The House of Commons Transport Select Committee wants to start a national debate about road pricing in the UK in advance of a full inquiry to be formally announced in early 2020, which will invite views from across the country about the future of road-based transport.
The Transport Committee notes that the conversation about road-user charging (RUC) has been lacking for more than a decade, since the then Labour Government’s road pricing plans were abandoned. The Committee explains that the UK needs to decarbonize its transport network, tackle congestion, and encourage a ‘modal shift’ to alternative forms of transport, where appropriate. The £40bn (US$51bn) annual income from Fuel Duty and Vehicle Excise Duty is likely to decline sharply in future, and may end entirely if the Government keeps its pledge to fully decarbonize road transport within two decades. This income will need to be replaced if the Government is to continue to invest in transport infrastructure and prepare the transport network for a new greener future.
In early 2020 the Transport Committee will investigate whether national road pricing should be a part of that future, but wants the public, drivers and non-drivers alike, to begin the discussion now. The issues to be considered, both now and in the full public inquiry, will include the pros and cons of road pricing including the economic, environmental, and social impacts. The cross-party Committee will also look at the lessons that can be learnt from existing schemes at the national level, local level, and overseas. The Committee is keen to emphasize that road pricing does not only mean tolls, it also includes congestion charges, a heavy goods vehicle/truck levy, workplace parking levies, and new low emission and clean air zones (LEZs and CAZs).
“It’s been almost ten years since the last real discussion of national road pricing. In that time, we have become much more aware of the dangers of air pollution and congestion. Parliament declared a Climate Emergency in May, and local councils have begun to do the same. This requires a serious response, including rethinking how we manage our road network,” said Lilian Greenwood, chair of the Transport Committee. “We cannot ignore the looming fiscal black hole. We need to ask how we will pay for roads in the future, and in answering that question we have an opportunity for a much wider debate about our use of road space, cutting carbon emissions, tackling congestion, modal shift and how we prioritize active travel.”
Greenwood continued, “Tackling the Climate Emergency is essential, but this is about more than what we must do to meet that challenge. It’s also about our health and the sort of towns and cities we want to live in. This isn’t about pricing drivers off the road; it’s about making sure that as many people as possible have a say in future plans so that we can manage the changes to come. The Transport Committee wants to kickstart this conversation.”