Road pricing is ‘inevitable’, new research suggests

A new road-pricing system is ‘urgently needed’ to make transport policy fairer and address the gap in tax revenue left by electric vehicles (EVs), a report has warned.

The new research by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) suggests charging motorists a levy based on the miles they drive would be fairer and more popular than the current fuel duty regime, and could even help address the cost of living crisis.

The growth in EVs – which do not pay fuel duty – will leave the Treasury with an estimated £30bn gap in tax revenue. To avert that shortfall, ministers must have the ‘courage’ to tell voters that a shift to road charging is ‘inevitable’, the SMF argue.

The report found that more people support (38%) than oppose (26%) road pricing as an alternative to fuel duty. The SMF also conducted focus group research which showed that voters regard fuel duty as more unfair than other taxes.

That view is supported by SMF analysis that shows fuel duty is regressive, falling more heavily on lower-income drivers. Even though such motorists drive fewer miles than richer ones, their fuel duty costs make up a greater share of their disposable income, the SMF calculated.

To fill the growing hole in the public finances and address unfairness in roads policy, the SMF said ministers should introduce a simple national road pricing regime with a fixed per mile charge. That scheme could be revenue neutral meaning it raises the same sums as fuel duty, but distributes the cost in a fairer way.

The report also makes the case for including a free ‘mileage allowance’ akin to the tax allowance, meaning low-use drivers would not pay any charge and high-mileage drivers would make a contribution proportionate to their use of the roads. A road-pricing regime with a flat rate for each mile driven and an annual “free” miles allowance for every driver would cut annual costs for almost half of all motorists, the SMF said.

cars on road during daytime

Former Transport Secretary Lord Young of Cookham will refer to the SMF report in the House of Lords on Monday during a debate on the economy in the Queen’s Speech.

Lord Young commented: ‘Successive administrations have looked at the case for road pricing and found it perfectly reasonable and sensible – then done nothing because they believe the public will not accept the change.

‘This report challenges that assumption. It shows that, as so often, the public are more sensible and mature than political debate gives them credit for. When voters think about the challenges ahead for transport and tax, they accept that road pricing is a prudent and necessary step to take.

‘The public are open to innovation because they know that the world has changed and will continue to change, so policy must change too. The welcome shift towards electric vehicles raises a clear question about the future of fuel duty levied on petrol and diesel. The unpopularity of that duty has grown steadily too. As this report shows, a well-designed system of road-pricing would be fairer and more popular than the status quo.’

Scott Corfe, SMF research director said: ‘The current system of fuel duty is unfair, unpopular and unsustainable. A properly designed road-pricing regime will be fair, popular and good for the public finances and the environment. Voters know this, and privately so do the politicians.  All that’s needed is the political courage to accept that road pricing is inevitable and sensible.

‘The costs of driving are a factor in the cost-of-living crisis hitting many households, and fuel duty hits low-income people hardest. Road-pricing would be a progressive alternative, taking some of that burden away from those least able to pay it.’

Photo by Ethan Hooson


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2 years ago

The first question I would ask is, how much is Scott Corfe, SMF Research Director, paid per annum.

B E Allen
B E Allen
2 years ago

Why should I bother with a comment? If it doesn’t fit your agenda it gets removed, in the spirit of free speech.

2 years ago

Charge electric car owners

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