Who should pay for transport and how?

February 16 2015

Our Road User Charging Interest Group met last week in Bristol hosted by Hyder Consulting.  The programme was wide ranging – Atkins spoke on how driverless cars might impact congestion and funding, and new members Tamar Bridge & Torpoint Ferry Joint Committee explained their bridge and ferry operation, how it is tolled but also quite a bit about its relationship with users, employees, and the surrounding communities.  Both talks demonstrated that to be intelligent about transport, you have to view it as a service and an enabler.  Thinking purely in technical or other professional terms is not going to result in a good result.

Another very good example of applying creativity and intelligence was provided by Bristol City Council who explained Bristol Smarter Transport and the city’s role as European Green Capital 2015.  The city’s bid for this status was founded not on how green it already was, but instead on a frank admission of the shortcomings and some impressive, imaginative and intelligent plans for how to become greener.  These plans are now being put into action and Bristol is gaining in respect and fame as “one to watch” in terms of sustainable and intelligent transport.

The meeting ended with a debate on how transport should be funded to ensure it is sustainable as well as sustainably funded, and available and affordable to those who need to use it.  With falling fuel tax receipts, a national political resistance to the concept of road user charging, and now the appearance of EVs and next perhaps driverless vehicles, the old certainties are ready for the dustbin and new approaches are needed.  The principle that the transport user should pay the true cost of their usage only sounds innocuous at very first listen.  A perfectly level playing field would result in some socially and economically unacceptable outcomes.

So, how to square the circle of availability, affordability, and sustainability in a fair and workable way?  The Group is sure to return to this topic and each discussion hopefully brings a solution a little nearer.