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When road tax, red diesel, organic food and bio-fuels meet, Part 1

an image of heavy traffic on a motorway in BritainHere in Britain, there’s a change underway, one that the government hopes will change how motorists travel to and from work.

In short, the government hopes to affect social change.

My feeling is they will, but not directly, nor in the way that they would have imagined.

Road tax out, ‘pay as you drive’ in?

Over the past few years, the British government have been running trials of a new ‘pay as you drive’ scheme within various cities.

It’s an innovative scheme that would revolutionize road transport within Britain, if the government manage to get it right.

The principle concern I have is that the government will want (as my dad would say) the ‘penny and the bun’, which is to say: they will want to keep the road tax and charge per mile.

As a motorist, that would basically be well-legislated theft, make no mistake!

OK, I must make one confession before I launch fully into this article, I will not be my normal self. Normally, I would furnish you with no end of supplementary resources to back up my arguments, but it’s a Sunday and I really can’t be bothered.

This article is going to be an out-and-out ‘what if?’ Which is essentially me asking myself a bunch of questions and then running towards a logical set of conclusions.

This ‘pay as you drive’ scheme relies on devices installed into each & every vehicle and an array of satellites which will track those vehicles on the roads of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

It’s ambitious, it’s going to cost a lot of money, there’s still a lot of problems to think through, the technology is still under development (we’re talking military-grade GPS, here, not the stuff you get in your average SatNav), but done right, this scheme could potentially save the average motorist some money and earn the government some extra tax revenue into the bargain.

Now here’s where I start to wing it, so hold tight .. ‘coz now I’m guessing!

I would imagine that there are more people traveling more than 10k miles per year than there are those traveling less than 10k miles per year.

What I’m saying is that I would imagine any ‘pay as you drive’ charging scheme would recoup the lost road tax revenue from those that drive more.

Still enough of an incentive to drive less, but not so much that the government lose out over the long run.

However, I need to make assumptions, and that’s where things get tricky! Principally because the government will ideally want to charge more for less, which isn’t an ideal situation.

The plan is to charge a minimum of £0.02p per mile for off-peak on back roads and then scale upwards through B roads major A roads right up to Motorways, which could rake in as much as £1.50p per mile.

This is where all of the low-earth-orbit space-borne equipment and the ‘black box’ car tracking devices come in.

Anyway, the BBC kindly ran a test of their own recently involving a florist with a small van, a courier with a goods van, a commuter and a mum doing the school run.

By the end of the trial, the figures were quite scary. Neither the mum nor florist seemed happy with what they’d be charged. Not because they were traveling too much, or because they were traveling on major roads, but because they were traveling at peak time.

The knock-on effect of all of this extra cost means that the mean price of goods & services will go up to cover the extra expense of the transportation and provision of said goods & services.

The goal of the government is to drive down road usage through a battery of measures, including metered road charges, provision of alternative means of transport, which would mean public transportation for commuters and the like, and by means of extra taxation for vehicles that have shitty mileage, which strikes at the very heart of those people who ponce around in their so-called SUVs, which are as pointless as they are big.

That last part was purely my opinion, but I would say that, wouldn’t I? Me being the ‘hot hatch’ man that I am.

My question is, given that the government have only recently introduced a new road tax charging mechanism that rewards owners whose cars have a lower carbon footprint and penalizes the owners of larger, less environmentally-friendly vehicles, how would the government make this system apply to a the proposed ‘pay as you drive’ scheme?

Surely they’d need to amend the MOT to include a more detailed emissions check which would go into the ‘black box’ tracking device in each car, to then allow the government to charge accordingly?

For those not familiar with what an MOT is:

“The MOT scheme is primarily a road safety measure designed to ensure as far as possible that all cars, motorcycles and light goods vehicles more than 3 years old:

1. Are properly maintained

2. At least once a year are examined at an authorised MOT test station to make sure that they comply with certain important requirements of the law.”

But the thing is, the fuel consumption of any engine increases over time. So there’s a need for a more fine-grained coverage of this data over the lifetime of the vehicle. Which means it’ll be one more thing a would-be car buyer would need to examine before making a purchase.

And to facilitate this, the government would need three things:

  1. The engine specifications of the vehicle in question, which would be provided by the manufacturers.
  2. A way of measuring the emissions of the vehicle during its lifetime, which would come from the annual MOT.
  3. A means of tracking this data over the lifetime of the vehicle, which would be stored in the ‘black box’, or on government servers.

As mentioned previously, the government have all of the technology in place to do all of these things, which would afford them a very fine-grained level of detail of almost every vehicle on the road.

So that little lot pretty much sets the stage for the future of road transport here in Britain. So what’s next?

Why consumer demand, of course! What else?

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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