Feelin’ okay this mornin’
And you know,
We’re on the road to paradise
Here we go, here we go
As it does so very often manage to do, the issue of road pricing has come around once again. And, as a libertarian, I am certainly not averse to duly forking out a couple of quid to cross the Dartford crossing or quite a few more quid to use the M6 Tollway or even the 50p necessary to cross the whimsical Whitney toll bridge in Herefordshire.
But it is actually quite interesting to contrast these three different toll systems.
The Dartford Bridge was ostensibly tolled to pay for the cost of its construction, which, frankly, is fair enough. But the construction has been paid for now, at least once. And yet it remains tolled and the prices are creeping gently north, as ever.
The M6 Tollway is quite a different kettle of fish. Fast, well-surfaced and blissfully free of traffic, I’m not entirely sure it will ever pay for itself. There are just too many feasible alternatives and far too few people hate traffic enough to part with such an extraordinary sum of money to avoid being stuck in a God awful traffic jam. So the prices are not creeping up, they are positively leaping up to a point where anybody who can’t expense the toll will rather rat-run around it or grin and bear the horror of the original M6.
And then there is the extraordinary Whitney toll bridge. To be fair, not the only whimsical toll I’ve seen, but it’s one of the most agreeable. It costs the princely sum of 50 pence a day (for a car). If you keep your receipt, you can go back and forth across it all day long. It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere and yet it’s busy enough because there’s always what passes for a traffic jam there (two cars and a tractor, each way!) It must be generating a decent income for the owner, or he wouldn’t be there all day when the River Wye and a fishing rod beckon.
The contrast couldn’t be more marked between a centuries-old toll and the modern tolls.
The modern tolls smack of corporate greed, with the operators at Dartford extorting way more than their fair share having sold the idea with a lie.
The M6 has all the hallmarks of central planning, with years taken and millions spent. Within months it was being repaired despite the fact that almost no-one uses it. And the relief of the M6 simply hasn’t happened, because the price is not set on what the market will bear, but what the government decrees.
And then there’s the Whitney toll. Cheap as chips and your contribution will get you back and forth all day long.
I know which model I’d support if they ever decided to go for road charging.
But, of course, we won’t have the option, will we? The fear I have of road charging is that it will not be “instead of”, it will be “as well as”.
And it wouldn’t be as simple as putting 50p in a box – it would be an insanely complex and intrusive system that required the monitoring of your car’s movements at all times so that you could be charged appropriately. And fined automatically for speeding. And your movements recorded.
Which is why I’m happy to let the libertarian idea of road charging get kicked into the long grass yet again.