Sunday, 23 January 2011

Funding Streets, Roads and Motorways: the Best Option

I am a heavy user of streets, roads and motorways. I walk into the city centre several times a week, exercising some care since I last tripped on uneven paving. I drive to do food shopping and to visit people. I get out of the country quite often via the M23, M25 and the Channel Tunnel.

I avoid buses and trains even though they are subsidised: they are too often slow and overcrowded. In central London, if I don't walk it, I usually cab it. The Tube is gruelling.

How do I think the road infrastructure I use should be paid for?

I think almost entirely from taxes on vehicle fuel. I don't mind if the taxes discriminate in favour of greener fuels. But there are two main advantages to my prefered funding method, apart from the fact that the mechanism is already in place.

First, taxes on fuel automatically relate cost to use. The more you make use of the roads, the more you pay. Seems fair.

Second, the tax is progressive in a rough and ready way insofar as it collects more per kilometre from the well-off who choose to drive fancy vehicles using fancy amounts of fuel.

I don't like road tolls. In France, the SANEF motorway tolls slow down traffic, create an expensive infrastructure of toll booths (more like frontier posts in their scale), and ensure that the immaculately-maintained roads are much underused. SANEF also spends lots of the money it collects on tiresome roadside propaganda telling you how good it is.

I accept that vehicles probably need to be registered but I think the charges should be to cover the cost of administering the registration system, that's all.

Where I live I pay for a Resident's Parking Permit which pays for wardens to patrol the streets and keep other road users out of the parking bays reserved for me. Fine. But the system generates a big surplus from fines. I think the profit should be spent on pavements and street lighting. Even the most addicted car user uses those.

I find it surprising that cyclists don't have to contribute other than indirectly to the cost of cycle lanes, but I suppose any cost-benefit analysis would come down heavily against a bicycle registration scheme. So maybe the cycle lanes have to come out of the fuel-tax funded road budget. If I am told that bicycle users are generally poorer than car users, then I will feel happier about this.

I blogged yesterday to say there was a left-wing or radical case for favouring low taxes. Today I thought I would say something about taxes I am not going to complain about.

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