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General Election: Will the next government finally tackle the road pricing agenda?

With less than a month to go until the UK General Election, we issued a special episode of the Lunch with Leon podcast that examined likely outcomes at the polls and the impact on the world of transport.

Leon’s guest was Stephen Bramall, an independent political commentator and transport expert who previously worked in a senior position at the Department for Transport. After acknowledging that transport may not be a leading campaigning issue, the two discussed the future issues that the next government – highly likely to be Labour – will need to contend with over the next five or ten years.

As Leon asked Stephen: "

You and I are probably looking down the pipe of two five-year Labour governments, because it will take at least that long for the Conservative Party to redefine itself...and by the time that's happened, five years will be over in a jiffy, and Labour may well get two terms out of it. So I just wonder...what do you think the face of transport will look like in this country after 10 years of a Labour Government?”

Amongst Stephen’s future predictions was the inevitable need to tackle the long-standing political hot potato of national road pricing, which entails a widespread charge for motorists based on when and where they drive. Road pricing may not be democratically popular, but Stephen is a supporter:

“I think it's a very progressive tax people pay according to how they drive, when they drive, and people they have in the car, what sort of car they use, what time of day they drive on, what sort of road they drive on. It's an incredibly fair tax.”

He went on to detail his frustrations about politicians’ unwillingness to engage with the road pricing debate, and the excuses given in opposition to it:


“Road pricing has been on the political agenda as a possibility since the mid-80s. Countless politicians, countless transport ministers, have just kicked the countdown saying that technology does not work. Well, that is self-evidently no longer true.

What is frustrating to me is that no politician has been prepared to have an open and honest debate with the electorate about the merits of road pricing.”


According to Stephen, there’s also a misunderstanding of road pricing as an additional levy on top of existing motoring taxes. In fact, road user charging would replace vehicle excise duty and fuel duty. 


Yet there’s also the challenge of where to start with an effective implementation strategy. In response to Stephen, Leon shared his perspective that the only way to get road pricing over the line is to take a progressive approach – making it an opt in, as opposed to compulsory. This would mean starting with people who live in rural areas where they don't do many miles. As he explained:


“Start with an opt in system that would benefit the people in areas where there's no congestion and no pollution, because they won't pay very much, and over time, substantial numbers of people would do better under that regime. And then...start to work on the suburbs of some of the smaller towns. So, by the time you get to a significant majority of people signed up for road user charging, all you've got left are the big conurbations.”


Leon and Stephen’s discussion on the future of transport under the next government also covered the likelihood of HS2 Phase 1, the transition to electric vehicles and the exciting prospect of how the continued development in technology could impact our road networks.

On this point, Stephen highlighted the potential of a digitised highway network, and the impact this could have on congestion and traffic control. As he outlined, if the next government is prepared to turn its road investment strategies into a digitisation programme, then roads “won't just be tarmac on which vehicles ride [but a] full-blown communications corridor. And I think that...would be a really exciting agenda.”

All that, and not a single discussion about potholes!

To listen to the full discussion between Leon and Stephen, visit the podcast episode here:



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