Why motorists should pay tax’ for the road network
MAY I congratulate you on your forbearance in publishing, without comment, the ridiculous rant of D Roberts of Buckden, who is clearly a cheerleader of the Motormouth Clarkson fan club (Letters, August 15). In the first place, he has obviously never come
MAY I congratulate you on your forbearance in publishing, without comment, the ridiculous rant of D Roberts of Buckden, who is clearly a cheerleader of the Motormouth Clarkson fan club (Letters, August 15).
In the first place, he has obviously never come across the leader column found in every newspaper, in which an editorial view might be expressed on any subject under the sun. Secondly, if the "unelected" Hunts Post is debarred from putting forward an opinion, then he, too, as an unelected person, has no right to air his prejudice in this paper. The premise is pure nonsense.
The rest of his letter is the predictable mantra of the road lobby. The OED tells us that "stealth" means "secret" or "surreptitious" - this hardly fits the mooted Cambridge congestion charge since he and the rest of us know all about it. Furthermore, it is no tax, but a penalty charge imposed solely on those who choose to drive during the prescribed time.
The motoring lobby has always been selective in its acceptance of the law, claiming speed cameras, parking penalties and congestion charges are all "stealth taxes". Would D Roberts take the same view of a fine imposed on a miscreant caught burgling his premises? Those who wilfully disregard the law can expect to pay the price. Cambridge has an excellent choice of park-and-ride services: there is seldom a need to take the car into the city.
As for "paying far too much" to use his car - no he doesn't. The car user does not remotely meet the full social and economic costs of motoring.
Vehicle excise duty revenue in 2004/5 was £4.5billion, while road building and maintenance costs in England alone amounted to £6billion. Fuel duty raised a further £23billion, but the costs of accidents came to £18billion, and costs of congestion and delay added a further £20 billion. These are all DfT figures.
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The cost of widening 51 miles of the M6 will be £2.9 billion - that's £900 per inch - and this figure will have escalated before completion. The motoring lobby complains constantly about fuel duty, yet a huge proportion of drivers seem intent upon paying as much duty as possible by purchasing ego-inflating, gas-guzzling, mega-polluting, four-wheel-drive town tractors.
On the subject of pollution, motor vehicles are the greatest contributor, and it has been estimated that up to 24,000 deaths are advanced annually and up to a further 24,000 persons are treated in hospital each year as a result of pollution.
But this is not the whole story. Any commercial enterprise embarking on major investment has to expect a return on the capital employed to justify the initial outlay. Capital has to be depreciated as it ages, ideally to meet replacement costs.
This does not apply to the road network, which is financed entirely by taxation, and not costed in (higher) conventional commercial terms. Who ever heard of a road being closed because it did not pay its way? In the few instances where charges are made to yield a return on capital - the Dartford, Humber and some other estuarial crossings, or the M6 Toll - the cries of protest from the motoring lobby are deafening. Thus every tax-payer, motorist or not, pays for the road network.
The road-user does not meet the costs of his or her activities from vehicle excise or fuel duty but, in any case, why should tax revenue be spent exclusively on the people who pay that tax?
Should the tax generated on tobacco, or beer, wines and spirits, be spent on smokers or alcoholics? Should the VAT on retail sales be spent on shopaholics? Should the income tax from higher earners be spent on millionaires? Why should the road lobby see itself as a special case?
If the present system of road financing is so unsatisfactory, why doesn't the road lobby press for privatisation of the road network? It is perfectly feasible, but don't expect cheaper motoring. Look at the effect of privatisation upon the utilities and the railways.
The motorist in this country is cross-subsidised from general taxation, and does pretty well out of it.
And, yes, I am a car owner.