LEADING ARTICLE : The bell tolls for free roads

Share
Related Topics
The Government's plan to introduce electronic toll charges on motorways initially sounded modern, indeed futuristic. Yet they were out of date before they were even implemented. So the decision by the Transport Secretary, Brian Mawhinney, to go back to the drawing board is a welcome recognition of reality.

Dr Mawhinney's predecessor, John MacGregor, had a disturbing enthusiasm for all things on four wheels. He proposed that motorists should to be charged electronically as they passed a toll point and that the money raised should be spent on new roads.

On a superficial level this seemed to be a neat way to improve the transport system while also reducing traffic congestion, without imposing extra costs on taxpayers. But there was, as Dr Mawhinney has now tacitly acknowledged, just one problem: the policy would not work. First, tolls on only a few major roads and motorways would encourage motorists to divert to alternative free routes. Second, protests such as those against the M11 link road demonstrate that spreading miles of fresh tarmac across the shires has become politically impossible.

Yet Dr Mawhinney should not now give up on road pricing. If he can think bigger and more imaginatively than Mr MacGregor did he could begin to develop a serious response to congestion, pollution and millions of hours of wasted time.

For road pricing to work it must apply to most of the trunk network and to urban areas. A comprehensive policy would prevent drivers from switching to free alternatives, would reduce the flow of traffic into cities and might also help everyone to breathe more easily.

But the most important switch that Dr Mawhinney must engineer from his predecessor's policy is in the way that the revenue would be spent. New roads are off the agenda. Likewise, if it needs saying, the option of the Treasury pocketing the proceeds can be ruled out on the grounds of unpopularity.

Instead Dr Mawhinney will have to overcome Conservative distaste for public transport (as articulated by Steven Norris, the Transport Minister) and spend the takings on buses, trains and light rail systems. Expenditure in these areas would give those priced off the roads a real alternative way of reaching their destination. Without such developments, road pricing would provoke such hostility that no party seeking election could sensibly support it.

Dr Mawhinney has in a number of recent speeches made clear his wish for a proper debate on the British transport system. Scrapping Mr MacGregor's ill-fated proposals is a good first step. But does he have the courage to take the next step and acknowledge that a century of free road transport must now be brought to an end?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star