Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Going, going...

Tomorrow is crunch day. Some think our beloved PM may choose the tenth anniversary of his accession to the Labour leadership to resign. I guess it would appeal to his vanity. Others think he's going to have a Cabinet reshuffle. If he does that he'll definitely be there for the next election. Word on the street is that Peter Mandelson may make another phoenix like comeback either as European commissioner or Cabinet Minister. Wouldn't it be funny if Blair offered Brown the Foreign Office and he refused? What a way to run a railway... Talking of which, Labour announced their 10 year Transport Plan today. Strange that. They did the same thing 4 years ago. I imagine they'll soon announce the creation of a Transport Czar - then we'll really know they are in trouble. The main plank of this 10 Year Plan is to charge people for using the roads. Amazing. I thought we did that already through our taxes. I have no objection to the principle of 'the user pays' but I somehow doubt there would be a commensurate reduction in tax.

And also today they announced a review of Council Tax. It seems they want to not only increase the number of bands but also to introduce a local income tax. This really could do for Labour in the same way that the Poll Tax did for Mrs T.


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Dale

I was interested to read your judgement of charging road users for their use of roads. This seems an eminently sensible way to fund increasing road use - and the parallel increased costs of maintaining those roads in good condition for all users.

If fewer people used roads, there would be a commensurate decrease in the costs of maintaining them. I am not a road user; as a city-dweller I have the luxury of being able to walk or use a good public transport system. I appreciate that people who live in rural areas do not have these facilities. However, I see all round me in my urban environment, people making unnecessary car journeys, polluting my air, with just one person in each car.

Each journey releases pollutants into the atmosphere - the air we all have to share - and adds stress to road surfacing, etc. Why shouldn't those who use the roads, pay for them, just as I pay each time I use public transport?

Iain Dale said...

I have no objection in principle to charging on newly built roads - the M6 toll road seems to be workig very weel, but I do not see it as practical to charge people on a per mile basis for every mile they travel. The technology would be hugely expensive and open to abuse. If the technology were not an issue I'd happily look at it if there were a commensurate reduction in tax. You talk predominantly about urban environments where there is a choice open to people. If there is good public transport people will often choose not to travel by car. That option is not open to people in rural areas like North Norfolk and to be honest never will be.

Westbury-on-Trym Lib Dems said...

In answer to your technological point, I think I know what they have in mind. I recently did some work relating to the Galileo satellite system. This is a joint project between the European Space Agency and European Union (you will be pleased to know that the implementation and operation are to be privately funded, though!)

Galileo will be a civilian version of the USA's military Global Positioning System and will have a huge range of possible applications (locating minerals, navigation for ships and planes, mapping, monitoring pollution etc). The positioning technology will be immensely superior to current ground-based options and even the lower level signals will be accurate to within a metre or so.

The technology needed to use Galileo for congestion charging will indeed be incredibly cheap - my guess is that a private company would willingly pay the government for the priviledge of providing and maintaining the technology for individual motorists in return for a small fraction of the mileage charge.

So, in practical terms, the technology will soon be there and will be extremely cheap. I think that the question that needs addressing is how commensurate reductions could be made in fuel and road taxes, and how an understandable but equitable pricing structure could be calculated (as you say, rural areas lack alternative transport and, the odd tractor aside, lack the major congestion problems encountered elsewhere).

Interesting stuff (well, mildly diverting).

Iain Dale said...

About ten years ago I had a client (in my lobbying days!) who was at the forefront of GPS technology. They came up with a similar proposal for road tolling but the Department of Transport didn't thing it was saleable to the public. Personally I have nothing against road tolling for new roads but I remain unconvenced about the practicality or merits of a tolling system covering the entire network - this is on civil liberties grounds as much as anything else. Oops, I've just opened up another can of worms, haven't I?

Westbury-on-Trym Lib Dems said...

Well, I have no real doubts on practicality but tend to agree that there may be civil liberties issues. Personally, I have my doubts about the entire Galileo project because of the risk of terrorist spoofing (a lovely word, but quite unpleasant in practice!)