A independent economic consultancy has set out a blueprint to abolish traffic jams through road charging and putting a national roads authority in charge of the whole system.
A new paper produced by the Centre for Economics and Business Research with infrastructure engineers Mott McDonald and pollsters Populus says technology provides an opportunity to cut congestion, cut the cost of motoring by about a third, reduce accidents by 90% and end the polluting effects of fossil fuels.
It says the move away from fossil fuels and the shift towards autonomous self-driving vehicles will lead to a fall in the cost of road use and sharply cut fuel duties, which will allow road users to pay road usage charges.
Such charges would average 8p per mile but vary according to congestion; drivers would still pay less for their road usage because of reduced depreciation, fuel and insurance costs.
User charges would allow annual spending on roads of at least £20bn a year, twice the current amount, the paper argues.
It says road use charges eliminate traffic jams both by discouraging marginal road usage and generating revenue to pay for more road space, particularly through ‘surge pricing’.
The CEBR said that under its blueprint: ‘Road usage will be safer, cleaner, less congested and cheaper; GDP could be up to 3% higher. This is a prize worth aiming for.’
The proposals include:
- Speed up the move to fossil fuel free vehicles through tax and other incentives
- Pass control of the entire road system to a national roads authority with a level of political independence like that of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee.
- That authority would be statutorily responsible to Parliament for managing roads in the interests of road users, once externalities such as the costs external to the system of accidents, pollution etc. are compensated for. The body will be responsible for receiving the receipts for charges and taxes levied directly on road users and reinvesting them in the road system.
- A charging rate averaging about 8p a mile for a car be introduced over the next 20 years – this would allow a gradual increase in spending to about £20bn a year to pay for improvements and automation and for pedestrian and cycle routes to segregate cyclists and pedestrians;
- Surge pricing on the Uber model for charges at the time of high demand. This would also act as a signal for when new road capacity is needed if peak prices keep increasing.
- A division between major roads and minor roads.
- Roads would increasingly involve specialist materials to take advantage of technology. This would permit solar power, safer surfaces and self-mending materials. Roads might be decked, with underground and over ground routes whilst incorporating an asset management approach.