UK Government drops plans for Road Pricing

So says the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph (which also claims credit for the decision), and Channel 4’s website.

Curiously, the transcript of the new minister’s speech appears to contain no mention of this decision. It does have some useful nods in the direction of sustainable transport policy, though they are by no means unequivocal.

I’m not absolutely wedded to road pricing as a mechanism to make transport more sustainable. It does make the variable element in the cost of driving loom larger, which is a good thing; but I rather agree with David Metz that gridlock is democratic – having more money can’t buy you clearer roads for yourself. Also, if he’s right that the amount that we travel is more or less fixed as a proportion of our time, then congested roads acts as a ceiling on how much travel we do.

Of course, there are two things wrong with this argument. Firstly, when roads are congested governments build more of them, in what Metz and others demonstrate is a fruitless effort to provide our way out of congestion; in this respect it’s revealing that Adonis’s speech referred to the Eddington Report, which is the ur-text for this approach. Building more roads not only generates more traffic but the construction itself is hugely carbon-generating.

Secondly, even if we don’t attempt to build our way out of congestion, lots of gridlocked cars sitting in jams still burn petrol and create CO2, even if they don’t go very far. All the evidence suggests that they burn much more in heavy traffic conditions as they brake and accelerate.

So I suspect road pricing is probably on balance a good thing, though introducing it will take more courage than this government seems to have.

Trivia footnote: in the early 1980s I lived in Swiss Cottage. My postman was Andrew (now Lord) Adonis’s dad.

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