The technology exists to deliver any system of road user charging needed, the limit is only what is politically 'realistic', a transport policy expert has told MPs.
Professor Phil Goodwin appeared before the Transport Select Committee on Wednesday (20 October) as part of its inquiry into road user pricing, along with other experts and representatives of such as RAC Foundation director Steve Gooding.
Prof Goodwin (pictured) said: ‘The technologies which are or can very easily be made available are so far in excess of the degree of complexity of a system you would actually want that it’s simply not a constraint.
‘I mean, anything that politically is realistic to design in a road pricing system, the technology can deliver already.'
He added that the technology of paying ‘also is being transformed’.
Prof Goodwin agreed with many other witnesses that any road pricing system - where drivers pay for their road use - should, at least initially, be a simple one.
A number of witnesses suggested that a national approach to road pricing should be distance-based, with local authorities left to implement their own policies to tackle congestion or air pollution.
Asked by Ben Bradshaw MP why an initial system should not be ‘an Uber model’ with the ability to build in congestion premiums, he said: ‘I think the reason is about the dynamic of political implementation. If one has to get agreement on all the fine details before you can start doing anything, it gets bogged down, partly because there isn’t full agreement on those things and partly because some people who don’t want it to happen at all will have a plethora of excuses and reasons and so on.’
But he added: ‘Even the simple first stage has to accommodate at least two objectives, and that’s congestion and climate. If we do anything on pricing which makes either of those worse, the system is going to be politically unacceptable.
‘I think the starting point is a mileage charge, which is the best way of dealing with both, but you also have to have discrimination by some dimensions of the nature or location of travel or the type of vehicle.
‘And this is I think itself rather a simple concept; I mean, you drive a car onto a ferry, it’s completely normal to expect a bigger car will pay more than a smaller car. One of the most serious problems in urban traffic at the moment is running completely counter to policy, which is the growth of far bigger vehicles and heavier vehicles, which simply don’t fit in the road space available.
He also told MPs: ‘There’s still going to be a lot of carbon generated by all vehicles in the decade or 15 years that we’ve got to actually tackle the problem.'