Tag Archive | "Toll Roads"

Highway To Hell

Jam today; more jam tomorrow. Not a statement that says everything is going to be OK but rather one that foretells forebodingly of our future as motorists. Unlike the Jetsons our future driving lives will not be spent whizzing about in space-age airborne vehicles but sweltering in our cars as we wait to move forwards by ten metres.

Those of you who are French and have long memories might remember a traffic jam outside of Paris in 1980. A combination of bad weather and thousands of drivers returning from holidays in the South resulted in a snarl-up around one hundred miles long. In the wait that followed many roadside snails died and a pall of garlic hung in the air.

Elsewhere, a scant three years ago on China’s Highway 110, a massive set of road works reduced the road capacity which eventually became overwhelmed by assorted vehicles until the queue stretched for over sixty miles (pictured). Some unlucky souls where blocked in for twelve days. Seems incredible but it is true.

Both of these countries are big and have huge road networks yet still these things happened. The British Isles are not big but they are crowded. They have a road network which, thanks to poor management and massive underinvestment by successive governments, is now not fit for purpose.

Things, to paraphrase D:ream, can only get worse. The Department for Transport have produced a report called ‘Roads of the 21st Century’. This apparently is meant to see into the future and what it sees is not good. For the next couple of years they reckon that traffic levels will remain fairly constant. However, with the predicted economic recovery after that they calculate that the number of cars on the road will steadily rise by nineteen percent by year 2025.

In a further fifteen years they have estimated that figure will rise to forty three percent. That is, give or take, around fifteen million more cars. That, incidentally, is just their middling estimate. Their worse case scenario is, erm, much worse. This inevitably will lead to greater congestion and more misery for motorists.

The Report believes that fuel-efficient cars will bring down the price of motoring (pause while we all stop laughing because here in the real world they will counter this with higher taxation) and the population will rise by an additional 10 million by 2040 – hence more cars on the road.

Of course, this is based on economic recovery and there are no guarantees of that despite the recent hopeful noises, but at least it has spurred the government into the investment of £28billion’s worth of road projects. We’ve mentioned this before on Motor Blogger. It is very laudable but is only a drop in the ocean if the report’s figures are to be believed. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime keep emergency food, drink, blankets and a portaloo in the car just in case.

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The Spare Pound In Your Pocket

Schimpf! Do you recognise that sound? You have in fact heard it before. Quite often in modern times as a matter of fact. It is the sound of the thin end of the wedge being slipped between you and what‘s left of your money.

In that disingenuous and backdoor way that governments have of dishing out some more bad news on the back of good news, the Treasury, by means of its Chief Secretary Danny Alexander, has announced that a section of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon is to be improved and subsequently tolled.

This came as part of the spending review proposed last week which included plans for some £28billion of ‘once in a generation’ projects to modernise our road system. The decision to carry on with the mooted tolling option was slipped in on page 74 in an appendix.

The AA have already said that this will not go down well with motorists. In their opinion and no doubt in our opinion too, motorists have already paid for the roads so why the heck should they pay for them again? To answer this criticism, the government have said that there will be a non-tolled road for local traffic.

So that presumably means that every other driver who might have to travel that way will surely avoid this road because it is for locals only! The government might as well hope that the economic situation will shortly be sorted out by the passing of some pink flying pigs (Their preferred option). There may well be some well-heeled people or folk on an urgent mission who might cough up but I think the government might well find that the local road will suddenly become very busy.

The minister confirmed that this very congested stretch of road will be upgraded from a dual carriageway to three lanes either side. This is a good thing as it is a notorious route. The bad news is that it will cost a quid to use it. This is them being a bit clever. One pound, as everybody knows, does not go a long way. They presumably hope that most will say’ ‘Well, it’s only a quid’ and chuck the coin in the bin.

The other reason that it was quietly announced and is a relatively low fee is that the government is very nervous about their cunning plan. They wonder if motorists might take umbrage that they are again being targeted. The answer is of course a resounding and blindingly obvious yes.

Unquestionably there is a need for the many congested areas of our highway system to be refreshed and renewed to keep the traffic flowing. Tax payers know that this will cost huge sums of money but they also know that the roads have been chronically under-funded for decades as ministers bereft of economic ideas continue to plunder the road pot.

It is no mystery why that which we all once knew as ‘Road Tax’ is now commonly called ‘Vehicle Excise Duty’. See what they did there? Make no mistake – they might be reticent about introducing this now but it really is the thin end of the wedge. If motorists accept this the exercise will be repeated. And repeated.

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New Government Plan For A Toll Road

Drivers crossing into Wales across the Severn Bridge have to pay a toll and it has always been so. Perhaps they would do better to charge a toll on people desperate to get out of Wales before they are driven mad by all the bi-lingual duplicated signage.

Not content with that, the government have announced a plan to toll a new 14-mile M4 relief road near Newport. This would be the UK’s second such road after the M6 toll around Birmingham. With wearying inevitability, ministers reckon this could “stimulate the faltering economy”. Why not be honest – it’s another tax, isn’t it? They need to raise money to help fill those empty, echoing coffers in the Treasury

Do they not realise that a majority of private drivers – already taxed to the hilt – will simply go another way? The AA and other motoring organisations advise against it yet still they persist. If they do collect the money what will it be for? Certainly, it is a fact that in a recent survey a huge 91% of drivers do not trust them to spend the extra revenue on repairing our roads.

Further, in our Democracy, 60% of motorists do not support new built toll roads and a further 19% can be added to that figure for the number of motorists who would not support the introduction of tolls on existing routes.

To carry on with the percentages theme, 40% would back more expensive tax discs than tolls (although if that’s the thinking, then increasing the tax on fuel would be probably be fairer – the old ‘the more you drive the more you pay’ argument). Even if the powers reduced taxes in other areas forty one percent still wouldn’t approve of toll roads.

Around half of those questioned (47%) stated that they would not go out of their way to avoid a toll but 44% said they would. The biggest no-no seems to be if a toll should appear near respondents local areas which would impact on their daily lives. More than half said they would avoid it and find their way across the rural and local routes.

The worry is that by effectively forcing cash-strapped drivers onto the minor roads of Britain it would seem inevitable that the accident and fatality rates would rise. It is clear that the anti-toll people are in a big majority. Governments and the other side of the House should be listening. This survey makes it clear to politicians of whatever persuasion that road tolling is a vote loser.

(Note: On April 4th, the Chancellor denied that the Government had any plans to toll this proposed road, which is great. Trouble is, do we believe him?)

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Death On The B-Roads

Sometimes your satnav will go rogue and take you off blindly down narrow country lanes, usually when time is of the essence. Sometimes though, the outcome can be a delight when new vistas open up before you or a discreet country pub is discovered. You just never know. There was a time when a exploratory drive in the country was a Sunday afternoon staple; unfortunately these days you might get more than you bargained for.

As you are all too well aware, a few years ago governments and councils suddenly discovered that they had been spending our money in a profligate manner for decades and had run out of cash. Whilst first making sure they retained their jobs, those in power reacted with indignity – as if someone else had been responsible – and immediately instigated wholesale budget cuts.

One result of this is that deaths on minor roads are rising as councils (who are responsible) ignore them in favour of more eye-catching spending initiatives. Department for Transport figures show that in the twelve months to September last year the number of serious or fatal accidents on minor roads rose by five percent on the previous year. In the same period, accidents on motorways and A-roads fell by nine percent.

In 2010, over one thousand souls perished on our rural roads. The figure for major roads was just shy of four hundred. Road safety charities state that this shows that not enough is being done to protect B-roads users.

With a wearying sense of inevitability The Local Government Association blames government cuts. Apparently, the cash handed down by the Whitehall mandarins has been reduced in real terms by £500m. This may well be so, but someone has finally got to own up. Our road safety minister states that it has been made easier for councils to implement 20mph speed limits but doesn’t say what that has to do with rural roads.

The tragic figures above are fair warning. Proper B-road maintenance is poor to almost non-existent. Surfaces are in bad condition and potholes abound and these things could well be responsible for the rise in accidents, at least in part. It is clear that not enough money is being spent.

In the meantime privatisation of the roads, like a night-time mugger, is creeping closer. In the manner of governments in recent years the answer seems to be to hive off responsibility to private companies instead of doing the job properly themselves. This is turn will herald more road charging as if we don’t pay enough already. If tolls or other charges are instigated on Britain’s primary roads then cash-strapped drivers will head for the B-roads instead. What, do you think, will be the outcome of that?

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Road Charging Around The Corner

If after reading this you are lost for words and can’t find the right way to express your feelings, the words you are seeking are ‘blatant’ and ‘rip-off’. Add the expletive(s) of your choice.

This time it is road charging. Again. Rather than run the motorways and other main roads in an efficient manner on our behalf, the government believes it would be best for all of us if they were ‘leased’ to private companies. Obviously, these companies would want to be paid for this and we would accordingly be charged to use ‘their’ roads. Tolls, in other words.

This story has been doing the rounds for a while now and the government know they are in for some healthy resistance from motoring organisations, commercial vehicle operators and of course private motorists. As a consequence they are looking at ways to stitch us up differently and just now they are considering an annual one-off charge.

The first thought was to offset this by a partial reduction in vehicle excise duty but even they have realised that to do this would penalise those drivers who have purchased environment-friendly cars and pay little or no road tax. Back to the drawing board then as they try to come up with a formula that is ‘fair’.

The latest wheeze seems to be similar to that used in some other European countries. It is called the Vignette process. Road pricing charges are imposed on vehicles based on a period of time rather than distance or a collected toll. Even as you read this they are working towards a charging structure that is acceptable to companies and private vehicle owners. It may, for example, be based on a levy linked to the CO² output or even the weight of any given vehicle.

The government are going to publish a ‘consultation’ document in the next month or so. The Department for Transport have confirmed that they are undertaking feasibility studies for the private ownership of major routes and the attendant financial issues. They insist that no decision has been reached although, just like a shop-bought beef lasagne, you know there is going to be something in this process that you won’t like.

Motoring organisations are already calling this yet another tax on motorists and it is hard to argue with that assessment. We already pay fuel tax, vehicle excise duty and tolls on some roads and bridges; now it looks as if we are going to pay some more.

Of course, it is probably feasible to drive around Britain using just the quiet B-roads and byways that criss-cross the land but if we all do that then our country lanes will become gridlocked and they are already in a poor condition anyway. It simply beggars belief that ministers can continue to announce this sort of thing and not go red in the face with shame.

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Resolve To Be A Better Driver

As the end of the year approaches we take stock of the past twelve months and think about how we can improve as people and citizens. Yes folks, it’s time to make those New Year Resolutions. Here at Motor Blogger we have picked up a rumour that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has resolved to be a better person and will reduce the cost of petrol to 1980’s prices! What a gent! Actually, if we’re honest we might have made that up but hey, there’s nothing wrong with inspiring a bit of optimism for 2013 is there?

So what will your resolutions be? For a start you could probably afford to lose a few kilos. Now don’t be like that, you know it’s true and if you want to get into those Speedos next Summer without looking like a walrus in a thong then the 1st January is the time to start. You might also want to consider what it means to be a motorist on Britain’s roads today.

With roads becoming increasingly crowded and with the looming prospect of toll roads and a new generation of speed cameras, there is simply no point in going fast. Certainly, owning a powerful car is great but pretty soon there’ll be nowhere left to use it. Instead, especially if you’re in the market for a new car, why not consider one of the new breed of technically advanced cars that are pleasing to the eye – but not fast – and just chill out? Accept the fact that whatever the 0-60 time of your chosen vehicle is, when you’re eventually doing seventy then you’re doing seventy so you are going just as fast as everybody else can anyway.

Instead of speeding on the roads why not consider dishing out your assertiveness  at one of the popular motor racing circuits around the country. They all offer driving packages and, especially the way things are now, they are offering some very good deals indeed. It’s safe – there are instructors – and you get to use their high performance cars. It’s fun and it could be funded by the lower insurance premiums and road tax that a much less powerful and more efficient car will attract.

As we’ve mentioned before a little bit of courtesy wouldn’t go amiss. It is unquestionably true that drivers are becoming more aggressive; no doubt because of the many frustrations of modern life. Still, we could all resolve to be a better driver. Enjoy your car by all means but by accepting the inevitable and increasing restrictions on our roads, no matter how irritating, we might all be a bit happier.

This coming year there is a huge amount of auto excellence to look forward to. You’ll begin to see what’s new from January’s Chicago Show onwards and there’s plenty of new innovations and models in the pipeline. So this year let’s all make a really determined effort to change our ways, lose some weight, give up smoking (again) and be nice to the Chancellor if you happen to come across him in the supermarket (throwing buns at politicians may be fun but is quite wasteful).

In any case, whatever you decide to do it’ll all probably go to hell in a hand basket within a short space of time anyway; but you will feel better for a few days at least and that’s the important thing. Happy New Year.

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Road Toll Update: Parts 1 & 2

Road tolling. Brings a whole new meaning to the expression ‘charging along the road’, doesn’t it? Around the time of the last election the now Prime Minister stated that there would be no toll charges on existing roads. In fact, he meant existing unimproved roads. Aha. Any existing road that receives substantial ‘enhancement’ (an official word with a variety of meanings) is fair game. When you take into account this government’s intention of ‘increasing investment in strategic roads through greater use of private capital’, you can get a clearer idea of what’s in store.

Following a report about alleged tolling of parts of the A14, the A303 and a few others where ‘enhancement to increase capacity’ was suggested, subsequent investigation has highlighted considerably more information. It should be mentioned that the government has said that tolling can only take place ‘where an alternative route would be available for local traffic’. Eagled eyed readers will have noted that nothing is mentioned of through traffic.

It looks very much as if we should all make sure our sat-nav’s are up to date and set to avoid toll roads. That should make for a few interesting diversions; and especially so because, as it now turns out, there are around two hundred new road schemes in the planning system countrywide, so expect some Swampy-like protests to be up and running in the not too distant future. (History fans: Swampy was a mud-encrusted protester and tunnel builder from 1996 in the battle to stop the Newbury By-Pass. Ultimately the protesters failed but have been proved right as the road has not been anything like the success it was supposed to be and accidents rates have risen since it opened).

With a sort of wearying inevitability the Department for Transport said that ‘new roads were vital to prosperity’; but then they would say that, wouldn’t they? In the meantime a millionaire businessman has pledged to support the fighting funds of any viable community groups that are set up to oppose these forthcoming schemes.

Of the many proposals, arguably the most significant are for a new motorway across the Peak District National Park and ‘enhancements’ to the A30 and A303 in the West Country. Stonehenge will never be the same again. To this you can add a Hastings – Bexhill link road which passes within a few metres of an important nature reserve.

No doubt the pro’s and con’s will be debated at length as these things proceed but there is unquestionably the acrid whiff of politics behind it all. Do we need more roads or just better ones? Should they spend money building more roads when they can’t maintain the ones we’ve got? Like the man who drank too much syrup of figs – this one will run and run.


And, in fact, it has. The latest news report is that any new road building or major ‘enhancement’ may well be franchised out to foreign capital. The Department for Transport is apparently looking at ‘new funding models’. Most commentator’s are sceptical, and rightly so. It has been reported that the M6 toll road – operated by Midland Expressway – has suffered a £41 million loss. How many foreign investors are going to be impressed by that? Yet they shouldn’t worry as the government has come up with a suggested solution that is so bizarre as to merit their immediate sectioning.

Are you sitting down? It seems that the way to encourage investment is to ensure potential investors that if tolls fell below an agreed level then the treasury would pay them the difference, probably out of road tax funds. Effectively this means that drivers could be paying twice to use the same piece of road at any one time. Does this, or does this not, beggar belief? What’s worse is that they get away with a similar arrangement on the railways already; but it’s not quite the same as rail users don’t have a route choice; drivers do.

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Taking Their Toll

Will it never end? The relentless war against motorists continues. The present government promised not so long ago – coupled with the fact that it was in their election manifesto – that any tolling of roads would be confined to any newly built stretches of carriageway. How naïve we must have been to believe that.

Under the present Secretary of State for Transport, one Justine Greening MP, we are now told that the administration has plans to raise money for highway improvements (and you thought that was what your road tax was for!) by tolling an ‘enhanced’ twenty mile section of the A14 in Cambridgeshire.

So far so bad, but if you thought that would be it, you are entirely wrong. It has been suggested that the once glorious A303 – which used to be a wonderful road to drive on back in the day – that winds its way west past Stonehenge is, at least in part, to be subject to a toll.

Other roads where they are thinking of applying this additional iniquitous tax include stretches of the A1, A27 and the A30. All this despite – and this is key – that the M6 toll road around Birmingham was pronounced a failure as long ago as 2010!

When it was opened in 2003 it was hailed as the solution to congestion. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. Two years ago the Campaign for Better Transport (and they are Greens) pointed out that the toll road was not diverting anywhere near the amount of traffic that it was supposed to do. It is losing money. Research by the Campaign showed that private toll roads didn’t help motorists or investors.

Inevitably, as so often happens, when things don’t work or sell as expected the prices are put up rather than down. Hence the toll on the M6 is now a fiver and motorists are staying away. Many drivers simply can’t afford it. If it was much cheaper, maybe it would work, but nobody seems to see that.

This is short-termism at its worst from a cash-strapped government who don’t apparently have the imagination to think of real ways of helping the economy. As the Campaign said: “Toll roads are not, and will never be, a solution to congestion on Britain’s roads, no matter how attractive they may appear to cash-strapped politicians desperate to deliver otherwise unaffordable road schemes.”

Enough said.

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Taking A Toll On Drivers

The pressure of traffic on our crowded roads is increasing year on year. The present Government is talking up new road charges and drivers face tolls under audacious plans to put Britain’s roads network in the hands of private companies. David Cameron has said that he wants to kick-start the economy by allowing firms to compete to build, operate and maintain motorways and trunk roads. Motorists would not pay tolls to use existing roads – but firms could widen them and introduce pay-as-you-go lanes that drivers could use to beat congestion. Meanwhile, if there’s any room left, any brand new road will be built by private investors and charged along the lines of the French toll-road system.

Road pricing, whether we like it or not, is on its way. Effectively, it could be any system that would, at point of use, charge drivers to use any particular road or system of roads. Usually it means tolls on single routes and crossings like bridges or tunnels. More recently, it has included zone pricing of urban areas as is seen with the London congestion charge the idea of which, no doubt, will soon expand to include other cities. On 3rd May 2012 London voters will go to the polls as Boris Johnson, the present incumbent, fights Ken Livingstone (yes, he’s back) for the title of Mayor. Wouldn’t it be great if they actually fought, in the Mexican Lucha Libre style with masks? The Blonde Bombshell vs. the Newt Fancier. Now I’d pay a toll to see that! In the boring meanwhile neither of them plan any immediate increase in charges on the basis that cash-strapped London drivers won’t be voting for anyone who even thinks about it. But afterwards?

Road pricing isn’t new and the French have been at it for years, as is their way, but it is spreading and is already rife in countries as disparate as Norway and Australia. Even the Yanks, who are righteously against any form of extra taxation, are beginning to take it seriously. In 2008, the New York Mayor tried and failed to get approval for a scheme but was thwarted by the State Assembly. This year a new plan has been mooted that is, typically, a complicated mishmash that aims to try and convince drivers that tolls are good for them.

Back in the UK motoring groups have warned that drivers are getting sick and tired of struggling with high fuel prices and other car expenses and believe, despite the Prime Minister’s words to the contrary, the current plan will lead to road pricing nationally on a pay to drive basis. It is interesting that, when in opposition, the Government were defending drivers on the basis that the then administration was treating motorists as ‘cash cows’. As it turns out drivers are suffering more than ever. Funny that.

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