RAC Foundation - Transport Tribulations

Here we have it; the latest version of the government’s strategy to tackle poor air quality caused by transport.

Running to 103 pages – not forgetting an accompanying technical report of 155 pages – the policy document is long on words but arguably short on concrete, cost-effective ideas on how to solve the problem.

Scrappage is considered, but the absence of a clear proposal shows, as RAC Foundation work has previously done, just how difficult it is to come up with a workable scheme; one which identifies the most polluting vehicles (on a per mile basis, it will be the oldest cars, but on absolute miles driven it could be much newer ones).

The strategy also leaves open the possibility of charging drivers to enter urban areas, but ministers insist this must be a local decision. On the one hand, this must make sense as poor air quality is often a very localised problem, but is also allows central government to pass the political buck to town and city halls.

As uncertainty continues, it leaves more than eleven million diesel drivers in limbo. Looking ahead, where and when will they be able to use their cars? And at what cost? And what will it do to the resale value of a vehicle that might be the biggest investment they’ve ever made?

Industry data suggests the market share of new diesels is already falling quite sharply as people are presumably put off purchases by a fear of the unknown. And, while ministers have pledged to ban the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars in 2040, it is likely most or all firms will stop manufacturing purely internal combustion engined-models long before that.

While harmful emissions continue to be produced – and let’s not forget it’s not just certain diesel cars which are the culprits – there is feverish activity on developing ideas to mitigate their effects. In the last couple of days, Highways England – which manages the country’s motorways and strategic A roads – has suggested further investigation both of barriers, which can absorb nitrogen dioxide and canopies over carriageways to contain pollution and stop it spilling over into neighbouring residential areas. Leaving aside the practicalities of these schemes there is, as always, the money to consider. Would such ideas warrant the large-scale investment that would inevitably be needed?

In an era of constrained public spending this is a big question mark, which brings us on the 2017 Wolfson Economics Prize…

In order to win the £250,000 on offer, this year’s entrants – of which there were more than 100 – had to answer: ‘How can we pay for better, safer, more reliable roads in a way that is fair to road users and good for the economy and the environment?’

The winner was Gergely Raccuja who foresaw the existing system of motoring taxation – fuel duty and VED – replaced by a pay-per-mile charge collected via insurance companies.

The RAC Foundation was a named contributor to Gergely’s work. Second place went to Edmund King and his wife Deidre – more good news for the Foundation as members may recall that, prior to moving to the AA, Edmund was the Foundation’s Director.

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