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Report calls for fuel duty rise and a ‘new way’ to pay for road usage

Report calls for fuel duty rise and a ‘new way’ to pay for road usage

A “new way” to pay for road road use must be introduced and a rise in fuel duty in the autumn Budget was essential to encourage people to reduce their reliance on cars for travel, according to a new report.  

However, the RAC warned that business and motorists would “baulk” at any fuel duty rise, particularly with pump prices rising close to record levels. Additionally, the motoring organisation suggested that finding a suitable tax-raising replacement for fuel duty was likely to be a “political timebomb”  

The government’s seven-year freeze on fuel duty has resulted in an extra 4.5 million tonnes of harmful carbon dioxide emissions by encouraging people to abandon public transport in favour of their cars, according to the research.  

As a direct result of the fuel duty freeze, prices at the pump were 13% lower than they would otherwise have been, resulting in a 4% increase in traffic since 2011 and a similar decrease in public transport use, equal to up to 60 million fewer rail journeys and 200 million fewer bus journeys, it is claimed.  

That has triggered a major increase in carbon emissions as well as an additional 12,000 tonnes of dangerous nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and 816 tonnes of PM10 particles, says the report commissioned by Greener Journeys, the sustainable transport group.  

The report, ‘The Unintended Consequences of Freezing Fuel Duty’, written by former government transport advisor Professor David Begg, warns that unless a new way to pay for road use is introduced, traffic on our roads was likely to increase by an additional 30% by 2035. That would be on top of a 40% growth in traffic already predicted by the Department for Transport, leading to an overall increase in traffic of 70%.

The new research comes as the government faces growing pressure to tackle the UK’s air quality crisis, which is causing between 40,000 and 50,000 deaths a year. Its Clean Air Strategy was criticised by campaigners last month who said the proposals did not do enough to address the root cause of the pollution crisis - the number of diesel cars and vans on the roads.  

Fuel duty has not increased since January 2011, when it rose from 58.19p per litre to 58.95p per litre. It was cut by 1p per litre in the Budget two months later, and has since been frozen. The freeze in fuel duty has cost the Treasury approximately £7 billion in lost tax revenue, it is calculated.  

Meanwhile, separate research by Greener Journeys has shown that congestion has had a detrimental impact on the bus sector, causing bus speeds to fall by on average 10% every decade, and bus passenger numbers to drop by up to 14%.  

Professor Begg, chief executive of Transport Times and former chairman of the government’s Commission for Integrated Transport, said: “Whilst the freeze in fuel duty has been welcomed by many road users there have been unintended consequences in terms of increased pollution and congestion and a shift from public transport to car use, which policy makers should be aware of if they continue with this policy.  

“The Chancellor has said he will increase fuel duty in line with inflation at the next Budget. It is vital that government delivers on this commitment as a minimum if it is to send the right price signals to consumers.”  

Claire Haigh, chief executive of Greener Journeys, said: “The price of fuel is one of the most politically divisive issues in the country. However, we know that diesel cars and vans are the biggest contributors to harmful NOx emissions, which are creating a public health emergency in the UK.  

“If ever there was a moment for government to be honest with the public and show leadership it’s now. We urgently need a shift from car to bus and other forms of sustainable transport if we are to tackle the UK’s air pollution crisis and reduce congestion on our roads.”  

Greener Journeys is a campaign dedicated to encouraging people to make more sustainable travel choices. It is a coalition of the UK’s leading public transport organizations, user groups and supporters. It aims to reduce CO2 emissions from transport by encouraging people to switch some of their car journeys to bus or coach instead.

Commenting on a report, RAC roads policy spokesman Nicholas Lyes said: “Millions of motorists and businesses are going to baulk at the idea of fuel duty rising in the autumn.

“Petrol and diesel prices are currently at a three-and-a-half year high, and there is the prospect of them reaching record levels if the oil price continues to climb. In this scenario, we should be talking about the government acting to help bring prices back into check by lowering fuel duty to protect the economy - not putting up tax on fuel.  

“The ultimate question is whether deliberately raising prices still further, by ending the fuel duty freeze, would actually stop people driving - or simply make everyone who has no realistic alternative to driving significantly poorer, while at the same time contributing towards a higher rate of inflation. RAC data suggests a huge majority would find it difficult to adjust their lives without access to a vehicle.”  

“In terms of public transport, the simple fact of the matter is that outside the capital and other major UK cities, provision continues to be exceptionally patchy. This means many people have no realistic alternative to using a car for getting to their places of work, to the shops or elsewhere. A lack of reliable, affordable alternatives has to be one of the major reasons why public transport patronage in many areas is regrettably falling.”  

He added: “As a country, we need to begin a debate about how we all pay for the use of our roads into the future. The current approach to taxing drivers via fuel duty is not sustainable in the longer term given the shift to cleaner vehicles and a set date for ending the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles. This makes an alternative inevitable, although finding a suitable replacement is likely to be controversial and potentially a political time bomb.”

The report is available at: https://greenerjourneys.com/publication/the-unintended-consequences-of-freezing-fuel-duty/