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Paying for the tarmac

The UK government has floated the idea of fitting GPS tracking devices into cars as part of a way to enforce road tolls, with a pilot project starting in a few years’ time before going nationwide. One can immediately see how civil libertarians might object to such a setup, given that it could further consolidate the surveillance state.

Even so, the idea of charging for road use has a strong free market pedigree, as the Adam Smith Institute blog makes clear here. Road toll systems operated by private firms need not necessarily involve the centralised data collection systems that our present UK government might favour.

One little detail of the ASI comment made me grin, in that apparently, road tolls in Hong Kong failed in the 1980s to become law because men feared the toll invoices would reveal they had been spending their evenings down the local bordellos. Okaaaay.

39 comments to Paying for the tarmac

  • GCooper

    Even leaving aside the privacy question, is anyone sufficiently stupid to believe such a move would be tax-neutral?

    There can be no question that, within five years, the tax levels would be racked up out of all proportion.

    The notion that this form of taxation would ‘ease congestion’ is predicated on the absurd belief that most people travel for the fun of it and that if they were taxed, they would drive less.

    In reality, people drive because they have to in order to live their lives. It’s just rubbish from the usual control freaks, like the BBC’s ‘commentator of choice’, the Stalinist “Professor” David Begg.

  • Euan Gray

    In reality, people drive because they have to in order to live their lives

    I don’t think that’s really true. Given that the average road journey in the UK including even trucks and business car trips is about 8 miles, and given that something like two-thirds of trips are reputedly less than 2 miles, it is hard to see why people do this “because they have to.” People drive, on many occasions, because it is easy and convenient. This is a problem for an urban road system designed for the horse and cart.

    Opinion polls seem to find consistently that a majority of drivers would use mass transport in preference to their cars IF the mass transport was clean, safe, cheap and actually went where they needed to go. It seems, therefore, sensible and profitable to spend money on mass transport rather than on endless measures to mitigate the adverse effects of the ever increasing car population.

    It’s likely true that a good proportion of the cash raised by the proposed measure would go to state coffers for general use rather than expenditure on improving and maintaining mass transport, but the general principle of doing something to reduce the number of cars on the road is IMO sound. Furthermore, the idea of reducing vehicle and (to a lesser extent) fuel taxes in exchange for distance tolls moves a little further towards paying for usage rather than merely for access.

    I would suggest that privatising the roads and permitting private tolls would have much the same effect, but potentially without reductions in excise duties. Either way, something will have to be done at some point. Leaving it as it is seems not to be sustainable, and given the apparent reluctance of the private market to expand mass transport, it is probable that state action would be needed.

    EG

  • Paul

    Alan Duncan was very good on the Today programme this morning. I’m on a different side of the political divide to him but I totally agreed with him on the question of civil liberties.

    This is a way of the Government finding out about every single car journey you ever make under the pretext of ‘road pricing’. This is the fantasy of fascists and totalitarians, not democrats.

    Anyone think drivers are in line for tax rises soon?

  • Verity

    Jonathan it was road charging by taking a photo of licence plates as they passed the toll point that was defeated in Singapore (and perhaps Hong Kong). Nothing to do with bordellos, but Chinese men are likely, if they can afford it, to have a bit on the side who they support. They were worried that their wives would somehow get information about the address of the flat where the mistress was installed.

    I think – Wobbly will know – they started a system whereby you bought a certain amount of mileage and every time your car passed a tollpoint, money was deducted from this amount. But no bills sent out.

    I don’t know whether they actually did this, but there was talk about it when I was there.

  • zmollusc

    Hmm the figures being bandied about are in the order of £100 an hour for a vehicle travelling at motorway speed. Hooray, not too worrying at all.

    Mass transport cannot work with the current distribution of jobs/home locations, unless taxis count. I suppose there will be a forced rehousing?

  • Euan Gray

    Mass transport cannot work with the current distribution of jobs/home locations

    It works in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, etc, etc. Here in Edinburgh, about half of all people coming into or out of the city during rush hour use mass transport. The problem is that the other half using cars cause so much congestion, delay and pollution that the cities are struggling to cope.

    I suppose there will be a forced rehousing?

    No, but there would be adjustments in relative house prices. Property close to mass transport junctions would become more valuable and property far from them less so. This is the reverse of what happened, quite naturally and by market means, during the rise of the private car.

    EG

  • G. Meldrew

    Hmm the figures being bandied about are in the order of £100 an hour for a vehicle travelling at motorway speed. Hooray, not too worrying at all.

    Not too worrying! – You must be out of your tiny mind. Can you imagine what this would do to the costs of practically everything we use.

    Leaving it as it is seems not to be sustainable.

    Exactly, let the problem find it’s own soulution. Anything rather than have a ‘government’ solution to the problem. The rule of ‘unintended consequence’ is made for just this sort of situation.

    I warrant that the franchise for any ‘privatisation’ will be granted to ‘a friend of the family’, and will be yet another brick in TB’s fascist empire.

    I thought Albania was the last european country where the horse and cart was the main form of transportation. It looks as though UK may be looking to revive the practice.

  • Ken

    On the face of it, it makes sense to charge tax per mile, on the very simple basis that it is more efficient to rack up loads of miles than it is to have a car you hardly use, in tax terms at least. Why not scrap road tax, and add a fraction more to the cost of petrol? That way there’s an incentive to use fuel-efficient cars as well.

    As for a black box in my car – not if I can bloody help it.

  • Verity

    Hell, yes! Let the Brits get another whipping at Mesdames Antoinette et Gordonette’s House of Correction! Let them pay more for petrol, the most expensive petrol in the world! Despite that we’ve got N Sea oil (soon to be named “a European Common Resource” if you chaps over there don’t watch it).

    In Mexico, where the public think petrol is criminally over-priced, petrol costs 7 pesos a litre. That’s around 35P. And people tut-tut. Mexico has oil, and the Mexican government makes sure the Mexicans benefit from it (even after taxes).

  • GCooper

    Euan Gray writes:

    “Opinion polls seem to find consistently that a majority of drivers would use mass transport in preference to their cars IF the mass transport was clean, safe, cheap and actually went where they needed to go.”

    Opinion polls report all manner of things – usually reflecting the desires of the people paying for the polls, combined with what those polled believe will please those asking the questions. In real life, people drive because it suits them and despite being taxed till the pips squeak. One should judge by what people do, not what they say.

    “It seems, therefore, sensible and profitable to spend money on mass transport rather than on endless measures to mitigate the adverse effects of the ever increasing car population.”

    Ever increasing? Really? It’s a fascinating model that shows an infinite expansion of car use. What exactly is it you are suggesting? Ten cars per household? Twenty?

    A better method might be to build what people really want judged by what they do: build sufficient, well designed and maintained roads unencumbered by restrictions and obstructions calculated to create a problem which statists can then pretend to “cure”.

    It wouldn’t cover the country in concrete, but it might upset a few road traffic “experts” from the Left!

    The demand isn’t infinite. The problem is that the supply is in the hands of idiots out to prove a political point.

  • Verity

    Many of those idiots drive around in government supplied cars driven by government supplied drivers. Even outside Westminster Village, there are hundreds of council personnel who have “company” cars, although they drive them themselves. All these people would like to travel on clear roads.

    For example, I think we can all remember the rancid old Trot Jack Straw going along some highway at – 104 mph was it? As a highly placed member of the Politburo, Straw wasn’t charged, and neither was his driver, who was only following orders.

  • That such an idea can be even floated, demonstrates how the philosophy of aceptance has riddled the public mind. I live on the outskirts of Rochdale, N Manchester. A dormitory suburb where the avg Hse price (acc to the Land reg website is 240K). We have within 1/2 mile, a Dispersal Zone, replete with talking lamp posts, CCTV cameras to go with that and an Alcohol Control Zone.

    I understand the Jews walked voluntarily into the gas chambers.
    I will not and never have used a cell phone because it enables tracking of the owner / user… also because I am the CEO of Al Quaeda but we’ll let that pass.

  • veryretired

    So many issues and so little time.

    Cenral cities are dinosaurs of the past and should no longer be catered to by political entities even while their populations are desparately moving as far out as they can to get some green space and the other amenities that suburban/country living offers.

    Cars will inevitably be computer controlled and driven along computerized roadways which will control for traffic conditions and prevent accidents. People who insist on driving their own vehicles will be restricted to secondary roads and pay extraordinary insurance rates.

    Abolish all the bumper to bumper regulations on cars, allow people to drive whatever vehicle they wish to commute or shop. Where I live, most of the men would use snowmobiles in the winter if they could. The initial costs and maintenance expenses of modern cars are mostly artificial in the sense that the required design components and safety features are very expensive and reduce fuel economy.

    People are either going to be plugged into the world net or they are not. The idea that one can have all the benefits of an instantaeous world wide communication system and remain anonymous at the same time is naive to say the least. The imperative to reduce the power of the state is not just an idealistic hobby, but is motivated by the very real knowledge that hiding out is no longer much of an option.

    It isn’t people who wish some independence and convenience in their lives who are wrong for driving cars. It is the mentality which would restrict others for their own good, because, after all, “the public just doesn’t understand the way things should be, you know?”, which is the problem.

  • So far as I recall, from my time in Hong Kong, the fear of road-pricing revealing to spouses just where (mainly) husbands had been when they used their mobiles to tell their unsuspecting wives that they would be late in the office, when they were in fact visiting one of the bordellos in Kowloon Tong, was indeed one of the major worries there at the time. This latest scheme announced by Alistair Darling would, under the guise of allocating costs for road usage ‘fairly’ in reality herald a major increase in the surveillance of the citizen by the state.

  • zmollusc

    Hi Euan, I still reckon that there are:
    a) many people driving 20+ miles a day to work and back because nobody can take the risk of moving closer to their job as there is no job security. (Pete the printer used to drive 10 miles a day to work across town, then the firm relocated and he spent 5 years driving 50 miles a day, another relocation and he drove 100 miles a day for 2 years before redundancy)
    b) problems with organising mass transport when the problem gets more complex than ‘many office workers bussed from suburbs to central office district’. Even a healthy half mile stroll from one bus route to another will become tedious twice a day.

    Half the people use public transport, you say? I can think of a few people who drive to the train station (mass transport alternative: healthy 400 yard walk to bus stop, bus to town(note: town>city>london), change bus, bus to train station) to avoid the extortionate car parking fees in the city. Even this leaves a healthy 800 yard walk from train station to workplace, but since you can’t park much closer than that anyway, it is fair).

    The only real practical solution lies with genetic engineering. The boffins must keep creating variants (7 legs, 2 arses etc) of creatures faster than the government can legislate against them ( “I know that this is a no-kangahorse zone, officer, but this is a horsebunny, look at the feet”).

  • zmollusc

    Crikey! forgot the salient point i started out to make!

    Opinion polls seem to find consistently that a majority of drivers would use mass transport in preference to their cars IF the mass transport was clean, safe, cheap and actually went where they needed to go.

    The point being “where they needed to go” this is the granular detail where the devil is hiding (woo, the medication is good today) and can only be fulfilled by having a car and chauffeur each, just like our beloved leaders.

  • Pete_London

    I think this may just be the maddest piece of erm … ‘thinking’ from this government yet. Darling, no doubt backed up by his no2 Ladyman, propose a tax of £1.34 per mile to use motorways in the rush hour.

    No doubt this is designed to scare us now so we’ll be grateful when a lower tax is proposed further down the line but as it stands my return journey to work would cost £140 a day. Oh do sign me up!

    If anyone can tell me just why I must pay any kind of tax to the government for driving any distance anywhere I’d be glad to hear it. If the justification is that roads must be maintained I’ll accept a charge of 1p per thousand miles. That would be a fair distribution of costs.

    Another point is that the GPS technology which calculates the distances you have driven and the routes involved will also calculate your speed. So that will be five speeding tickets as well as your first born, sir. While you’re at it we’ll have your driving licence too.

    If anything like this ever comes to pass, I’m going into business disabling GPS systems. I’ll rake it in.

  • Euan Gray

    In real life, people drive because it suits them and despite being taxed till the pips squeak

    Ah, so now they do it because it suits them? You said earlier they did it because they had to. Which is it?

    It’s a fascinating model that shows an infinite expansion of car use. What exactly is it you are suggesting? Ten cars per household? Twenty?

    There are some 30 million cars in Britain. The number is not shrinking. If you give up on the hyperbole for a moment, you will see that the number is continually and steadily increasing, which was my point. The fact is, however unpalatable it may be, that the number of cars in this country is now well into the diminishing returns area.

    many people driving 20+ miles a day to work and back because nobody can take the risk of moving closer to their job as there is no job security

    True, but nevertheless the average journey is still about 8 miles. Some people drive 100, some people drive 1.

    Even a healthy half mile stroll from one bus route to another will become tedious twice a day.

    Two ten minute walks per day is tedious?

    Even this leaves a healthy 800 yard walk from train station to workplace, but since you can’t park much closer than that anyway, it is fair)

    But – since 800 yards is nearly half a mile – tedious?

    EG

  • Paul R

    Perhaps I’m being paranoid, but could there be an ulterior motive behind this proposal? (other then the obvious Big Brother style total surveillance, etc.)
    The adoption of this scheme would provide a powerful justification for the EU’s proposed Galileo satellite system – which is, of course, one of the trappings of superpower status for which Brussels lusts…..
    Just sayin’, that’s all!
    With respect to the reluctance of car drivers to use public transport, I feel there is a rarely spoken of cultural inhibitor; other members of the “public”. If the social context of public transport was still the genteel “Brief Encounter” type environment that some public transport advocates seem to imagine it to be, there would be no problem. However, rightly or wrongly there is the impression that in certain places, at certain times, to use public transport is to risk the possibility of insult or aggression from tattooed oafs/hoodie wearing chavs, etc… I guess you could call this the Steve Norris Argument.

  • zmollusc

    Yes, I would say that a ten minute walk twice a day would become tedious because you would either be burdened with waterproof clothing (where do you put your wet oilskins? You surely don’t think your employer will help?) or spend time drying clothes out. Remember, waiting for the rain to stop is not an option with the clocking in machine waiting.
    Been there, done that. Working all day in damp trousers, socks and shoes which dry out just in time to get wet again going home (why not carry spares? Where would you keep the wet ones?).
    Public transport is rubbish if you need to get somewhere in minimum time, especially if the somewhere is not fixed or you need to take some luggage with you. Try nipping out in the lunch 45 minutes (remember the lunch hour? Ah!) to the bank by public transport. Remember, you lose 15 minutes pay for every 3 minutes you are late, not to mention the grief from the manager.

    Want to stop the increase in traffic? It can be done. Since hardly anyone drives more than 1 car at once, stopping immigration and curtailing the ‘get pregnant and get a free house’ system for school-leavers should put an upper limit on congestion. And it may even save prescot from building chipboard shacks on flood plains.

    I still doubt the 8 mile average journey. I would like to see the raw data. Does a milkman do 100 journeys of a few yards or is his round one journey? Who and where did the data come from?

    Speaking of a short few mile journey, I used to take the bus into the city centre. Waiting for the bus was between 10 minutes and half an hour and once stuck to the seat, the journey time was between 25 and 45 minutes. How I used to laugh as I sat behind the unopenable window in the summer sun while the bus changed crews. The total distance was around 5 miles, which you could do in ten minutes by car (in those days a heady 40mph was permissible. Now any more than 30mph causes the sun to gravitationally collapse or something).
    Ah, those wonderful public tranport days. Now, of course, I never leave the house.

  • Julian Taylor

    Isn’t the the Steve Norris argument more like ‘if it moves shag the hell out of it’, or is that a different one?

    The exchequer would be losing over £100 a year in Road Tax per car and would be losing something over 60p per litre in Fuel Tax – its worth noting that without the tax on petrol our fuel prices are certainly the lowest in Europe. As has already been stated, even if you did abolish Fuel and Road taxes and instigated a GPS charge tracking system in each car how long would it be before some lowlife brought those taxes back?

  • Euan Gray

    Yes, I would say that a ten minute walk twice a day would become tedious because you would either be burdened with waterproof clothing (where do you put your wet oilskins?

    Some time ago, a convenient device was invented to deal with such a situation. It’s called the umbrella.

    Also, waterproof clothing these days is virtually shake-dry & not at all bulky.

    Public transport is rubbish if you need to get somewhere in minimum time

    Actually, taking public transport on my 14 mile per day round trip to and from work is quicker than going by car. And cheaper.

    Try nipping out in the lunch 45 minutes (remember the lunch hour? Ah!) to the bank by public transport.

    Use internet banking (almost everyone offers it now) and do it from home.

    Waiting for the bus was between 10 minutes and half an hour

    Bus companies generally publish timetables. At least here in Edinburgh, the service is pretty punctual and the buses are fitted with satellite tracking/timing gear which tells the driver on a cab display how many minutes late or early he is. Works pretty well.

    the journey time was between 25 and 45 minutes

    My trip is 25 minutes for 7 miles. Going by car, the same trip takes 40 minutes. Mountain bike is somewhere in between.

    How I used to laugh as I sat behind the unopenable window in the summer sun while the bus changed crews

    Modern buses have opening windows. Driver change takes 30 seconds here in Edinburgh. When and where are you talking about, because it bears no relation to any bus service I’ve ever used?

    The total distance was around 5 miles, which you could do in ten minutes by car (in those days a heady 40mph was permissible

    This is the thing – it is no longer “those days” and the speed & ease of urban car use no longer applies because there are so bloody many of them clogging the streets. It was estimated that in Edinburgh no less than 30% of the cars driving around at any given time are simply looking for somewhere to park.

    EG

  • John K

    As has already been stated, even if you did abolish Fuel and Road taxes and instigated a GPS charge tracking system in each car how long would it be before some lowlife brought those taxes back?

    They have not said they will abolish fuel tax, just reduce it. Hands up who trusts NuLabor on this one?

    This is one of those ideas like ID cards which the public says it supports until the full cost and civil liberty implications hit home.

    I cannot see how our car use will rise much in the next few decades. Surely everyone who wants a car already has one, a bit like mobile phones? I thought our population was actually slowly declining, which is why we need lots of immigrants to drive our buses and fix our teeth. Why do I smell NuLabor bullshit, and why did they not think we might like to hear about this plan before the General Election which took place all of four weeks ago? Did this plan spring fully formed out of Alistair Darling’s bottom only since then?

    Does anyone think that there will come a day that the British people wake up to just how much NuLabor despises them and sees them as so many sheep to be led to their fate?

    One thing is for sure, if by 2015 we have compulsory ID cards and compulsory spy boxes in every car, allied to blanket CCTV in every town centre and public area, we will be living in the most comprehensively surveilled state ever, and I include shitholes like Cuba and North Korea. I sincerely hope this awful idea comes apart on sheer technical grounds before we have to have another Glorious Revolution, because I’m not sure if the British people have enough spunk left to do it. Sorry to sound gloomy, but the horror of living for another four years under the rule of these lying, cheating, robbing, deceiving control freak techno-Fascists is starting to get me down. Please God bring on the recession so that we can get rid of the bastards!

  • GCooper

    Euan Gray writes:

    “Ah, so now they do it because it suits them? You said earlier they did it because they had to. Which is it?”

    And that sort of remark is precisely why people refuse to engage you in these pointless, nit-picking wars of attrition which you so seem to enjoy. They drive because they have to travel and because doing so suits them better than the cheek-by-jowl nightmare of using public transport.

    The rest of your post, desperate as usual to string-out another of your trolling, stance-shifting exercises, completely ignores the fundamental question.

    The demand for road space, whatever you, Transport 2000, Friends of the Earth (sic), Prof. Begg, Ken Livingstone, Alistair Darling or anyone else likes to believe, is not and cannot be infinite.

    Meeting it is, therefore, possible and serious thought needs to be given to what the reality of that would mean, as opposed to the alarmist nonsense designed to achieve a political and social agenda by whatever means they can.

    And with that, I’ll leave you to have the last word. Of course.

  • John K

    Opinion polls seem to find consistently that a majority of drivers would use mass transport in preference to their cars IF the mass transport was clean, safe, cheap and actually went where they needed to go. It seems, therefore, sensible and profitable to spend money on mass transport rather than on endless measures to mitigate the adverse effects of the ever increasing car population.

    Was it not the case that when the good people of Edinburgh were offered the chance of a lovely congestion charge zone in a referendum, they thoughtfully told their leaders to stuff their congestion charge up their well-padded arses, or words to that effect? Everyone says they would use good public transport, but in reality modern cars are a safe, convenient and efficient way of travelling where you want to go, when you want to go.

    A few years back when it was new, I used the Metrolink to get to work in Manchester. Now, the same journey is a nightmare. The service is extremely expensive, and the carriages are jam packed; unless you get on near the start of the line, you have little chance of getting on board at all in the rush hour. At least if you are stuck in your car in a traffic jam you have your own space, your own climate control, and your own radio or music. What’s so bad about that? If they got rid of the bloody bus lanes, road humps, chicanes and deliberately mistimed traffic signals the traffic might even flow smoothly. Just a thought.

  • Andrew Duffin

    Euan Gray:

    “the number of cars in this country is now well into the diminishing returns area.”

    Well that’s your opinion. It may be right, there’s no way of knowing.

    However, when it becomes the opinion of the majority of drivers, they’ll presumably find some other way to go about their business.

    So why not leave them to do so?

    Why this mania for social engineering?

    (Of course, we know why the state wants it – another arm of the surveillance project)

  • John K

    It’s just rubbish from the usual control freaks, like the BBC’s ‘commentator of choice’, the Stalinist “Professor” David Begg.

    Now there’s a chap whose head really does belong on the end of a pikestaff.

  • John K

    also because I am the CEO of Al Quaeda but we’ll let that pass.

    I’ve thought for a long time that Bin Liner is hiding out whilst driving a cab in Burnley. They’ll never find him up there, and you can still buy a nice stone built house for £7000, at least until John “Mugabe” Prescott has them all demolished.

  • John K

    (Of course, we know why the state wants it – another arm of the surveillance project)

    I think that’s part of it, but also consider how good this project is for the drones who work at the Dept of Transport. They now have this brilliant shiny project to work on for the next 10 years at least. If anyone questions why we have a Dept of Transport they have an answer, and Alistair Darling will be able to justify his measly existence at cabinet meetings (if Toni still holds them). Really, from the point of view of the civil service, whether this thing works or fails, it’s trebles all round. Not their money after all.

  • zmollusc

    Heh.
    I used a brolly. They don’t keep ones legs dry. Without a brolly I would have been bitching about wet shirts and jackets too.

    Actually, taking public transport on my 14 mile per day round trip to and from work is quicker than going by car. And cheaper

    Okay, so individual cases may vary. The last time I took a bus was 2 months ago. It took 30 minutes to arrive, then 15 minutes to go 3 miles, then i had to walk the last half mile. This cost £1.50.
    Internet Banking? Cool! Do they do Internet haircuts and Internet thousand and one other little errands too? And my boss will provide the internet access at lunchtime, you say? Wow.

    Timetables. Yep, your public transport may be frequent and punctual but round this particular urban sprawl a 20 minute service is exceptionally short and 30 minutes or worse is the norm. This doesn’t sound bad until the fricken bus ‘misses’.

    Old buses had openable windows, then the modern ones did away with them. I will take your word for it that they have made a comeback.

    Cars seeking somewhere to park? Congestion? Tear up the traffic lights, re-open the blocked roads, remove the ‘central reservations’, destroy the one way systems and reclaim all the tarmac that is now empty bus and cycle lanes. End the madness of being able to see your destination a few yards away but being compelled to drive a council-imposed half mile fractal route to it.

    No mention of the luggage aspect, nor the limit of car usage? Why not?

  • Richard Thomas

    Pete_London is right, this is just a bait-and-switch with a less radical tax coming down the line in the near future. Jeez I hope the revolution comes soon.

    Rich

  • The arguments about public transport versus individual transport are just the same old arguments about central planning versus the free market.

    Knowledge is dispersed among individuals in the market. Likewise, individuals all have their reasons for travelling different places at different times and they all contribute in some way to happiness or wealth. No centrally planned timetable can possibly contribute the same to total wealth and happiness as individuals travelling from where they start to where they want to go.

  • Euan Gray

    The arguments about public transport versus individual transport are just the same old arguments about central planning versus the free market.

    No they are not. Much public transport was provided by the free market, and after a relatively brief period of state and municipal control much of it is now returned to market control.

    It is rather a question of efficiency, economy and practicality. Public transport is more fuel and space efficient than individual transport, and is generally (though not always) cheaper per passenger-mile. This holds in urban areas, where it might also be noted that public transport is frequently also more practical and convenient. In rural areas, public transport is less effective, of course, due to the low traffic density.

    No centrally planned timetable can possibly contribute the same to total wealth and happiness as individuals travelling from where they start to where they want to go

    Nobody is suggesting it could. However, the point is that it can carry a significantly larger proportion of the people for a larger proportion of their journeys. It should also be noted that no wholly individual transport system using current technology can transport the same mass of people on the same journeys as the current mixture of public and private transport. Most large cities (at least in Europe) would grind to a halt without public transport since the road system is simply unable to cope with the necessary increase in car traffic.

    There is room – and need – for both. If I travel to and from work I use the bus because it is both quicker and cheaper than a car. If I go shopping around Edinburgh, I take the bus because it is extremely difficult to use a car for this due to the chronic lack of parking space. If I go to see my mother, who lives on the other side of Scotland, I hire a car – although this is more expensive than public transport in this case, it is also quicker and more convenient.

    Neither system is wholly good nor wholly bad, nor can either system cope with all the demand of all the people all the time.

    EG

  • Euan Gray:

    Public transport is more fuel and space efficient than individual transport, and is generally (though not always) cheaper per passenger-mile.

    Not when it’s mainly empty.

    This holds in urban areas, where it might also be noted that public transport is frequently also more practical and convenient.

    Next Sunday I intend to drive to a nearby superstore where I will load three 60-litre sacks of cat litter and four dozen cans of catfood into my car. I will then call at the DIY store to buy a timeswitch. If the weather holds, I may drive out to the Fox and Hounds for lunch. If the Fox is busy, I’ll go to the Bridge Inn instead. Please explain how it would be even possible, to say nothing of convenient, for me to use public transport for this journey.

  • Michael Taylor

    The securocrats are in heaven: a tracking device in every car, linked to the National Identity Register and god knows what else. For the first time in human history, the technology exists to monitor virtually every aspect of our lives virtually all the time. Why do they want to do it? Because, for the first time, they can. It’s as simple as that. I read the other day that the estimated costs of “implementing” the ID card scheme had risen to £18b. Quite clearly, that’s not the cost of the little plastic cards, is it?

    Meanwhile, the idea that universal tracking devices are “necessary” to manage road pricing is absurd. Quite a few people use the Tube every day – do they also need trackers implanted in them to deal with “pricing”? No indeed, there are things called “tickets”.

    Regards

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Euan is correct that there is nothing specifically collectivist about mass transit systems like the Tube, rail, or even trams. They have frequently been spawned by private enterprise and often work better in private rather than state hands. Does anyone remember how crap old nationalised British Rail was?

    If roads were privately owned, then all manner of payment systems could be devised, and I don’t really see how any consistent free-market libertarian could object to that. It could trigger new types of road design, encourage a better spread of traffic flow, etc. It would not necessarily reduce car use, much to the chagrin of the kill-joys who favour public transport as a sort of hair-shirt policy for the unwashed masses.

  • J

    I agree that all this state intervention in transport is quite unwarranted.

    Let’s privatise the road system. Nor more public money shall be spent building and repairing the damn things. If someone wants to expand the M6, let them buy every strip of land they need at market rates, and if some awkward old farmer refuses to sell, let them pay for a tunnel. Let them sell off one half of the M6 to another company, who will then build another set of toll booths, and rename it the ‘EasyRoad 6′ or ‘Virgin Highway’ or whatever. Let each of our shiny new ‘Motorway Corporations’ change their prices at will, buy and sell roads at will, and charge whatever they like. Let them close the unprofitable little B Roads – who needs them? Or at least let them become so disrepaired that those 4WD SUV’s really have a purpose again!

    Once this private road transport scheme is well in place, we will finally have a public willing to use mass transport again. Hurrah!

    Alternatively, accept that fact that all major transport is national infrastucture, and should be built and maintained and taxed by the people and for the people. And if the people had any sense, they’d decide to build a bit more mass transport, and bit less road transport.

  • Richard Thomas

    Alternatively, accept that fact that all major transport is national infrastucture, and should be built and maintained and taxed by the people and for the people. And if the people had any sense, they’d decide to build a bit more mass transport, and bit less road transport.

    Something is only a fact if it is true. What you have there is an assertion.

    Rich

  • Johnathan

    J, you obviously were being sarcastic when describing a free market in roads, but what is so dumb about a motorway being run by say, an entrepreneur like a Richard Branson, for instance? I’d be a happy man. We might even get some decent road-side cafes.

    Some small rural roads might fall into disrepair, although like in the past, I see no reason why roadbuilders could not keep roads in decent condition by charging a small and regular fee, and businesses would still support them as vital for their market.

    A free market in roads may sound nutty for those brought up to live and think through statist terms, but not so dumb when you think about the development of transport across the ages.