to widen the existing M6 as the government agreed in 2002.
But we would certainly be interested in hearing the views of anyone who may be affected by the new road.
Do you prefer a new road or widening of existing road? Or are you opposed to both? Please email us with your views:-  naat

20 July 2004 late

The revised Transport Plan for the next 10 years was unveiled by the Government at midday:-  BBC - "At-a-glance: Transport strategy"

Views on the BBC website:-  BBC - "Future transport plans: Your views"

You can see the press release and follow links to the plan etc at:-  Department for Transport Press Release "Meeting the Transport Challenge"

We have issued a press release following the announcement:-

The Government today announced revised transport plans for the next 10 years.
It had been widely leaked that the plans would include proposals for a massive increase in tolling for the use of roads.
The plans confirm that the Government wants to move in that direction, but they could not be more vague as to what, when and how.

Though the plans are vague it seems that the government wants to introduce pilot schemes for road charging.
Presumably the lucky areas will volunteer to pay even more than they do at the moment. Some local authorities might agree to this, but virtually no road users. Even the government seem to recognise this as it looks as if we are in for a massive "education" programme to convince us of the benefits. Why don't they just ask the road users in those areas lucky enough to already have tolled roads? Though perhaps they better duck when they get their answer.

Most road users realise that they are already paying way over the odds for roads. (44 billion in taxes, and only 6 billion roads spending.) They would certainly like to see some of the more regressive taxes such as the "Road Fund" licence scrapped. But they don't want to see more taxes, and in particular they don't want road pricing. Road tolls will bring in a 2 class system, which may suit ministers in their chauffeur driven cars but does not suit the ordinary person. We need more and better roads. But those roads need to be used for the benefit of all.

The Government says that it will be spending a lot more on Transport over the 10 years. But it fails to say how much of this increase, if any, will go on roads. We suspect that the bulk of the planned increase in spending is for the bottomless railways pit. Spending on public transport should not be indirectly paid for by inadequate roads spending and tolls on roads users all around Britain.

Tolls may just be another way for the government to lower public expenditure figures by eventually transferring much of the roads spending to the private sector.
Road users do not want a change from a bad system to a worse one. They want more of their 44 billion spent on improvements to free roads for the benefit of all.
Alistair Darling was interviewed about his tolling plans by the BBC. He achieved the feat of being even vaguer than the published plans, and said that nothing might happen for 20 or 30 years. He was asked whether there would be an overall increase in road taxes and avoided answering. Drivers of "gas guzzlers" would however be pleased, because he said that he couldn't see why they should pay more than the drivers of other cars.

20 July 2004 early

A revised Transport Plan for the next 10 years is expected to be unveiled by the Government today.
You can see the story at:-  BBC - "Government backs roads shake-up" and a follow up at:-  BBC - "'We all want better transport'"

As well as tolls, the government is already using a system of shadow tolls on some roads. This is where the government through a PFI scheme gets someone else to pay for the road and then pays the private road operator by way of a "shadow" toll for each road user.
The advantage for the government is that the initial spending can be excluded from the public expenditure figures.
Tolls or shadow tolls can mean big profits for the banks. It has just been revealed that the government has already paid 16 million in shadow tolls on the A55 in Anglesey. But the road only cost 100 million to build and has another 27 years of it's 30 years tolling to run.
The story by Rhodri Clark of Western Mail about the Anglesey road:-  AM angered by burden of 'shadow tolls'

19 July 2004

We said yesterday that we might be suffocated with toll news, well we got more today. It is as if the passing of the Mersey Tunnels Bill at the end of June has released a dam, and we are now being flooded. Perhaps they thought that it was best to get that Bill through before they revealed all this "good" news!

You can see the first story at:-  BBC - "Call for suburban transport plan"
The report is from the Independent Transport Commission:-  Conclusions of IoT report  Full IoT report
The report predicts increasing traffic and congestion in suburban areas.
They do not yet definitely recommend tolls. But they say "fiscal and land use policies are needed to persuade suburban residents to buy ultra economical cars and minimise the use of them."

You can see the second story at:-  BBC - "MPs to examine road toll impact"
The Commons Transport Committee is to look at the first toll motorway (M6 relief) opened last December.
We suggest that they look at our M6 page!

18 July 2004

Today the Institute for Public Policy Research, a Labour think tank, issued the latest set of proposals for a massive increase in tolling. These proposals seem to be coming at us thick and fast. Perhaps the Government and the transport lobby thinks that they can suffocate any opposition.
You can see the story at:-  BBC - "Tolls 'could replace road tax'"
And you can see the proposals at:-  IPPR Press Release
We issued the following statement of our own:-

We appear to be heading for a massive increase in tolling on British roads.
Or at least we will be if those advising the government have their way. The latest group to press for more road tolls is the Labour think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research.

The IPPR are pressing for another 16 billion a year to be raised in road tolls and congestion charges. They suggest that this could partly be offset by removing road tax.
The Government raises some 44 billion a year from road users, but "only" 5billion of that is from road tax.
So this seems to leave the government with another 11 billion in taxes, which the IPPR suggest could be spent on public transport. This could be an ideal stealth tax as the government might be able to omit the new charges from the taxation figures.

The IPPR says that some low income rural motorists would actually pay less under their proposals. They give an example of a rural motorist in the North West saving 3 a month.
In NAAT view the poorer motorists are the very ones who are hardest hit by tolls and other road charges. They are already paying far more in taxes than the 6 billion a year that is spent on roads.
By all means scrap the road tax. This is what motorists said they wanted in a report issued in January.
But they also said that they did not want it to be replaced with any system of road charging.
Road users do not want a 2 class system.

The IPPR also suggest that Alistair Darling should scrap the proposal made earlier this month for a new M6 tolled motorway. It appears that IPPR prefer a toll to be introduced on the existing M6.
The Department for Transport agreed in 2002 that this stretch of the M6 (from Cannock towards M56) should be widened. The Government have now gone back on this and have instead suggested building a completely new toll road.
They said that "The M6 links two of the country's most important economic centres, Birmingham and Manchester. It is one of the busiest roads in the country."
However the capacity of the M6 is increased, most roads users are opposed to tolls.
If there is a "choice" most roads users will avoid tolls, and the full benefits of any new road will not be achieved.

The Government should be narrowing the massive gap between road taxes and road spending, not increasing it.

12 July 2004 late

On "Tonight with Trevor McDonald" (Motorists Fight Back), Trevor asked David Jamieson, Minister for Roads, about plans for a massive increase in tolling, and he denied that there were any such plans.
So we are a bit confused.
Have the Commission for Integrated Transport (a government appointed body) come up with such plans or not?
Or are the Government worried because we are not meekly accepting it? (Now where are those tranquillisers?)
And how does all this fit in with the announcement on 6th July that the Government were to abandon plans for widening of the M6 and would instead extend the M6 Toll from the Midlands to North West of England?
Watch this space for further developments.

Restaurants having a lean time
Report from the London Chamber of Commerce on the harm that the charge is doing to restaurant trade":-  Evening Standard - C-charge hits restaurants

More details have emerged about plans for a massive increase in tolling:-  BBC - "Plan pushing for more road tolls"

We issued the following statement on 12 July 2004:-

Anti toll campaigners are shocked by the latest news on tolling.
Campaigners had warned of a domino effect when the Mersey Tunnels Bill was passed two weeks ago (28th June).
That has been followed by last weeks' announcement (6th July) that the government wants to toll the already agreed (2002) expansion of the M6 road link between the Midlands and the North West of England.
Now details are emerging of proposals for a massive increase in tolled roads.
The proposals for tolling of most main roads have been prepared for the Government by the Commission for Integrated Transport.

This latest news adds more weight to the anti toll campaigners call for a drivers' revolt against the plan to extend tolling on the M6.
The National Alliance Against Tolls (NAAT) is to stage a nation wide Reject Toll Roads boycott in September. Other groups objecting to more tolls include the Association of British Drivers and the Road Haulage Association.

A spokesman for the NAAT said:-

"It appears that the Government intends to hit the motorist again to pay for its spending plans for other services.
It may be that some road taxes will be reduced, but we suspect that overall road taxes will go up, though some of it may be masked as toll charges paid to private road operators."

"Tolls are already unfair as their effect is random, depending on where you live.
It looks as if the latest proposals will hit a lot more people, but it seems that the tolls will not be universal. So motorists and lorry drivers will be encouraged to abandon the motorways, and take long detours down minor (and presumably free) roads. This will be to nobody's benefit."

The NAAT estimates that if fuel duty (and the VAT on fuel duty) and road fund licence were to be replaced by a charge per mile, it would work out at about 8 to 10 pence. But the proposals suggest that for some roads there will be a charge of up to 1.40 a mile, while others are free.
It is most unlikely that the charges that people will be forced to pay will in any way match people's ability to pay. This will be a highly regressive tax."

"To the extent that there is a shift away from petrol duty to some other tax on motoring, this will bizarrely mean that the driver of a large fast car may save money, while other drivers will pay more.
Road tolling is the opposite of what most motorists wanted according to an RAC Foundation survey that was issued in January. The majority of road users said that they would prefer other road taxes and charges scrapped and replaced with a higher petrol price.
Not of course that motorists want higher petrol prices. The Government are collecting about 44 billion in various taxes on road users, and only spending about 6 billion on roads (per Road Users Alliance). So they should be able to scrap all these other charges without increasing petrol price."

"It is claimed that this further blow to the road user will somehow reduce congestion. But most road users use the roads at the times that they do for a variety of reasons. It is most unlikely that there would be a measurable reduction in the number of cars and lorries using the road. All this proposal would do is to shift traffic away from the roads most suited to it onto less suitable roads."

"It is also likely that any scheme would be expensive to administer and be evaded with the use of some electronic gizmo."
RAC Foundation report showing that drivers don't want tolling

11 July 2004

One of our spokesmen was interviewed today for BBC Politics Show, on the issue of the M6 Toll extension.
We are of course very concerned about this new toll road, and see this as another part of a plan to further hit the motorist.
Road users do not want tolls. Tolls are unfair and do not make economic sense.
We have been in contact with DfT for information on the M6 Toll extension as part of the consultation process. We will let you know what develops.

Some of the papers today carried a story about a massive extension of tolling. Here is one from Juliette Jowit, transport editor of The Observer:-  Crisis Plans for tolls on All Roads
We suspect that this may be a leak intended to get people used to the idea.

If charging was to apply to all roads, and there was at least an equal drop in road taxes, we would not necessarily oppose it. But we suspect that any charge would be applied unevenly and unfairly, that there would not be an equivalent drop in other road taxes, and that it would be difficult and costly to administer with lots of evasion.
Most importantly we suspect that the tolls that are on existing roads would in effect be kept by charging a special premium for the use of those roads.

6 July 2004

The Government announced plans (leaked the day before) for extension of M6 toll from Midlands (Cannock) towards M56. For more details go to dedicated page:-  M6 Toll

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