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After Dartford, Could Free Flow Tolls Spread?

By raccars Published

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The arguments for and against charging tolls for British motorways have been ignited again by the implementation of a free flow tolls system, to replace the manual toll booths at the Dartford Crossing last week. While the system should allow traffic to flow more freely over the crossing, the scheme has also been criticised as a way of making extra cash out of motorists who forget to pay, with a very short payment deadline in place.

Enquiring minds are also concerned that the Dartford Crossing free flow tolling system could be acting as a kind of proving ground for the widespread implementation of tolls on British motorways. Industry experts suggest that such a system would be very easy to install countrywide, with the technology already proven in international locations, such as Singapore, and many believe it is both inevitable and necessary.

Britain's roads network needs huge funding, both to bring it up to an acceptable standard now and to enable upgrades and new installations in the future. While the government has just announced an investment of £15 billion to be spent on maintaining and improving British roads over the next few years, critics claim it is not yet clear where the money will come from. Furthermore, with the government furiously encouraging the uptake of cleaner and greener cars, by reducing the attendant taxes and associated costs, such as congestion charges, income from the traditional sources is reduced.

Officially, the government claims that it will not use road charging to raise revenue apart from in certain special cases, such as the M6 Toll and some bridges. A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in 2012 predicted that the government needs to find an extra £13 billion by 2029, to replace revenue lost by more efficient cars.

Options for raising this amount include a three and a half pence rise upon the basic income tax rate, raising VAT to 23% or increasing fuel duty by 50%. None of these is likely to be a popular solution. Road charging was nominated as a more achievable and sustainable revenue source, which could also be targeted to alleviate congestion in the worst traffic hotspots.

The suggestion of road charging provokes an almost knee jerk reaction in the already cash strapped British motorist, but motoring groups have seen similar schemes work successfully elsewhere. However, it's not clear whether road charging could be introduced as an adjunct to the already punitive VED and fuel tax paid by motorists, or if these could be entirely replaced by a kind of 'pay as you drive' system.

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