When a libertarian cites Sweden you know there’s something fishy going on

The Insitute of Economic Affair’s Head of Transport is at it again, and his libertarian views on why the roads we currently own should be sold off to private bidders for £150bn is all over the mainstream media, thanks to a flurry of ‘road tax’ stories. Dr Richard Wellings, a climate change skeptic, thinks cyclists are “low value” road users and wants Britain to be covered in wider, longer roads to be used by motorists alone (“entrepreneurs would be incentivised to build routes where they would attract traffic.”). I’ve critiqued his views before and I do so again today over on BikeBiz.com. It would be possible to write volumes on why his worldview is so chilling.

But here I’ll counter just one of his arguments. He likes how the Swedes do it, apparently. Roads ownership, that is.

He wrote:

“Local roads should be owned and managed by local residents and businesses. This has happened via private road associations in Sweden, where road management costs have been reduced but the quality of services provided is high.”

When a libertarian cherry picks an ownership model from Sweden – which has a world-famous cradle-to-grave welfare system and hence is a country to send shudders down libertarian spines – you know there’s something fishy going on.

It’s true, private road associations manage two thirds of the road network in Sweden. But what Wellings doesn’t reveal in the executive summary is that the Swedish Government subsidises these road associations. Furthermore, the privately owned and operated roads are mostly dirt tracks, in the middle of nowhere, with incredibly low volumes of traffic. Municipal roads in Sweden, just like municipal roads in most places in the world, are owned by the municipalities concerned. Private ownership of all city streets would lead to dystopian horrors, in Sweden and everywhere else.

The private roads in Sweden see very low numbers of vehicles, less than 50 vehicles per day from outside the area and 70 local journeys per day.

And private roads in Great Britain are hardly paragons of good management. Roads are a shared national resource, a form of commons, and any movement seeking to reverse such ownership needs to be monitored closely.


Road tax doesn’t exist. It’s car tax, a tax on cars and other vehicles, not a tax on roads or a fee to use them. Motorists do not pay directly for the roads. Roads are paid for via general and local taxation. In 1926, Winston Churchill started the process to abolish road tax. It was finally culled in 1937.

The ironically-named iPayRoadTax.com helps spread this message on cycle jerseys. Car tax is based on amount of CO2 emitted so, if a fee had to be paid, cyclists – who are sometimes branded as ‘tax dodgers’ – would pay the same as ‘tax-dodgers’ such as disabled drivers, police cars, the Royal family, and band A motorists, ie £0. Most cyclists are also car-owners, too, so pay VED.

Think-tank’s Head of Transport says cyclists are “low-value”, don’t pay for roads and “delay traffic”

Let me introduce you to Richard Wellings. He has a PhD in transport and environmental policy. Dr Wellings works for the libertarian think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs. He’s the IEA’s Deputy Editorial Director, and Head of Transport, too. He was educated at Oxford and the London School of Economics. In short, he’s bright. Which makes the views espoused on his Twitter account and his personal website all the more worrying, especially as his views are listened to by the powers-that-be: he has appeared before the transport select committee, for instance, and is lauded by MPs, including Angela Leadsom, the MP who last year wanted to bring in a ‘dangerous cycling’ bill.

Here’s a combination of some of today’s tweets:

“Removing underused cycle and bus priority measures will increase efficiency of the network… • Uneconomic cycling priority measures…impose major time losses on motorists. • Another problem is that cyclists fill up gaps in traffic due to slower speed, delaying motorists at junctions. • Maybe cyclists should pay to use cycle lanes – can’t see why taxpayers should be forced to subsidise them. • Cycle priority measures waste valuable road space and delay traffic. Often they cater for a tiny number of cyclists.”

#bikeboom pic negates almost every wonky stereotype about people who ride bikes in London
And cycle lanes should be grubbed up not because they are famously crap but because the vast amount of money spent on them (!) is wasted on uneconomic losers: “Lots of cycle lanes are barely used. Vast amounts of money and road space wasted on a tiny minority of (often low-value) users.”

Low-value users? Does he really think cyclists are paupers? He should stand at a road junction in central London one morning and count the number of carbon bikes that pass (bikes very likely owned by folks who choose to leave at home their Mercs, BMWs and Audis). He should read ‘The British Cycling Economy’ by an academic from his old stamping ground, the London School of Economics.

He probably doesn’t think that cyclists are paupers, he probably means cyclists are road users who are using such simple machines they can’t be charged much to use the public highways which he wants to be corporate owned. (Wonder what he thinks about pedestrians, you know, those pavement freeloaders)?

Dr Wellings is in favour of road pricing, is a climate change sceptic, equates environmentalism with socialism (his favourite metaphor is the Soviet bread queue), and his works barely mention non-motorised road users, such as pedestrians or cyclists.

In his opinion, British cities have not been greatly modified to accommodate motor traffic. Far from it. According to Dr Wellings “strict planning regulations have prevented British cities from adapting to cars.” He and a co-author wrote this in Towards Better Transport from 2008. He and his co-author reckoned “government policies force [British people] to live in cramped cities, in many places still heavily reliant on unsuitable Victorian streets. Indeed, new housing developments continue to be built next to major roads and motorways, although there is no shortage of agricultural land for development.”

That agricultural land would be the greenbelt, then.

He believes trains and buses are “subsidised” but that spending on roads is “investment.”

“Unfortunately, since public transport is subsidised, the cost to taxpayers has been very high: the annual subsidy of buses, trains and trams, which account for a small fraction of passenger travel, is in the region of £10 billion.”

Dr Wellings wants Britain’s highways to be privatised and is no fan of anybody who thinks motorists ought to slow down a bit:

“A free market in transport would mean ending the state control and ownership of roads. Decisions regarding the deployment of speed cameras would be the responsibility of private road owners. These individuals would have to consider customer preferences for both speed and safety. Thus private road owners would probably focus on the wants of motorists rather than the demands of the road safety lobby. Since slower roads could mean a reduction in profits, as drivers switched to alternative routes, it seems likely that private road owners would avoid arbitrary reductions in the speed limit……There is no necessary role for government in the provision of speed limits or to ensure that motorists are registered, insured and trained. Moreover, road owners would…have a strong incentive not to introduce measures that were unpopular with drivers.”

He also sympathises with the view that ‘road tax’ has paid for existing roads many times over: “Drivers may feel, with some justification, that they have already paid the construction costs through their motoring taxes.”

He uses the term ‘road tax’ interchangeably with vehicle excise duty even though he knows full well that ‘road tax’ was abolished in 1937 (he knows this because he’s familiar with the standard reference work on the subject, The Motor Car and Politics in Britain (1971), by William Plowden. Intellectually, Dr Wellings knows that VED is paid to the treasury and is not ring-fenced for any specific expenditure but his heart takes over at times and, rather amazingly, he allows himself to write that vehicle excise duty is “spent addressing the externalities motorists impose on pedestrians, cyclists and bus passengers and on discouraging drivers from using particular routes through traffic calming measures.”

That’s right. To Dr Wellings, the £8 billion raised by VED each year doesn’t go into the consolidated fund to be spent on everything, it’s spent on pedestrians, cyclists and traffic calming measures. Who knew?


Taxes and Charges on Road Users, a 2009 report by the Transport Select Committee, said hypothecation is “the establishment of a direct link between specific taxes or charges and specific expenditure. For example, taxes levied on alcohol might be earmarked for spending on hospitals. In the UK there is no such link for taxes.”

The report said:

“the Government opposes the idea of hypothecation of tax revenues. It argues that decisions about revenue raising and spending should be kept separate for two main reasons:

• if all income were to be hypothecated, it would create severe difficulties for those services that could not readily raise revenues, such as schools, hospitals, police and defence; and
• inefficiencies would result. For example, if a large sum was raised from road users, hypothecation would dictate that it was all spent on roads (or possibly other transport modes, such as buses), even if the public priority was for more investment in, say, education.”

So, the taxes raised from motoring do not go to facilities for motorists. If they did, the taxes raised by alcohol sales could be used to build bigger pubs. And married couples without children could ask for their taxes not to be spent on schools; and pacifists could ask for their taxes not to be spent on Trident nuclear submarines. Taxation doesn’t work this way. You’d think a transport economist would know this.

Road tax doesn’t exist. It’s car tax, a tax on cars and other vehicles, not a tax on roads or a fee to use them. Motorists do not pay directly for the roads. Roads are paid for via general and local taxation. In 1926, Winston Churchill started the process to abolish road tax. It was finally culled in 1937.

The ironically-named iPayRoadTax.com helps spread this message on cycle jerseys. Car tax is based on amount of CO2 emitted so, if a fee had to be paid, cyclists – who are sometimes branded as ‘tax dodgers’ – would pay the same as ‘tax-dodgers’ such as disabled drivers, police cars, the Royal family, and band A motorists, ie £0. Most cyclists are also car-owners, too, so pay VED.

Why the hate?

Yesterday footballer John Terry was banned for four matches and fined £220,000 for racist comments he made on the pitch. Another footballer with racist views is John Thompson: he’s not in John Terry’s league. Er, he’s in the Liverpool CMS league. Thompson plays for AFC Kirkby. He has made hateful remarks on Twitter about Jews, the police officers of Yorkshire and cyclists. (Not that you can see them anymore, he has now protected his twitter account).

In March, Swansea student Liam Stacey was sentenced to 56 days in jail for a “racially aggravated public order offence” after tweeting a very poor taste joke about footballer Fabrice Muamba.

No doubt John Thompson won’t suffer a similar fate: that is unless you know of a Yorkshire-born Jewish police officer who likes to cycle and is now based on Merseyside.

I’ve touched on the irrational hatred of cyclists elsewhere recently and it always surprises me how such a benign form of transport attracts such an amazing amount of real-world and online vitriol.

Does Thompson genuinely believe that cyclists should get out of his way until they “pay road tax?” If he found out that roads were paid for by all tax payers, rather than just motorists, do you think that would that alter his point of view? Or do you think someone with this much hate to give out might not be terribly good at nuanced arguments about what does and doesn’t pay for transport infrastructure?

Bad news for cyclists as Government backtracks on definition of VED as an environmental duty

The Treasury has published its definition of environmental taxes, hoping to resurrect the tag of being the “greenest Government ever.”

According to a press release, any tax is “environmental” if it is:

“explicitly linked to the Government’s environmental objectives; the primary objective of the tax is to encourage environmentally positive behaviour change; and the tax is structured in relation to environmental objectives, for example: the more polluting the behaviour, the greater the tax levied.”

While the climate change levy and other environmental taxes make it into the mix, vehicle excise duty doesn’t.

Economic Secretary to the Treasury Chloe Smith said:

“We want a clear approach that delivers a positive environmental impact without adding burdens onto business or households.”

Yes, this is the Chloe Smith recently seen to be woefully out of her depth when interviewed about the fuel duty u-turn by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight.

Has Smith – or, more likely, her officials – made a mistake by omitting VED?

Apparently not. An addendum says:

“The Government recognises that other taxes can deliver environmental benefits, but their aim is not environmental but revenue raising. These are specifically excluded from the Treasury definition and include taxes such as Vehicle Excise Duty, Fuel Duty and Air Passenger Duty.”

Such talk plays into the hands of those of feel there’s a “war against the motorist” and that car tax is just another grubby way of fleecing “hard-working families”, and has nothing to do with getting people to choose less polluting cars. And defining VED as a “revenue generator” will be grist to the mill to those who believe “road tax” pays for roads (it doesn’t, roads are paid for out of general and local taxation but this doesn’t stop cyclists being verbally and physically attacked for “not paying road tax.”)

Yet this re-definition of Vehicle Excise Duty as a revenue raiser first and foremost goes against all previous advice. VED is short for GVED. GVED stands for graduated vehicle excise duty and refers to the way the more polluting the motor, the more duty levied. A car in VED band A emits less than a car in VED band M so pays zero VED.

In the 1990s, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended that VED – then charged at a flat rate – ought to be graduated in order to encourage environmentally-friendly motoring: motorists would be financially encouraged to buy less polluting cars. GVED was duly introduced in the 1998 budget. In 2006, the rate of VED for the lowest-emitting cars (<100g/km in Band A) was reduced to £0. A June 1998 technical report from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology devoted eight densely-argued pages to the environmental aspects of the recently introduced GVED:

“The March 1998 Budget included proposals for an environmentally-graduated Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) for cars, with the least-polluting cars attracting the lowest annual charge. This proposal fits with the stated aims of successive governments to use “market mechanisms” to achieve environmental goals.”

In 2008, Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee issued a report called ‘Vehicle Excise Duty as an environmental tax.’

The committee recognised that the Treasury was lukewarm on whether VED was an efficient means of generating behaviour change and noted that:

“The Treasury must develop a proper communications strategy for its green taxes, to explain the purpose behind them, to increase preparedness to pay, and to intensify the message of behavioural change they are meant to convey. It should look again at hypothecating VED revenues to areas such as public transport, or by matching levies on high emissions vehicles with discounts on low emissions vehicles. This might increase both the environmental benefits of VED changes and the level of public support for them.”

The committee added:

“We have previously examined and strongly supported the principle of using VED as an environmental tax, notably in our 2006 report on Reducing Carbon Emissions from Transport.”

The Treasury argues that VED, unlike the Climate Change Levy which was created as an environmental tax, is a “pre-existing tax…made sensitive to environmental concerns”. As such, in the eyes of the Treasury, VED has never been a real environmental tax and the new definition of what is and what isn’t an environmental tax takes VED out of the picture. Motormouths, such as Jeremy Clarkson, will no doubt latch on to the Treasury’s new definition. Thanks for nothing, Chloe.

Peugeot scraps promotional references to ‘road tax’; Fiat refuses to do likewise

iPayRoadTax.com reader Leon Rushworth scored a coup of behalf of cyclists when he refused to take ‘no’ for an answer following a complaint to car company Peugeot, which had been using the words ‘road tax’ in a promotional campaign. Peugeot has now expunged reference to the tax abolished in 1937 thanks to Rushworth explaining that some motorists use ‘you don’t pay road tax’ to infer that cyclists have lesser rights to use roads. Peugeot had been using the antique phrase on its ‘Just Add Fuel’ campaign.

Rushworth said:

“I hope we can make a difference, as changing the wording will be a forward step changing the mindset of the people who feel that ‘road tax’ actually pays for the roads.”

He stressed he was a Peugeot customer but added “the term road tax automatically alienates your campaign from most cyclists who are fed up to the back teeth arguing with uneducated motorists.”

Peugeot Customer Advisor Edward Thomas replied:

“Whilst we do make it very clear in the terms and conditions that we are referring to road fund licence [editorial note: this also died in 1937] we have decided to undertake an audit of our marketing material, to ensure that the offer is transparent to all consumers.”

After a wait with no reply, Rushworth prodded and soon got a positive response from Sebastian Avery, another Peugeot Customer Advisor, who emailed:

“Due to demand, our Just Add Fuel offer wording has recently been changed to say ‘Car tax’, instead of ‘Road tax’.”


No such luck at Fiat. Despite running an advertising campaign featuring professional road cyclists – a campaign that was originally going to drop reference to ‘road tax’ – Fiat is adamant that nobody complains about its use of a term used to hate on cyclists (despite the complaints from iPayRoadTax and many readers).

A Fiat spokesman said:

“I have had a response from my marketing department colleagues. With regards to ‘Road Tax’ we are using the colloquial term that is most commonly referred to and is most easily understood by the majority of the general public. So far, we have received no complaints or queries as to what we mean by this term. This is, therefore, not a mistake – just every-day, easily understood, language for clarity and communication. I understand that we have said in the past that we would consider refraining from using this term. However ‘VED’ is not in normal usage (and not understood) by many people, and ‘Car/Vehicle tax’ is not clear because it is either not commonly used, or could be confused with other taxes paid on new cars.”

Fiat’s advertising campaigns don’t put ‘road tax’ in just the small-print: many of the posters, newspaper ads and online ads use the long-dead term in headlines.

And don’t think a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority will make Fiat see the errors of its ways. The ASA has a boilerplate reply to all those who complain that promotion of a tax abolished three-quarters of a century ago:

“We have assessed the ad and your complaint but consider that there are insufficient grounds for ASA intervention on this occasion…As long as the content of an ad does not breach our Code, it is really up to the advertisers what they want to put in them. In this case, although we acknowledge that the correct term is “Vehicle Excise Duty”, more commonly used phrases such as “Road Tax” are often used by advertisers to convey a message in a way that will be understood by the widest audience.

“However we will continue to monitor the public response to this ad.”

The ASA gets lots of complaints about ‘road tax’ but chooses not to correct the mistake even though the organisation’s mantra is “Legal, decent, honest and truthful.”

Yes, Vehicle Excise Duty is a mouthful but ‘car tax’ or ‘vehicle tax’ isn’t. VED is not a tax to use roads, it’s a tax on motorised vehicles. And it’s not as though the ASA doesn’t know this. In an adjudication regarding the DVLA in 2007, the ASA used the phrase “car tax” throughout.


Does the fact some motorists don’t know what pays for roads bother you? Wear the iPayRoadTax jersey and tell the world! Foska.com currently has a promotion on the jerseys (£29.95 instead of £48.95) and toastie winter jackets (£49.94 instead of £99.99). The new, yellow iPayRoadTax jerseys are due in by the end of June.

Who pays for roads?

When will drivers start paying the full costs of motoring?

With more and more cars becoming less polluting, the Government can see that the revenue generated from Vehicle Excise Duty is set to decrease year by year. Car tax will no doubt be restructured to account for this but there’s also a very strong argument that motorists should pay to use the roads they damage. Many motorists believe they already pay to use roads via ‘road tax’ or the ‘road fund licence’. Both are the same thing, both were abolished in 1937. Motorists haven’t paid directly for roads since then, and only paid for two short stretches of new roads before the tax was abolished. But read the letters in the red-tops, or do a twitter search on ‘road tax’, to be confronted with ignorance of what actually pays for roads. (And hate, too, many motorists believe their payment of a pollution duty – mistakenly believed to be a ‘tax that pays for use of the roads’ – gives them more rights to be on roads than “tax dodger” cyclists, but same drivers don’t bang on about those motorists who pay zero VED).

The most vociferous proponent for road pricing is the RAC Foundation. In its latest report, published today, the RAC Foundation again calls on the Government to stand up to nay-sayers (1.8 million motorists signed a petition against road pricing in 2007) and introduce a pay-per-mile system.

Interestingly, the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which produced the report for the RAC Foundation, said:

“Road use generates costs which are borne by wider society instead of the motorist.”

Read that again. This is the RAC Foundation and the IFS admitting that motoring generates what economists call “negative externalities”. The orgs omitted “negative”, but still, this is ground-breaking stuff. Here’s more from the report:

“These ‘externalities’ mean that in the absence of taxation or pricing, there is an inefficiently high level of road use. Taxes can help bring private demands into line with the socially desirable level. Several different externalities are associated with motoring. Some, like carbon emissions from burning petrol and diesel, are easily addressed through fuel duties as the costs depend entirely on fuel use. Others, notably congestion but also the costs of noise and accidents, vary enormously according to where and when someone drives.”

The rest of the report then goes off to lobby for road pricing. The executive summary is very careful to talk about VED, rather than “road tax.”

But let’s explore those “externalities.”

The 2009 Transport Select Committee report, Taxes and Charges on Road Users, calculated the total taxes and charges on UK road users as £48 billion per annum. The report quoted the typical annual expenditure on roads as about £8-9 billion.

In the same report, the Department for Transport estimated that the average marginal external cost of driving a car an additional kilometre is 15.5 pence allowing for the congestion (estimated at 13.1 pence per kilometre), infrastructure, accidents, local air quality, noise and greenhouse gases. This compares to 3.6 pence per kilometre paid in fuel duty and VAT.

However there are other costs to society as a result of our existing car-dependent transport patterns. In 2009 a Cabinet Office Strategy Unit report on urban transport attempted to quantify the costs of our existing urban transport patterns. Working with the Department for Transport, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department of Health and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), they arrived at the costs shown here:

Costs of driving

The figures are based on the best available evidence sources, adjusted to 2009 prices. Where there is uncertainty or disagreement, they have stated the likely range as shown in lighter shading in the bars. The conclusions changed policy makers’ understanding of the situation. Previously, congestion had been thought to represent the majority of transport’s external costs to society. Now the combined costs of accidents, air quality, physical inactivity, greenhouse gas emissions and noise at £27-38 billion per annum represent 71-78 per cent of the total.

The total cost for the English urban areas is estimated at £38-49 billion. Given that the Cabinet Office’s report states that this covers 81 per cent of the population, scaling up the appropriate impacts gives an estimate of £43-£56 billion for the whole of the UK.

It is important to note that the report makes no attempt to quantify the external costs of negative social impacts, despite referring to reduced social cohesion and interaction as a result of traffic. Yet research in Norway estimated that the cost of community severance (the ‘barrier effect’ due to transport infrastructure such as busy roads) is greater than the estimated cost of noise and almost equal to the cost of air pollution.

The Cabinet Office report also excludes the impacts of noise pollution on health, productivity and the ecosystem and does not attempt to quantify ‘quality of life’ impacts of the built environment. However it acknowledges that all these areas could represent significant additional costs, mentioning for instance an additional £4-5 billion for noise impacts on health and productivity alone.

Alternatively, estimates of the marginal costs of road transport provided in a report commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions result in a higher total cost figure of £71-95 billion (in 2006 prices). This excludes the costs of physical inactivity and other as yet un-monetised costs such as severance effects and loss of tranquillity. According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Natural England, the monetary values for landscape and loss of countryside have not been calculated.

The Campaign for Better Transport extrapolates from the Government research on marginal external costs to reach a total cost of externalities of £70 billion–£95 billion per annum at prices for 2006.

The Sustainable Development Commission, a non-departmental public body (2000-2011) responsible for advising the UK Governments, concluded:

“So it would appear that the overall costs imposed on society by motoring outweigh the revenues obtained from motorists, probably very substantially.”

And the externalities of driving costs don’t include noise pollution (£3.1bn); air pollution (£19.7bn – not including CO2); water pollution (between £1bn and £16bn); or obesity (£2bn).

Subsidy for driving

But there are other, hidden subsidies, too. Donald Shoup, Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA in the US, estimates that providing free off-street car parking in the US cost a whopping $386bn in 2002 (in the same year, the US government spent $349bn on defence). As UK town planners operate to similar rules to their US counterparts – in that any major development has to have a set number of parking places, most of them unfilled but there ‘just in case’ – UK drivers get similar parking subsidies. No doubt it’s in the magnitude of many billions of pounds.

Fair’s fair. If cyclists were ever asked to contribute cash to get a “seat at the table”, to have a say in transport infrastructure decisions, any payment they made for the provision of excellent cycle facilities ought to be offset by the cost savings made by cyclists for the benefit of the economy. Going on just some of the externalities, we could be due for a rebate of somewhere in the region of £50bn. Such a rebate isn’t far-fetched. In Norway, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration pay for employees to cycle to work instead of driving. In Copenhagen the city calculates that for every kilometre a citizen on a bicycle rides, society earns 1.22 kroner [25 US cents]. For every kilometre a citizen drives in a car, society pays out .69 kroner 89 [13 US cents].”

In the UK, there is already a kind of excise tax on bicycles. A very small percentage of the money we spend in bike shops (except Halfords) is given to the Bike Hub fund. This part-pays for the Bike It cycling-to-school programme; Bike Week; the New Ideas Fund; and BikeHub.co.uk Disclaimer: I sit on the Bike Hub committee and I edit BikeHub.co.uk.

Taxes and Charges on Road Users, a 2009 report by the Transport Select Committee, said hypothecation is “the establishment of a direct link between specific taxes or charges and specific expenditure. For example, taxes levied on alcohol might be earmarked for spending on hospitals. In the UK there is no such link for taxes.”

The report said:

“the Government opposes the idea of hypothecation of tax revenues. It argues that decisions about revenue raising and spending should be kept separate for two main reasons:

• if all income were to be hypothecated, it would create severe difficulties for those services that could not readily raise revenues, such as schools, hospitals, police and defence; and
• inefficiencies would result. For example, if a large sum was raised from road users, hypothecation would dictate that it was all spent on roads (or possibly other transport modes, such as buses), even if the public priority was for more investment in, say, education.”

So, the taxes raised from motoring do not, and can not, ever go to facilities for motorists. If they did, the taxes raised by alcohol sales could be used to build bigger pubs. And married couples without children could ask for their taxes not to be spent on schools; and pacifists could ask for their taxes not to be spent on Trident nuclear submarines. Taxation doesn’t work this way.

Addison Lee to train its drivers to be cyclist-aware


I met John Griffin today. I gave him an ipayroadtax jersey (later in the day I also gave one to the editor of The Times). I don’t suppose Griffin will ever wear it (the editor of The Times told me he cycles so I’m hoping he wears his), but just because he won’t be squeezing into Lycra any time soon, doesn’t mean Griffin hasn’t taken on board some of the criticisms voiced by the boisterous #boycottaddisonlee campaign. 

Griffin is likely to be one of the Addison Lee folks to attend a cycle training course run by London cycle trainer David Dansky of Cycle Training UK. I’m hoping to tag along, too. And so will the Addison Lee PR executive, Alistair Laycock.

I had a one and a half hour meeting with Laycock. He revealed he’s been a weekend cyclist for about a year, does sportives, but had yet to brave the bike ride to the Addison Lee HQ at Euston from his home in Tooting. He’s going to start.

Laycock said Addison Lee execs were taken aback by the vehemence of the some of the #boycottaddisonlee tweets, Facebook postings, and name-calls at last week’s ‘die in’.

In retrospect he agrees it was a mistake for Add Lib, the Addison Lee corporate magazine, to poke the cyclists’ hornet nest when the real beef was with black cab taxi driver access into London’s bus lanes.

Stung by the criticism from cyclists, Addison Lee is willing to make amends, said Laycock. He has read the action plan posted on this site last week and said the company wants something good to come out of the conflict.

The existing driver training programme will be expanded to include more cycle awareness issues, and the company’s self-employed drivers will be incentivised to take the courses on offer from Cycle Training UK.

Getting drivers – any drivers – out from behind their windshields, crumple zones and airbags, and on to bicycles, is one of the ways to make them appreciate the cyclists’ point of view on road safety. We need space. When in the middle of the lane we’re not “blocking the way” because we “think we own the road”, we’re keeping clear of parked cars, not riding in the gutter and are being alert to possible pinch-points ahead. Drivers who spend a few hours on bikes, in real world traffic conditions, may take all this on board. Really, such cycle awareness ought to be in the driving test but that’s another battle.

Interestingly, Laycock said the company is evaluating the placement of front-facing video cameras in its fleet of 3700 vehicles. If these are fitted it will be easier for Addison Lee to check a driver’s eye view of an incident involving a cyclist who complains of being hit or threatened by an Addison Lee minicab (such cams could also prove that the driver was blameless).

What Addison Lee won’t do is sponsor a cycle team or put cash into a cycle charity, said Laycock.

“Since the war of words started we’ve been approached by lots of cycle concerns urging we support their cause as some sort of pennance. We’re not going to do that. It would be rightly seen as a knee-jerk reaction.

“The offer of putting drivers through cycle training is genuine. We contacted David Dansky last week to start the ball rolling.”

How could Addison Lee repair its relationship with cyclists?

All last week the media section of the Addison Lee website was topped by a press release giving John Griffin’s (law-breaking) views about his minicab drivers entering London’s bus lanes. This press release has now disappeared. This could be significant. [UPDATE: it was. Transport for London’s injunction was (mostly) successful. However, there’s still some wriggle room for Addison Lee and the company has put out a bullish press release. The court verdict gives a fascinating glimpse into the mind of John Griffin. See base of article for details]

It’s very possible that Addison Lee expects – or has been told – its defence against Transport for London’s injunction will fail. [UPDATE: it did. Mostly.]. TfL was quick off the mark when John Griffin’s infamous letter to his drivers went viral over the weekend of 14-15th April: an injunction was lodged to make Griffin withdraw his letter. I spoke to TfL yesterday and a spokesman said the injunction result was expected today or tomorrow. The withdrawal of the Addison Lee press release likely means Addison Lee knows it has lost this particular battle. The war will continue. Addison Lee has its own legal case. It applied for, and got, a judicial review on TfL’s bus lane restrictions. A decision in this case is expected later in the year.

In the meantime, John Griffin has managed to do something incredible: he has made black cab taxi drivers see eye to eye with cyclists. On the day of the #boycottaddisonlee ‘die in’, cabbies were giving way to cyclists, with a cheery wave of the hand. And cyclists were doing likewise. ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ Taxi drivers had been fighting alone against Addison Lee – their attempts to derail the Addison Lee smartphone were piecemeal, obvious and ineffective until cyclists joined in. Griffin knew he had no friends in the taxi driver community but it was an act of extreme folly to open up a second front by picking on cyclists.

Taxi drivers may never be happy with Addison Lee, but perhaps Addison Lee could build bridges with cyclists? How could the company do this? Here are a few ideas. I’d welcome more. Add them in a comments box here, or talk about them on the #boycottaddisonlee Facebook page.

The Addison Lee driver training programme is said to now incorporate a few minutes on looking out for cyclists. This should be beefed up, especially as cyclists have made it plain they view Addison Lee drivers as some of the most aggressive and dangerous on the road. All Addison Lee drivers – new and old – should have to ride in London traffic for at least half a day. This will give them some appreciation of why carapace-free cyclists get so defensive about their personal space. Taxi drivers have some appreciation of two-wheel concerns because their ‘knowledge’ training programme starts with navigating London on a moped.

John Griffin should withdraw his comment about cyclists having to “pay up” to “join the gang.” His statement about ‘road tax’ shows he believes motorists pay for roads and that “freeloaders” such as cyclists ought to start paying, too. Griffin needs to acknowledge that motorists have no greater right to the public highway than horse riders, pedestrians and cyclists. Roads are a shared national resource. One subset of road users don’t have any greater rights to use that shared public resource. Griffin can start his education here. The Addison Lee training programme should stress the point that roads are for all.

John Griffin’s point about compulsory training for cyclists seems perfectly reasonable to motorists who have all had to pass a compulsory driving test. But as the majority of cyclists are also driving licence holders the majority of cyclists are already trained to same level as those who choose to be propelled by the internal combustion engine. Griffin needs to acknowledge this. He may also wish to acknowledge that there is an existing training programme for cyclists, young and old. Perhaps Griffin would like to step away from his Bentley for a few hours and do a Bikeability course? Perhaps the Addison Lee driver training programme could involve some Bikeability training?

If Griffin can afford to drop £250,000 into the coffers of the Tory party and yet have no expectation of getting anything in return perhaps he should divert such largesse to projects with more chance of a payback? How about becoming a corporate sponsor of the London Cycling Campaign? Or funding one of London Cycling Campaign’s training schemes for elderly cyclists? (Yes, John Griffin could actually pay to make grannies less wobbly on their bikes). [Idea inspired by @cycloxoxford]



Here’s the full copy of High Court verdict in the battle between Transport for London and Addison Lee. TfL won most of its injunction but had to drop one part, leaving enough wriggle room for Addison Lee chairman John Griffin to – bizarrely – claim outright victory.

Mr Justice Eder said it was “necessary and just and convenient” to grant TfL a temporary injunction stopping Evantech/Addison Lee from “encouraging” its minicab drivers to enter London’s bus lanes. It’s temporary because there’s a Addison Lee requested judicial review on the way.

Monday’s ruling – revealed today – prevents Griffin’s company from “causing, encouraging or assisting” its minicab drivers from using London’s bus lanes.

Justice Eder said: “It seems to me that unless an injunction is granted, there is a substantial risk of significant problems [with 60,000 minicab drivers entering bus lanes].”

Addison Lee’s wriggle room comes after TfL had to jettison that part of its case which sought to force John Griffin to withdraw his original letter sent to its drivers telling them they could enter bus lanes, and that he’d pay their fines. In theory, Addison Lee drivers can now choose whether to break the law or not and Griffin’s letter is allowed to stand.

26th April 2012

TfL press release:

TfL’s High Court injunction prevents Addison Lee from instructing its drivers to use bus lanes

· Court ruling also labels Addison Lee ‘indemnity’ as void and unenforceable
· Court rejects Addison Lee claim that an instruction had not been issued
· TfL urges private hire drivers to note the ruling and continue to obey the law

Following a ruling from the High Court today (Thursday 26 April) Addison Lee is prevented from instructing or encouraging its drivers to drive in bus lanes and must remove the statement on its website instructing drivers to do so.

The Court also declared that the ‘indemnity’ Addison Lee issued to its drivers on 14 April offering to pay for fines and other costs when they drove in bus lanes was “void and unenforceable“, and cannot be repeated.

Leon Daniels, TfL’s Managing Director of Surface Transport, said:

“Today’s judgment prevents Addison Lee from instructing or encouraging its drivers to drive in bus lanes in London. The court felt compelled to grant an injunction because of the substantial risk of Addison Lee taking action that could result in the law being broken. We maintain that Addison Lee’s instruction to its drivers was irresponsible and at odds with its position as a private hire operator.

“Bus lanes enable buses to move around the capital efficiently carrying more than six million passengers a day. We maintain that allowing tens of thousands of Private Hire Vehicles to drive in bus lanes would impact on the reliability of our bus services, and risks inconveniencing our customers.”

The interim injunction will remain in place until judicial review proceedings, on the issues of private hire in bus lanes, conclude.

Despite the instruction from Addison Lee we are pleased to see that, last week the vast majority of private hire drivers continued to obey the law and not drive in bus lanes.


Here’s the bluff-and-bluster press release from Addison Lee:

TfL fails to succeed in its bid to muzzle Addison Lee over bus lanes

Transport for London has been forced to abandon its application for a mandatory injunction requiring Addison Lee and its chairman John Griffin to withdraw their letter to drivers stating that they are entitled to drive in London bus lanes and to send out a further letter instructing them not to do so.

Mr Justice Eder, who handed down judgment today following a High Court hearing on Monday 23 April 2002, has instead confirmed that it is for drivers to choose whether or not they drive in bus lanes pending the resolution of Addison Lee’s legal challenge to the validity of the bus lane legislation.

The judge noted Addison Lee’s argument that the bus lane legislation as it stands constitutes “flagrant discrimination in favour of black cabs” and against private hire vehicles and that this “gave black cabs a significant unfair competitive advantage causing [private hire vehicle] drivers significant loss”. The Judge recognised the urgency of the problem by ordering that Addison Lee’s claim should be expedited so that it is determined by the High Court before the Olympic Games.

In the meantime, the Court has confirmed that it would be entirely lawful for Addison Lee to decide, after any fine has been imposed on a driver for driving in a bus lane, to reimburse that driver in respect of the fine should it wish to do so.

John Griffin, chairman of Addison Lee said: “This is a great start to our campaign to challenge the unfair bus lane legislation. We hope to fully overturn the legislation to offer faster journey times to our customers and to offer a competitive transport service during the Olympic Games.”

Who pays for roads?

Motorists pay for roads, yes? No. All tax payers pay for roads, not just motorists. Those who pay income tax and those who pay council tax are the ones who pay for roads, and that’s not just motorists. And anybody who buys anything in Britain also helps to pay for roads because VAT also contributes to the national coffers. Businesses which pay business rates also contribute into the national coffers. And that’s where the money for roads comes from: the consolidated fund, the treasury’s pot of cash that pays for everything. No taxation in the UK is ring-fenced i.e raised by one set of users, and spent on that set of users. But what about ‘road tax’? Clearly, the name says it all, you might think, it’s a tax that pays for roads! Sorry, no, ‘road tax’ doesn’t actually exist. It was abolished in 1937, along with the ‘road fund licence’. It’s now car tax, a UK tax on tailpipe CO2 emissions above 100gm per km*. It’s not now, and never has been, a fee to use roads.

Despite being 75 years past its sell-by date ‘road tax’ is a term that refuses to go to where the other long-gone duties have gone (anybody out there still paying ‘window tax’, abolished 1851)? Anyway, no big deal: ‘road’ and ‘tax’, just two little words. But, for the few minutes it’ll take to read the rest of this short article, let’s imagine ‘road tax’ did exist. If it existed, who would pay it, and who wouldn’t, and why?

1. Drivers who own the Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI Bluemotion 105 don’t pay ‘road tax’*:

2. Drivers who own the new Volvo V40 won’t pay ‘road tax’*:

3. More than one million disabled drivers don’t pay ‘road tax’:

4. Children don’t pay ‘road tax’ even though they sometimes have to use roads when walking or cycling to school:

5. Horses don’t pay ‘road tax’, even though they use roads and have most definite tailpipe emissions:

6. Electric vehicles don’t pay ‘road tax’:

7. Tractors don’t pay ‘road tax’:

8. Cyclists don’t pay ‘road tax’:

9. Police cars don’t pay ‘road tax’:

10. The owner of this Rolls Royce does not have to pay ‘road tax’ because it was built before 1973. Motorists with pre-1973 cars don’t pay ‘road tax’:

MORE SUBSIDIES: Band A motorists, disabled drivers, police cars and tractors and so forth are supplied with tax discs showing they pay zero for their ‘road tax’. A Freedom of Information request found that the cost of a tax disc is £1.47 for those bought at a Post Office, and 95p for those bought online.

But let’s keep it simple and say the cost to print, distribute and sell each car tax disc is a quid. There are about 2 million vehicles which don’t pay car tax. That’s two million quid of subsidy to get tax discs to those who don’t pay for them. Hang on, though, the DVLA charges £7 for a replacement tax disc so scrub the quid-per-disc figure, let’s be more realistic and calculate some costs using £5 per disc: those motorists who pay nowt for their car tax are actually subsidised by £10m.

MOBILITY SCOOTERS CAN TRAVEL AT 8MPH & ARE ALLOWED ON DUAL CARRIAGEWAYS: Class 3 invalid carriages are allowed on roads, but are limited to 8mph. According to the DVLA, “You don’t have to pay vehicle tax for any mobility scooter or powered wheelchair, but you still need to register class 3 invalid carriages and display a ‘nil value’ tax disc.” The Department for Transport adds: “You can’t drive on bus lanes, ‘cycle only’ cycle lanes and motorways.” But despite what newspapers may think, mobility scooters can be driven on trunk roads, although the DfT advises: “You should avoid using dual carriageways with a speed limit of over 50mph….If you do use it on a dual carriageway, you must use an amber flashing light for visibility.”

MOTORISTS WHO WANT CYCLISTS TO PAY ‘ROAD TAX’ WOULD PAY MORE ‘ROAD TAX’: Some motorists want cyclists to “get off the road” until they pay ‘road tax’. Do they realise that bicycles, as non-polluting vehicles, would be classified as Band A vehicles and hence would have to pay the same as cars that pay nothing for their ‘road tax’? With 25 million bicycles in ownership, that would be £125m to get each bicycle a valid tax disc. Do motorists really want to pay a lot extra for their car tax to subsidise registration and duty compliance for millions of bicycles?

‘Road tax’ is car tax, a tax on car emissions. Its full and proper name is graduated vehicle excise duty, VED for short. VED, car tax, vehicle tax, whatever you want to call it, is not a fee to use the road. Much more info on this here.

If you’re now confused, thinking ‘if road tax doesn’t exist, what pays for all that tarmac I drive on?’, there’s a simple answer to this: roads are paid for out of general and local taxation. Motorists don’t pay for roads, we all pay for roads. We all have equal right to use those roads.

YOU OWN A CAR, NOT THE ROAD: Payment of ‘road tax’ does not give anyone the right to demand “their” roads are pothole-free, widened to allow greater speed or ‘improved’ in any way. Paying a few hundred quid a year – even if ‘road tax’ did exist – wouldn’t go anywhere near paying a fair proportion of the negative externalities of mass motoring.

Those who believe VED is fee to use roads sometimes use the seemingly-convincing ‘off-road’ argument:

“Doesn’t matter what you call it, VED/car tax/’road tax’, it’s a fee to use the public road because if you don’t pay it, you can’t drive on the public road. For instance, if I elect to use a vehicle off-road, I don’t need to pay VED. If I then choose to use the vehicle on a road, I would have to pay VED. If the vehicle emitted a certain amount of CO2, then yes that VED is currently free, but I would still have to get and display a tax disc in order to use the car on the road.”

But car tax isn’t a fee to use the road, it’s very much a tax on car emissions. Many cars, which use the public road, do not pay any ‘car tax’ because they emit less than 100gms of CO2. If car tax was a fee to use roads, electric cars and low-emissions cars wouldn’t be able to drive on UK roads.

Nor is it true that vehicles that will be driven off-the-public-highway – on private roads – don’t have to pay Vehicle Excise Duty.

VED is charged under section 1 of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994, as amended, “in respect of every mechanically propelled vehicle that … is used, or kept, on any public road in the United Kingdom”. For England, Wales and Northern Ireland ‘public road’ is defined in section 62(1) of the 1994 Act as “a road which is repairable at the public expense”; for Scotland a public road is defined in section 151 of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, as amended, as “a road which a roads authority have a duty to maintain”. However, the DVLA has powers to clamp vehicles that are not on the public road if they are in breach of the VED continuous registration requirements. The explanatory notes to the Vehicle Excise Duty (Immobilisation, Removal and Disposal of Vehicles) (Amendment) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/2266) state:

The policy intention is to prevent evaders of vehicle excise duty from using off-road areas such as unadopted roads, commons, public car parks or roads maintained by Housing Associations to place themselves beyond the reach of the enforcement authorities.

Farmers can get ‘agricultural use’ exemptions from VED for their Land Rovers, so long as they only travel a mile or so on public highways. And in one special circumstance, cars which emit loads of CO2 can still drive on UK public roads without paying car tax. But only for a short distance. When a SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification) vehicle is going to a pre-arranged MOT test, and the vehicle has valid insurance for the journey, it can be driven on public roads without paying a penny for use of those roads.

Furthermore, if a car is registered in the UK but is never driven in the UK it still has to pay the UK’s Vehicle Excise Duty. So, a UK-bought car driven in France by a UK-born person who’s moved to France permanently, may never drive on UK roads but the car still has to pay VED. This is because it’s a tax on the car, not a fee to use the roads.


* Other cars which don’t pay ‘road tax’ (apart from all cars, because ‘road tax’ doesn’t exist) include:

Kia Picanto • Fiat 500 • Peugeot 207 • Ford Fiesta 1.6 TDCi 95 Econetic • Vauxhall Corsa 1.3 CDTi ecoFLEX • Audi A1 1.6 TDI • MINI One 1.6 • Citroen DS3 1.6 e-HDi • Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TDI Bluemotion
MINI Cooper D 1.6 • Volvo C30 1.6 DRIVe • Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI Bluemotion 105 • Audi A3 1.6 TDI Stop/Start • Volvo V50 1.6 DRIVe

All of these cars are in Vehicle Excise Duty band A because they emit less than 100gms of CO2 per km. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders there are currently 65,000 such band A vehicles driving on the roads of the UK. However, because the number of these low emission cars is rising, the Government is losing out on loads of lolly. This can’t go on. At some point the Government will reduce the CO2 threshold. In this ‘road tax to be hiked’ story Auto Express magazine claims that senior motor industry figures predict the Government will reduce the threshold to 85g/km: “Industry insiders suggest only cars emitting 85g/km and below would be exempt in 2016 – excluding Ford’s new 87g/km Fiesta ECOnetic – and that this will be cut annually to 2020.”


This piece was inspired by a robust – and rude – posting on the forum of moneysavingexpert.com (so rude and sweary it appears to have been deleted). Pic of children from Heatherton.

Oh dear, Addison Lee’s £23m smartphone app appears to be getting a roasting

Paging Gerald Ratner! Paging Gerald Ratner!

[UPDATE: Addison Lee has updated its app and this has nudged up the star rating from one-and-a-half stars to two-and-a-half stars. The 250+ bad reviews are now shunted backwards, leaving a shiny new space for some more comments. UPDATE ON THE UPDATE: At 16.30 on Monday 23rd April, the app was back to being a one-star failure, a word-of-mouth train wreck. And by Thursday 26th April even the new app had had nearly 150 reviews, about 99 percent of which were scathing. This will hurt more than Addison Lee lets on: in an interview with the FT last year, Addison Lee boss John Griffin said: “we feel that word of mouth is the best form of advertising. By Wednesday 25th April there had been 400+ negative reviews left on the iTunes store for the Addison Lee iPhone app.”]. Last Monday’s ‘die in’ at the Addison Lee HQ lasted an hour or so, and was in response to John Griffin’s misjudged comments.

Addison Lee may have a thick corporate skin but it can’t fail to be worried by the scathing reviews of its business on places like Yelp, Google, and, most especially, the bad reviews now appearing for its smartphone app developed in Russia. (See base of article for tech info on the Addison Lee app and check out these ideas for how Addison Lee could build bridges with cyclists).

The Addison Lee CEO is certainly proud of his company’s app. It generated £23m in fares last year. But following this #boycottaddisonlee heads-up on BikeBiz.com, it appears that the app’s rating on both iTunes and Google Play is heading to the dreaded ‘one star mark of shame’ (there’s also a Windows 7 version: users, you know what to do). And the reviews, oh, the reviews, they’re devastating.

John Griffin: read ’em and weep:

And, on Android…

ADDISON LEE: From Russia with not much love for cyclists

All credit to Addison Lee, the company did the right thing to bring out an update. For a few hours the app had a few of its star-ratings back. But good ol’ social media soon pegged the app back to where it belongs: at just one star, the lowest rating possible. And there have been many more bad reviews. A few 5 star ratings and positive reviews were very likely left by Addison Lee staffers, or perhaps the app dev team in Russia.

Addison Lee’s tech is done by Haulmont Technology, which outsources its coding to Samara in Russia, home of the Samara State Aerospace University.

According to a 2009 article in Computing magazine, 16,000 companies hold corporate accounts with Addison Lee including 50 percent of the FTSE 100 companies.

Over the past week Addison Lee been able to make buddies out of black cab taxi drivers and cyclists. Earlier it cheesed off UK tech firms, when IT director Peter Ingram told Computing British coders were too expensive:

“[Our Russian developers] are bloody hard working and are appreciative of the opportunities offered by working on our projects. The cost of living in Russia is lower than the UK, so they are a lot less expensive to use than British developers.”

This relative cheapness likely means there will be more updates from Addison Lee, and more faux reviews from Addison Lee staffers. Although the company’s 3500 “self-employed” drivers don’t appear to be creating 5-star reviews for their “client”. Could it be because of treatment such as this?