[UPDATE] Speeding killer driver given lenient sentence; BBC reporter belittles death of the cyclist, says “[cyclists] don’t pay road tax”

Kevin Hill, Assistant Editor of BBC East Midlands Today, has sent out a boilerplate answer to all those who complained about a road death story broadcast in mid-April. He admits that the presenter at fault could have asked the “road tax” question “more carefully” and then gives what he believes to be the more carefully constructed question. This second question is also factually incorrect.

Thank you for contacting us about our story involving Karl Austin who was killed while taking part in a time trial on the A50 in Derbyshire. I was producing East Midlands Today on that day and I’d like to offer some background information which should give you a fuller picture of our decisions.

In the light of recent deaths, the sole purpose of the interview was to discuss the use of busy main roads for cycling time-trials and every question was asked in that context. Many people have judged the entire interview on one selective clip posted on several internet sites including YouTube.

In that clip our presenter puts forward a common criticism many motorists have of cyclists that since they don’t pay “Road Tax” how do they justify using the highway? “Road Tax” was a colloquial reference to Vehicle Excise Duty. With hindsight we accept the question should have been phrased more carefully. It would have been better to ask: “Many motorists will say they’re taxed to drive their car and they’re not allowed to race on the roads – why should cyclists?” [my emphasis]

The interviewee – John Stewart – was given the time to correct the misconceptions about “Road Tax”, pointing out that the tax no longer exists, that VED doesn’t pay for road maintenance and that cyclists pay all sorts of other taxes.

You may not be aware that this was the second time we’d reported on Karl’s death. On March 6, the lorry driver accused of careless driving appeared pleaded guilty when he appeared before Derby Magistrates. In that night’s programme we carried a report on the case, then followed it with a studio interview about the growing demands for greater safety measures to protect cyclists. I believe this sequence put the issue of cycling safety into context for our viewers. It also painted a picture of Karl as a talented, experienced cyclist who would be deeply missed by his family and friends.

On April 12, we featured a report about the sentence given to the lorry driver who caused Karl’s death. This was followed by an interview with Mr Stewart, who organised and took part in the time trial in which Karl was killed. The reason for looking at this subject was simple: many people are just unaware that time trials can be held on almost any public road. At a time when there are high-profile calls for greater safety for cyclists – as discussed at length in our March 6th programme – the idea of using a dual carriageway for a timed race appears to be contradictory.

I have re-examined all our coverage of this story including the interview with Mr Stewart and I don’t believe it was an aggressive line of questioning. It was certainly challenging but Mr Stewart responded calmly and robustly. I do not agree with those people who have accused us of insulting Karl’s memory. On two separate occasions, our court reporters have carefully explained that Mr Austin loved his sport, was highly-regarded as a competitor and would be missed by his family. We have remained in contact with Mr Austin’s widow and father and I will be talking to them again over the next few days to discuss any concerns they may have had over our latest coverage.

Thank you for contacting us,

Regards,

Kevin Hill
Assistant Editor

I replied.

Hi Kevin

Thanks for the reply.

Your second attempt at the question would also be wrong.

A. Motorists are taxed on the emission levels their cars emit. A car can be stood still all year round but the VED would be the same. The common mistake people make is to think that VED is some sort of fee to use roads, when it’s nothing of the kind.

B. Technically, motorists *can* race on the public highway, under certain conditions, see ‘road rally’.

Your presenter voiced a common criticism that’s factually incorrect and he didn’t state it was factually incorrect.

Yes, the guest was then able to correct the presenter but the way the question was phrased showed a lack of understanding of the basic issues of what can and cannot be legally done on roads. The question was also crass and, in the context of a road death, was unsympathetic. More research should have been carried out by the presenter beforehand.

Was the question formulated and agreed in advance or was it asked ‘on the fly’?

Here’s the beef: if this had been a news story about a person being killed when crossing the road while taking part in, say, a sponsored walk, a BBC reporter would not question whether that person had paid to use that road and as pedestrians don’t pay “road tax” they shouldn’t be on roads. The full background to this story is carried below.

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Put a lit rag on a furniture shop sofa: 11 years in jail. Change your Facebook status to “let’s start a riot”: four months in jail. Kill a cyclist with a truck, admit to speeding and dangerous driving: suspended sentence and a two year driving ban. It’s against this background that we should view last night’s ignorant and insensitive question by a BBC reporter, interviewing the organiser of the time trial event at which 47-year old Karl Austin lost his life. More on this below.

The sentence handed down to the 62-year old HGV driver was, in fact, severe compared to similar SMIDSY cases. Many drivers who kill dispute they were driving dangerously (even if they are caught speeding or texting at the wheel) and are often charged with the lesser offence of careless driving, with slap-in-the-wrist sentencing that makes a mockery of the justice system.

Karl Austin was killed in broad daylight, on a long, flat stretch of road with good visibility at the time. His death occurred on the A50 dual carriageway in June 2011. Yesterday the speeding HGV driver who killed him was sentenced at Derby Crown Court. The judge told the driver he had been guilty of “an appalling loss of concentration” but did not hand down a sentence that might send out a message to other drivers, a message that motoring requires 100 percent concentration and that if you kill a fellow human because of inattention you ought to be automatically charged with, at the very least, involuntary manslaughter.

Motor vehicles are heavy, fast and, in far too many cases, deadly. Inattention while operating a piece of machinery that can kill should carry a stiff penalty.

Yet Judge Michael Fowler told the driver:

“Passing a draconian sentence on you doesn’t in any way honour the death of Karl Austin.”

Huh? Sentences are not there to honour the dead, they are there to punish wrong doing and deter others from committing similar crimes.

According to @kayaburgess of The Times, Austin’s father Keith said: “Our hope that a stiff sentence would send out a signal…that more care was needed where cyclists are concerned has been dashed.”

Keith Austin was “quite appalled” at the sentence but had been prepared for such a “lenient” decision.

Lawyer Martin Porter, ‘The Cycling Silk’, has a thoughtful and considered article on sentencing for SMIDSY motorists on his blog.

He writes:

“Motorists must have brought home to them that the consequences of failing to drive carefully around a vulnerable road user could be very severe for them, as well as to the person they endanger.”

It’s not just cyclists who suffer from the consequences of “inattention”, it’s pedestrians and, of course, other motorists, too.

A news report on BBC East Midlands Today [BBC iPlayer link] allowed Austin’s family to make many of these points, and the outside broadcast reporter filed a relatively balanced piece. However, back in the studio, the programme’s co-host asked a guest an incredibly insensitive and ignorant question about the rights of cyclists to ride on roads.

BBC East Midlands Today’s chief reporter Quentin Rayner told John Stewart, a cycling club official: “[cyclists] don’t pay any road tax, how do you justify using the highway?”

Stewart calmly countered with facts, but why did Rayner – he’s no Paxman – ask such a question? Does Rayner genuinely believe roads are paid for by a tax abolished in 1937? And, further, does he really believe cyclists shouldn’t ride on highways if they haven’t paid this non-existent tax?

The use of the phrase “road tax” is no big deal, it’s a term in common use. The Post Office and the AA and other organisations now use the more accurate term ‘car tax’ but, still, it would be mere semantics to criticise somebody for using a colloquial term. However, it’s not semantics when the person or organisation using the term for a tax that was abolished in 1937 believes that payment of this “road tax” pays for roads and gives those who they believe pay this tax more right to be on the road than cyclists, who, it’s assumed, don’t pay this tax.

Car tax, or vehicle excise duty, is a tax on tail-pipe emissions, it’s not a fee to use the road. Many small cars emit low amounts of CO2 so don’t pay vehicle excise duty. Roads are paid for by general and local taxation, not VED. Millions of drivers don’t pay VED. Accusing cyclists of not paying “road tax” is an attempt to assert that cyclists have lesser rights to be on roads, or no rights at all. This is a point of view that endangers cyclists who are often verbally and physically abused by motorists for “not paying road tax.”

Quentin Rayner should apologise to the family of Karl Austin for asking his ignorant and insensitive question. He should also apologise for not questioning why killer drivers seem to get pitifully low sentences.

Government minister sticks to his mistaken claim that motorists pay for roads

Mike Penning Roads Minister

Such a view would be disturbing if it was a junior minister in the foreign office. What makes it shocking is that the MP who holds this view is the Minister for Roads. At a meeting in parliament yesterday I asked the minister if he would retract a statement from last year when he had claimed “the motorist…predominantly pays for our roads.”

I assumed Mike Penning, MP for Hemel Hempstead, would retract his earlier statement. It was but a tiny part of a much longer speech on his love for motorsport. My story would have been ‘Minister backtracks on roads funding mistake and states official DfT line.’

Instead, he stuck to his guns. I taped the exchange. Listen below. It’s just under four minutes long. (The person saying “hypothecation” to the minister is Lord Hoffman, the former Law Lord).

I asked the minister, what pays for roads. He answered:

“Tax. Fuel duty and VED…Yes, it’s hypothecation but a percentage of it does come back in. I stand by it then, I stand by it now. The fact that someone pays for something doesn’t give them rights, it just means they contributed to it…I want to protect cyclists as much as possible but at the same time I also passionately believe the motorist in this country does pay for an awful lot of the service on the road.”

Before he shut down my questioning, I would have liked to ask the minister if his officials in the Department for Transport have ever briefed him on the funding of roads? The UK Government has a long-standing policy on the heresy of taxation ring-fencing. The dedication of the revenue of a specific tax for a specific expenditure purpose is rare. The main UK example of hypothecation is the TV licence fee, a ring-fencing of funds for the BBC.

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.”

Penning came into yesterday’s meeting – staged by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, and chaired by Julian Huppert, the MP for Cambridge – ahead of one of his DfT aides and claimed he hadn’t seen the list of questions that meeting attendees had been asked to submit in advance.

Penning’s quick and erroneous defence of his statement of March 2011 should therefore be seen as his personal views, and would not be backed up by officials in the Department for Transport.

The official policy of the Policy and External Communications Directorate of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, an executive agency of the Department for Transport, is this:

“There has been no direct relationship between vehicle tax and road expenditure since 1937.”

The money paid by motorists does not go back directly to motorists. If it did, all hell would break loose. Interest groups of all creeds and colours would start demanding “their” tax contributions should only go to fund “their” projects. Society does not work that way; can not work that way.

There are no taxation opt-outs: married couples without kids cannot strike out the amount of tax that pays for schools; pacifists cannot strike out the amount of tax that goes on defence spending. And motorists can’t successfully demand that the money they give to the Government is given straight back to them in the shape of smoother, less congested roads.

Roads are a shared national resource, paid for by all taxpayers, not just motorists. The public highway is, by definition, for the benefit of the public, not a sub-set of the public.

In other words, to motorists it needs to be stressed: “You own a car, not the road.”

One of the first Tory MPs to realise that motorists will assert assumed rights to a road network they think they have paid for was Winston Churchill.

In 1926, he wanted to scrap the Road Fund, a pot of cash contributed by motorists and used to repair – not build – a few stretches of road in the 1920s.

To a deputation of rural interests, Churchill said his proposed abolition of the Road Fund was not anti-motorist:

“Let me say clearly, I have an expensive motor car, and use it a great deal, and I have nothing personal in my argument – I am speaking from a detached point of view.”

Churchill’s opposition to the Road Fund was largely financial – taxation ring-fencing was heretical then just as it is heretical today – but not exclusively so. Fearing motorists would lay claim to roads by dint of paying for a small portion of their repair, he wrote:

“It will be only a step from this for [motorists] to claim in a few years the moral ownership of the roads their contributions have created.”

WinstonChurchill1925CommonSense

In a note to Churchill by the man who had pushed Lloyd George to make the ring-fencing pledge to motorists in the first place, Austen Chamberlain wrote:

“I certainly never imagined such a statement could be construed by any sensible man as binding on Governments or Parliament with no regard to time or circumstances.”

In 1927, the Treasury noted that the main supporters of the Road Fund were private motoring organisations who wanted road improvements not for the good of the country but to drive faster: “it is clearly absurd that the State should be asked to provide large and ever-increasing sums for what are virtually pleasure racing tracks.”

The Road Fund was drained of cash in 1927 and finally abolished in 1937.

Belief in the continued existence of ‘road tax’ and the Road Fund was heavily engrained at the highest levels. Conservative MP Colonel JTC Moore Brabazon, Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Transport in 1923-7, and even Minister for Transport in 1940-1, said in a 1932 speech in the House of Commons, that money that went to the Road Fund was

“motorists’ money. It is not Imperial taxation. It is money that comes from the motorists, to be spent on one definite thing, namely the roads.”

In this view – a view shared by Penning – Moore Brabazon was wrong. All tax payers pay for roads, just as all tax payers pay for hospitals and all tax payers pay for schools. Fuel duty and vehicle excise duty is paid into the consolidated fund – the national coffers – and is not, and can not, be used to pay for roads directly. Saying “motorists pay for roads” is the same as saying that “smokers pay for roads”. Indirectly, both do. And that’s the point: motorists do not pay directly for roads.

Motorists are taxed on buying and using their vehicles. VED is not a tax on roads, it’s now a tax on emissions: cars which spew the most CO2 pay the most Vehicle Excise Duty. Cars which spew less CO2, pay less VED. Cars in VED band A pay zero duty.

Tax-payers – some of whom own cars, some of whom don’t – pay for roads. Roads are paid for out of general and local taxation.

It’s important for ministers to get their facts right on this issue. Why? Because it’s an issue that causes danger for one class of road user: cyclists. Some motorists believe cyclists “don’t pay road tax” and have lesser rights to be on roads. This can lead to animosity towards cyclists, and even violence. And it’s doubly important for the Minister for Roads to get this right: he’s no longer a lone MP, he’s a minister of the crown and should recite official DfT policy.

Mike Penning is not a nuanced, shades-of-grey politician. A former soldier and fireman, he’s blunt and bruising. He’s also in a position of power and ought to be on top of his brief. On what and who pays for roads, he’s wrong. This is worrying.

Responding to this article, via Twitter, Julian Huppert MP said: “Ministers don’t have to come to APPGs. I want them to keep coming so we can change their minds on issues like this.”

My response was that shy bairns get nowt, and the minister should be held to account when he gets something factually wrong. Mike Penning may think his statement that motorists pay for roads is a non-issue but it’s not. The intimidation of cyclists for “not paying road tax” is a common occurrence. Penning is Minister for Roads (and road safety) not Minister for Cars.

Click to listen to the whole meeting: it’s 42 minutes long and includes questions asked by CTC and British Cycling on the DfTs ‘trial’ of longer lorries.

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Does the fact the Minister for Roads doesn’t seem terribly au fait with what actually pays for roads bother you? Wear the iPayRoadTax jersey and tell the world!

Page, turn a new leaf, learn about how roads are *really* funded

Through the centre of traffic

Lewis Page is an intelligent bloke. He writes for The Guardian, Prospect and is a staffer on tech site The Register.

An officer in the Royal Navy from 1993 to 2004, he’s siwritten books, such as Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs, a forensic polemic about financial waste in the armed forces.

Page, then, is bright. He isn’t yer typical Daily Fail forum looney.

Which makes it even more worrying that an intelligent, bright journalist, who feels he can write about transport matters, doesn’t appear to know the first thing about how roads are funded.

In a piece for The Register on a traffic light report from the RAC Foundation, Page swallows the RAC Foundation line that congestion isn’t caused by lots and lots of cars but lots and lots of traffic lights:

…the past decade’s push to increase convenience and safety for pedestrians (especially disabled ones), while at the same time an effective UK moratorium on new road construction has crept in, is largely responsible for the escalating road congestion seen by motorists in recent years.

He continues, and reveals his ignorance of how roads are funded:

This might justifiably annoy motorists, as it is they who pay for the streets and roads. So far from helping pay for the infrastructure they use (and destroy, and block up), buses are heavily subsidised: cyclists and pedestrians use the facilities for free. But the roads budget (no more than £15bn annually) is dwarfed by the revenues received by the government from road tax and fuel duty (£46bn as of last year).

Commenters on The Register are pointing out Page’s error about roads funding but the piece remains uncorrected.

So, for Page’s benefit, here are two articles that will bring him up to speed on the topic he’s chosen to dabble in.

History of ‘road tax’ and why it was abolished in 1937.

Why isn’t beer tax used to build better pubs, or tobacco tax used to tart up newsagents?

Those articles are quite long and detailed. If he prefers, Page could watch this short video instead. Bonus: it includes a debunking of the tired and inaccurate £46bn stat.

Shock news: Tax Payers’ Alliance nearly accurate

Last year, the right-wing Tax Payers’ Alliance railed against ‘road tax’. Following iPayRoadTax.com complaints the “independent, non-partisan” organisation now rails against Vehicle Excise Duty.

Sadly, when regurgitating parts of the TPA’s press release, The Sun yesterday went off-script and ranted about “road tax”, a tax abolished in 1937.

MOTORISTS pay for their road use more than twice over in tax to the Government, The Sun can reveal.

Less than half the cash demanded by Whitehall from drivers gets ploughed back into road costs, leaving them subsidising the rest of Britain.

A total of £30billion is paid annually in fuel and road tax.

Ignoring the fact that The Sun’s graphic artist can’t use a calculator, the basic argument that motorists “subsidise the rest of Britain” is disengenous. Taxation is not ring-fenced. Tax raised by one activity or one subset of people does not go back to that activity or that subset of people.

As is explained elsewhere, the money paid by motorists does not have to go back to motorists. If it did, all hell would break loose. Interest groups of all creeds and colours would start demanding “their” tax contributions should only go to fund “their” projects. Society does not work that way; cannot work that way.

There are no taxation opt-outs: married couples without kids cannot strike out the amount of tax that pays for schools; pacifists cannot strike out the amount of tax that goes on defence spending. And motorists can’t successfully demand that the money they give to the Government is given straight back to them in the shape of smoother, less congested roads.

If you come across such arguments the simple answer is this: Airline passengers pay taxes when they fly from British airports but nobody suggests all this money should go to building more runways. It’s the same for booze: taxes levied on drinkers do not get spent on creating bigger, swankier pubs.

The Tax Payers’ Alliance seems to be getting a little better at understanding how taxation works. Its director, Mr Genghis Khan, even allows his policy wonks to talk about Pigovian taxes and the hidden externalities of mass motoring. In this report – upon which The Sun based yesterday’s article – the TPA, accurately, used “Vehicle Excise Duty” and “motoring taxes” throughout. All except on the final graphic: old habits die hard and it slipped in one small mention of “road taxes.”

Nearly accurate: for the TPA that’s quite some achievement.

Why isn’t beer tax used to build better pubs, or tobacco tax used to tart up newsagents?

BoozeFags

Alcohol and cigarettes are heavily taxed by the UK government. Drinkers and smokers pay big-time for their tipples and their filter tips. But why aren’t the billions raised by duties on booze and ciggies spent on bigger and better pubs, and swankier tobacco emporiums?

Because taxation ring-fencing is heretical, that’s why. The dedication of the revenue of a specific tax for a specific expenditure purpose is rare. The main UK example is the TV licence fee, a ring-fencing of funds for the BBC.

While it’s patently daft to argue that booze and fag taxes should be spent on improving pubs and building bigger tobacco shops, the exact same argument is wheeled out by some motoring organisations. They argue that the taxes levied on motorists should be spent only on…motorists.

Investigative TV programmes fall into the same trap. On Thursday, ITV’s Tonight programme wondered aloud why the duties paid by motorists aren’t all spent on roads.

The Tonight reporter said he could reveal that £47bn was raised in taxes but only a fraction of this was “spent on roads”. This ‘exclusive’ was attributed to the Road Users’ Alliance, and portrayed as though the statistic was new and shocking. In fact, the RUA has been using the same basic ‘only a fraction spent on roads’ stat since the alliance was founded in 2002.

“The Government raises almost £50 billion from motorists, and returns less than one fifth of this in spending which directly benefits the road user,” is the standard ring-fencing refrain from the RUA.

rua

What the RUA fails to stress – an error repeated by the ‘investigative’ TV programme – is that the money generated by motorists is NOT a fund to repair roads and build new ones; it’s money that goes straight into the national pot, the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund, the public purse.

Airline passengers pay taxes when they fly from British airports but nobody suggests all this money should go to building more runways. Ditto for pubs and tobacconists. The pub analogy used above isn’t new. Winston Churchill railed against ‘Road Fund’ ring-fencing in much the same way. In 1925, when Chancellor, Churchill said:

“Entertainments may be taxed; public houses may be taxed; racehorses may be taxed…and the yield devoted to the general revenue. But motorists are to be privileged for all time to have the whole yield of the tax on motors devoted to roads. Obviously this is all nonsense…Such contentions are absurd, and constitute…an outrage upon the sovereignty of Parliament and upon common sense.”

The ring-fencing had been started by Lloyd George in 1909, with ‘road tax’ and fuel duties pumped into a hypothecated Road Fund. For 17 or so years, motorists paid into a protected fund which helped pay for some road crust improvements and a handful of road realignments.

WinstonChurchill1925CommonSense

But such ring-fencing was always controversial; to the Treasury anathama. Churchill wanted to quash the Road Fund. He – and the Treasury – plotted against it. Churchill famously made ‘raids on the Road Fund’ in the mid-1920s, all but killing it off. By 1937, the Road Fund – which had been fatally wounded ten years previously – was finally abolished. Amazingly, the concept of a Road Fund, paid for by ‘road tax’ (still, wrongly, believed to be a payment for the upkeep of roads) has lingered on in the folk memory of motorists.

In a comment to a Bristol newspaper on Saturday, Hugh Bladon from the Association of British Drivers, used the phrase ‘road fund licence’, a concept 74 years dead.

Many other motorists – perhaps even the majority? – still believe that ‘road tax’ exists, and demand that the duties paid by motorists should be ploughed into fixing potholes, widening dual carriageways and adding to the UK’s motorway network. In reality, everybody pays for Britain’s roads via general taxation. Paying fuel taxes and Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) confers on motorists no right to the use of Britain’s roads. Motorists are allowed to use roads ‘under licence’, not as ‘a right’.

Motorists do not pay for use of the roads, motorists are taxed on buying and using their vehicles. VED is not a tax on roads, it’s now a tax on emissions: cars which spew the most CO2 pay the most Vehicle Excise Duty. Cars which spew less CO2, pay less VED. Cars in VED band A pay zero duty.

Motorists are not the only users of public roads. Pedestrians, cyclists, and horse-riders also use public roads. So do farm tractors but, even though they’re heavy and so damage roads, they do not pay Vehicle Excise Duty. They have to display tax discs, but these are issued free of charge. Motorists have been filmed attacking cyclists for “not paying road tax” yet there are no known cases of motorists attacking farmers for the same perceived ‘crime’. And nor do motorists attack band A cars, disabled drivers, the Royal family, or other “road tax dodgers” out there, of which there are millions.

UK motorways and trunk roads are paid for with cash supplied by the Highways Agency via the Department of Transport via the public purse via all UK tax payers; all other roads – that is, 87 percent of all the roads in the UK – are paid for by local authorities. Local authorities get some grant aid from national Government, but most of the cash for local roads is raised locally, via council tax. Non-motorists pay the same for roads as motorists.

[Come to think of it, those who pay the most council tax really ought to have more rights on roads than those in cheaper council tax bands. So, Merc drivers who live in big posh houses ought to have priority lanes on local roads and those motorists who drive cheaper cars from cheaper houses should be corralled in slow lanes.

And, of course, bankers and others on Britain’s rich list pay more tax than mere mortals so should get preferential treatment in NHS hospitals. Rich people involved in road smashes, and who need emergency care, by rights, should get that care long before poor people. But why stop there? Means-testing could be expanded to expensive drugs, too. Bankers should get life-saving cancer medicine when they need it because they pay more in annual taxation. Tis only fair. ]

It’s amazing that a supposedly investigative TV programmes such as ITV’s Tonight can spend 25 minutes raging against the “unfairness” of motorists paying £47bn in annual taxation without realising ring-fencing of these funds does not take place; has not taken place since 1937. Allowing interviewees to rant about ‘road tax’ without on-screen caveats is sheer ignorance on behalf of the programme’s producers.

Externalities
What Tonight also didn’t mention, and what organisations like the RUA don’t factor into their equations, is the many external costs of motoring. In effect, Britain’s motorists are subsidised to drive.

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 crashes, 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].”

HYPOTHECATION & WHY THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A TAXATION OPT-OUT
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.”

There are no tax opt-outs
The argument about the Government raising £47 billion but returning “less than one fifth of this in spending which directly benefits the road user” is a weak one and motoring organisations do themselves no favours by wheeling out such an argument. In fact, they have been doing so from the earliest days of motoring but it doesn’t wash with Governments. Revenue ring-fencing is something vehemently opposed by Governments down the ages, and for very good reasons.

Motoring organisations would be better off arguing about the many benefits of mass car ownership; the ‘we pay squillions, so ought to get squillions back’ case is easily swatted away, behind the scenes, by Treasury mandarins.

The money paid by motorists does not have to go back to motorists. If it did, all hell would break loose. Interest groups of all creeds and colours would start demanding “their” tax contributions should only go to fund “their” projects. Society does not work that way; cannot work that way.

There are no taxation opt-outs: married couples without kids cannot strike out the amount of tax that pays for schools; pacifists cannot strike out the amount of tax that goes on defence spending. And motorists can’t successfully demand that the money they give to the Government is given straight back to them in the shape of smoother, less congested roads.

Smoother, less congested roads would be wonderful for all road users, not just motorists, and such infrastructure – a shared national resource – is paid for by all taxpayers, not just motorists. The public highway is, by definition, for the benefit of the public, not a sub-set of the public.

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iPayRoadTax.com is an ironically-named campaign supporting the road rights of cyclists. The message that cyclists have equal rights on the roads is carried on iPayRoadTax t-shirts and jerseys.