Make new roads funding solutions “desirable” say experts

May 29 2018

Any changes to the way roads are funded and taxed must not just be acceptable to the public, but also desirable, a group of transport professionals has heard.

ITS (UK)’s Road User Charging Interest Group discussed various approaches, targeted to replace dwindling fuel tax revenues while meeting demands for better mobility, reduced emissions and future sustainability.  The programme was organised by Dr John Walker of the University of Southampton, Honorary Secretary of the RUCIG.

The meeting, hosted by Arup in London, heard that changing the funding model remains politically difficult, but that it is a question of gaining public acceptance by making sure the overall take does not change, and that the system is seen to be fair. A panel comprised of the winner and runners-up of the 2017 Wolfson Economics Prize with speakers reiterating the need for a fresh approach because more fuel-efficient vehicles, including ultra low emission electric ones, means the tax take through the pump is diminishing and so a new solution will be needed sooner rather than later, and that technology already exists to do this.

President of the AA Edmund King explained how drivers’ views have changed over time with 44 per cent supporting a taxation system based on when, where and how far we travel while only 33 per cent still back the current fuel duty and VED. But he said it has to be marketed correctly and that his idea for a Road Miles charging mechanism has not led to a single resignation from the AA, “but that if it had been called road pricing it would have been different.”

The Wolfson Prize winner Gergely Raccuja from Amey explained his preferred solution involving collection through insurance companies, who already take money from drivers, rather than through government. This award-winning approach has gained traction with the UK Treasury and was seen to resonate well with successful initiatives elsewhere. Nina Elter of EROAD (New Zealand), described operation of the mileage-based user fee schemes in western US States while Zoltan Varga, manager of the national Hungarian programme HU-GO, showed how to combine distance-based revenue collection and driver services. The meeting discussed public acceptance and heard how in Stockholm approval increased dramatically when travellers saw the benefits in reduced congestion from a pilot scheme that became permanent.

Chair of the Interest Group, Keith Mortimer (pictured), said, “I felt privileged in having this opportunity to bring together such a high quality gathering of colleagues to offer deep insights into management of the changes needed to enhance UK mobility and productivity. Our RUC Group is the national forum for sharing a wide breadth of knowledge and expertise, drawing upon best-practice ideas in the UK, Europe and globally. This meeting combined all the best elements of that mission.”

ITS (UK) Operations Manager Rukshan Soysa added, “Our meeting brought together some of the brightest minds from around the world to discuss this politically difficult issue. Once again ITS (UK) is facilitating a solutions-based approach to the challenges faced and I’m pleased we weren’t sitting there trumpeting clever technology that won’t work in the real world but coming up with traveller-focused answers that I believe will really work.”

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