Much has been made over the past month of the six million-plus people who have put their names to a petition on the parliament website calling for the revocation of Article 50 and an end to Brexit.
But whilst this might be the largest singular signing of a such a digital-lobbying tool there have been precedents, the most notable of which was seen back in 2007 when some 1.7 million people signatories were added to a demand on the Downing Street website that there should be no road pricing in the UK.
The petition noted: “The idea of tracking every vehicle at all times is sinister and wrong. Road pricing is already here with the high level of taxation on fuel. The more you travel – the more tax you pay. It will be an unfair tax on those who live apart from families and poorer people who will not be able to afford the high monthly costs.”
Since then politicians of all persuasions have tiptoed around the subject noting, not incorrectly, how high profile and often inflammatory the subject of motoring taxation is, as illustrated by the yearly furore that surrounds Budget statements and the potential for changes to the rate of fuel duty (which has actually been frozen at 57.95p per litre for both petrol and diesel since March 2011 though, when VAT is included, the Chancellor is still collecting more than 60% of what we pay at the pumps).
Part of the problem is that road pricing comes in many different shapes and sizes – some schemes are based simply on distance travelled, whilst others take into account time of day and road type – and have at their core different aims – raising revenue versus cutting congestion, for example.
Yet sooner or later someone in authority is going to have to grapple purposefully with road pricing, or the like, to replace the fuel duty revenue lost as petrol and diesel cars get more efficient and electric cars become more prevalent.
Though quite when this grasping of the nettle will actually happen is not yet clear. Figures out this week show that there were a record 39.4 million cars on the UK’s roads at the end of 2018, with 13 million of them – another record – still propelled by diesel.
In comparison, there were a mere 162,000 cars that had at some point been eligible for the government’s plug-in grant, the scheme that has been running since 2011 to help subsidise the purchase of pure battery-electric and – until recently when rule changes increased the minimum zero-emission range to at least 70 miles – plug-in hybrids.
The numbers show that for all the will in the world, the road to ultra-green motoring remains a long one.