Leading article: Stuck in the wrong gear

Share
Related Topics

Road charging has been government policy for quite some time now. Plans to charge drivers for using the busiest roads at peak times were first unveiled by the former transport secretary, Alistair Darling, back in June 2005. His successor, Douglas Alexander, announced regional trials last year. But suddenly the Government finds itself in a terrible flap on the subject. Ministers seem to have been spooked by a popular online petition calling for the plan to be scrapped. Mr Alexander now says that unless "motorists and families can see the benefits of bringing in a national road pricing system then it simply won't happen". So much for a Government with no reverse gear.

It is vital for environmental reasons that people get out of their cars and off the roads. Road transport is responsible for 20 per cent of the UK's greenhouse emissions. And UK traffic levels have risen some 11 per cent since 1997. The present expansion of road use is simply unsustainable. The question is: how is such a transport revolution to be achieved?

With respect to road charging, we should not be unduly swayed by this petition, which seems to be another manifestation of the power of the rejectionist drivers' lobby. But some of the concerns raised over the implications of the plan for our privacy are not unjustified. And it pays to be wary when this Government is touting an ambitious technological solution. It is legitimate to ask whether the same environmental goals could be achieved through significantly higher road taxes on highly-polluting cars, or a serious rise in fuel tax? This is the debate that should be taking place.

The Government's difficulties in this area are partially self-inflicted. It has a lamentable record on transport, having neglected to expand the cycle lane network and done too little to improve the rail systems. The result is that it is simply cheaper and more convenient for people to use their cars at the moment. Attempting to change these habits will not make the Government popular. But if ministers are serious about forestalling climate change they must do unpopular things.

Yet whatever mechanism ministers devise to get people off the roads, it must be seen to have a clear environmental goal. The recent rise in air passenger duty imposed by the Chancellor was an example of how not to introduce new environmental taxes. The duty is far too low to actually put people off flying, so there will be no real environmental benefits. It is a Treasury stealth tax dressed up in green clothing.

Such cynical half-measures discredit the wider environmental cause. Any more of the same on roads and New Labour's environmental credentials will be utterly destroyed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition