Are Toll Roads a Good Thing?

Toll road

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The Government is considering introducing more toll roads, meaning that motorists may have to pay to take the quickest routes to work everyday. The new private managers of existing roads would be allowed to levy tolls on any fresh capacity they provide, such as new lanes, while existing roads that undergo improvements and new roads could be open to paying motorists only. Motoring organisations such as the Alliance of British Drivers predict a massive motorist backlash if these plans go ahead. But tolls roads seem to be a good way of keeping roads clearer and in better repair in countries such as France, where they are common. So what do you think about the prospect of more toll roads in the UK? Here, we examine the current situation and explore the pros and cons of toll roads for the nation’s drivers.

Are there any toll roads in the UK today?

At the current time, just one major road – the M6 Toll – charges drivers a toll to use it. Taking a car on this road currently costs £5.50 (or £5.22 if you have a tag that allows you to pay electronically) during the daytime Monday to Friday, £4.80 (or £4.56) at the weekend and £3.80 (or £3.61) between 11pm and 6am. However, there are a number of bridges and tunnels where tolls are also collected. These include the Thames Crossing on the M25 (the QEII Bridge), the Humber Bridge in Yorkshire and the Severn Bridge, which links England and Wales. Crossing the Severn Bridge costs someone with an ordinary family car £6.20 (although crossing into England is free as only westbound traffic pays the toll).

Why is the government looking at introducing more toll roads?

The UK’s road network is struggling due to congestion and underinvestment. Population growth is also set to exacerbate the problem in years to come. And there is simply not enough cash in the Government’s coffers to fund the work needed to deal with these issues. A Whitehall feasibility study of new ownership and financing models for the UK road network was therefore ordered by Cameron – who says he is open to leasing motorways to companies or investment funds – last year. A leasing plan of this kind could mean billions being spent on improving and expanding the increasingly congested UK road network. However, the companies and people behind such works are going to want a return on their investment. And tolls are one of the most likely ways of them claiming their reward.

So could toll roads become the norm in years to come?

There is a strong possibility that toll roads will become more common in the future. However, the Department for Transport insists that it will not breach a commitment to restrict tolls to new major roads or those upgraded "beyond all recognition". It has also refuted claims that this is a return to proposals made by the Labour Government some years ago to solve the problems with the road network with "mass tolling". The Department for Transport said: "The Government has made a clear commitment not to toll existing road capacity and this has not changed. Any tolling would be in very limited circumstances and only where schemes deliver new roads or transform an existing road literally beyond all recognition."

What are the alternatives?

Another option thought to be under consideration is changing Vehicle Excise Duty so that motorists pay more or less depending on what roads they use. In other words, those who use the motorway network would pay more, while those who stick to A-roads would get a discount. This may sound complicated but fans of the scheme point out that the two-tier road tax scheme could be administered using automatic number plate recognition technology, which is already being used on British roads.

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