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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“Lytex boys” shouldn’t ride in “middle of road” paid for by motorists, says aggressive Merc driver

The video below is funny in a Stephen Merchant sort of way but what’s not funny is the dangerous overtaking by a Mercedes Vito captured by a cyclist’s helmetcam.

Calling Lycra “Lytex” and spouting forth on non-payment of “road tax”, the Mercedes driver committed a number of motoring offences in quick succession.

First, the Merc was driven too close to the cyclist. Rule 163 of the Highway Code states that motorists should “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you  would when overtaking a car.”

In the video, an overtaking car gives plenty of room, the following Mercedes Vito does not. The helmetcam wearing cyclist must have remonstrated at this point because the Merc driver later stops to challenge the cyclist. The motorist parked in a potentially dangerous place, causing following cars to slow down to overtake, and opened his door on the cyclist, and was aggressive from the get-go: “What’s your f*cking problem?”

The driver – a painter and decorator going from his garb and the ladder on his car – said:

“I’m in the right, I’m on the road. I’ll tell you what, you f*cking ought to learn how to ride. It’s our roads, you don’t pay no f*cking tax.”

The Merc driver complained about “Lytex boys”. Lytex? A hitherto unknown fabric made from Lycra and Latex, perhaps? The cyclist – redvee2002 – explains “This isn’t Lytex, it’s Lycra.”

This was rebuffed by the excitable motorist as was the cyclist’s attempt to explain the extinction of “road tax” in 1937.

On the video’s comments, xliijoe said:

“Interesting how it is ok for him to put your life at unnecessary risk, because you don’t pay (a fictional) tax. I mean, even if he was right about the tax and even if you were positioning yourself poorly on the road, it would not justify putting your life at risk.

“Imagine if you threatened him with a weapon too, for being an idiot and not paying some tax. Most people would see that as wrong – it seems that if your weapon weighs a ton, it’s morally ok to threaten people with it.”

This latest video adds to a growing library of helmetcam footage showing motorists verbally and physically abusing cyclists for “not paying road tax.”

Road rage motorists do not attack disabled drivers, electric car owners, war pensioners, or farmers for non-payment of VED.

It’s probably futile to point out such facts to apoplectic “road tax” motorists. The iPayRoadTax campaign doesn’t try to reach out to the ranters but instead tries to convince organisations to get their facts straight. The AA, the Campaign for Plain English, and Which Car Magazine now use car tax instead of ‘road tax’. The Post Office has long used this term so is clearly understandable to all.

Motorists pay for their cars, not for use of the road. VED is a tax on emissions, not a road fee. Roads are paid for by general and local taxation, not by motorists directly.

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When motorists believe they’ve paid for use of the road, they can be dangerous

Some motorists believe cyclists are lesser beings, and shouldn’t get in the way of cars. Why? Because of the shockingly widespread belief that cyclists don’t pay for roads.

In fact, we do. We all do. Everybody pays. Every tax-payer, that is. Road maintenance, road building and road design are all paid for out of general and local taxation. Motorists do not pay for roads. Road tax does not exist, has not existed since 1937. It’s now car tax, vehicle excise duty, a tax on emissions.

In the Spring edition of ‘Good Motoring’ from GEM Motoring Assist, columnist Jane King said cyclists were “itinerant road users.”

Hating on horse riders, too (they also ‘get in the way’ of cars), King wrote:

“You’d think that cyclists, being at one with the elements, would be able to deal sensibly with [passing motorists]. Unfortunately, certainly of late, this group seems to consist of real and exacting enthusiasts who behave as if every training trip is a stage of the Tour de France. And, as such they have a narrow blinkered vision of how the road should be used at that moment – which is purely for them. The motor vehicle must, and will, take at least second place. Sorry – who pays road tax, exactly?”

Such ignorance of what and who pays for roads can lead to violence against anybody not in a motorised vehicle. There are legions of examples of motorists abusing cyclists for “not paying road tax.” (Although horse riders don’t get tarred with the same brush: it’s obviously a money thing. Some motorists assume anybody on a bike is a pauper, and can’t possibly own a car, too. Which is daft because cars can be pretty cheap, a lot cheaper than decent top-flight bikes, for instance).

In Brazil on Friday, one motorist took the law into his own hands and smashed into a peaceful, beautiful Critical Mass ride.

This helmetcam footage is horrific, showing a speeding VW Golf ramming its way through 150 cyclists.

Brazilian drivers pay Imposto sobre Propriedade de Veículos Automotores or IPVA, our equivalent of VED. However, this site for Brazilian newcomers calls it a ‘road tax’.

Who knows what went through the mind of the 47-year old male driver seen causing the carnage in that footage? He was held up for a few minutes by folks on bikes and he suddenly lost it, rear-ending unsuspecting cyclists in a few seconds of madness. Apologist commenters on YouTube videos of the incident have said he had a sick passenger in the car and was desperate to get past the cyclists, who were blocking just one road among many in this Brazilian city.

Do those who decry Critical Mass as “irresponsible” say the same about fuel protestors who block roads? Or how about taxi drivers blockading London for an hour? “We are sorry that we have to block the streets to make our voices heard, but we feel we have no other option,” said a London cabby last year, who very possibly rants when he sees the few minutes of disruption caused when Critical Mass rides past.

Thankfully, it appears none of the hit cyclists were killed, but they could have been. Many were badly injured and there was an ugly, sickening pile of smashed bikes. The driver absconded, but not before reportedly removing his number plates. So, did police chase him down? No, they are waiting for him to turn himself in, a promise made by the 47 year olds lawyer. In Brazilian media reports, the police are still calling the carnage an “accident.”

Back to the UK…
Motorists do not own the roads, nor do cyclists, or equestrians. We all have the right to pass and re-pass on public roads. Those motorists who truly believe their annual car tax payment is a fee to use roads are 100 percent wrong. Some who believe this, begrudgingly allow cyclists to “share the roads, paid for by motorists” but who knows how many close-shaves – the buzzing of cyclists – is due to this mistaken belief? Too many. Way too many.

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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.

Jeremy Clarkson: be a man, offend a Middle Eastern religion [UPDATED]

Jeremy Clarkson Rides a Bike

On Top Gear, aired 6th February, Jeremy Clarkson made one of his deliberate errors in order to annoy a minority. Now, if he can get away with slanders about whole countries (France, Albania, Mexico etc) he’s sure as hell not going to lose any sleep over “jokes” about killing cyclists who “don’t pay road tax”. In fact, he wants cyclists to rant and rave about his loopy libertarian tosh. Ranting and raving equals higher viewing figures, and more dosh for him.

While Ross and Brand can be jettisoned by the BBC when they’re offensive, Clarkson is too important to the corporation. Top Gear is one of BBC Worldwide’s biggest grossing properties.

Now, Clarkson is a professional buffoon, a controversialist, a comedian, not to be taken seriously. But many petrolheads do take him seriously. When he jests about running over cyclists, a goodly proportion of his audience absorb such vitriol and this can influence their driving, paying less regard to those not propelling heavy steel boxes along highways paid for by all.

Clarkson has form on believing ‘road tax’ pays for roads. He’s often touched on the subject in his columns for the Sunday Times:

“Trespassers in the motorcars domain, [cyclists] do not pay road tax and therefore have no right to be on the road, some of them even believe they are going fast enough to not be an obstruction. Run them down to prove them wrong.”

He also jokes that cyclists are paupers and that it’s right and proper to run them down:

“Some people, usually on bicycles, bang on your roof as you go by and say they find your conspicuous consumption offensive. What I want to do at times like this is bang on their cycling helmets and say I find their poverty offensive. But I’m made from stronger stuff so I turn the other cheek and run them down.”

After the 7/7 bombings got more people on bikes, Clarkson wrote:

“Handy hints to those setting out on a bike for the first time…Do not cruise through red lights. Because if I’m coming the other way, I will run you down, for fun…Do not pull up at junctions in front of a line of traffic. Because if I’m behind you, I will set off at normal speed and you will be crushed under my wheels.”

All knock-about stuff and we know he doesn’t mean it. “Come on, it’s just a joke,” is the standard riposte, from the BBC and from those who believe he’s harmless.

He’s funny, but is he harmless?

Stand-up comic Stewart Lee has a 15-minute routine digging in to the harmless humour of Clarkson:

“[Clarkson] is either an idiot, who actually believes all the badly researched, lying, offensive sh*t he says, or he’s a genius, who’s worked out exactly the most accurate way to annoy me.”

Lee points out that Clarkson’s gibes are often callous and bullying.

And Lee isn’t the only comic to think Clarkson is less than funny. Steve Coogan, who has been a guest on Top Gear and was once a fan of the show, believes Clarkson’s stereotyping is now beyond a joke.

So, should cyclists complain to the BBC about Clarkson? It’s a tough call. On the one hand, his paymasters ought to be told his oafish offensiveness could lead to real-life endangerment of cyclists; but on the other hand you know that shock-jocks thrive on complaints. Indeed, if enough complaints are received that gives Clarkson another opportunity to joke about “road tax refuseniks” (even though he well knows that ‘road tax’ was abolished in 1937).

Clarkson has a thick skin. This is the man who thinks 3200 road deaths a year is a price well worth paying for mass motoring:

“Then there’s the PR issue. We need to get the message across that 3,200 deaths a year is tragic but not excessive. With 30 million vehicles on the roads it’s nothing short of a bloody miracle.”

He’s also not bothered about accuracy. He’s a joker, he’s not reading the news:

“When I get a letter from a reader saying I’ve made a factual error my first reaction is rage…And it’s a bit of a bubble burster when someone points out that I haven’t checked my facts. That’s like strutting around with a telltale wet patch on the front of your trousers. Because in the big scheme of things, when I make a mistake, especially one I’ve made on purpose, the world keeps on turning.”

Complaints are his oxygen. There’s little point complaining about Clarkson. He’s not fussed about facts, or whether his trollish views are believed by stupid viewers and readers. Complaints equal ker-ching.

Ignoring him is hard but here’s what he says about politicians. Replace ‘leaders’ with ‘Clarkson’.

“The best thing we can do is treat our leaders as bluebottles. There’s no point waving our arms about and getting agitated because it’ll make no difference. They will continue to buzz about being annoying.”

Whether we complain or not (UPDATE – see below for Top Gear producer’s answer to those who complained), Clarkson will continue to be mock offensive. But check out who he targets and see him for the playground bully that he is.

He vents his spleen on soft targets. He’s never written anything deeply offensive about the religious texts or founder of a certain Arabian religion. That would be reprehensible and truly controversial but Clarkson doesn’t have the balls to be provocative about a religion that has an extreme, unrepresentative element who would kill him. Funny that.

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TRANSCRIPT

Richard Hammond: You know Breakfast News on the television?

Jeremy Clarkson: No?

Hammond: Come on, you must? Earlier this week they were running this story about cyclists wearing videos on their crash helmets so they can video examples of road rage and people cutting them up on their bikes

Clarkson: Yes, but cyclists deserve it

Hammond You can’t say that

Clarkson: They do deserve it. Just the other week, no honestly, there I am sitting in a traffic jam in London and a Frenchman, he was, tried to cycle between the pavement and my car, and after he’d removed most of the paint with that brake handle thing he came round to the driver’s door to tell me off in that silly accent French people have.

Hammond: A French accent?

Clarkson: Yes, that. And I said to him, ‘Listen if you just work harder you can have a car’.

Hammond: You see? You see you are exactly the reason why I want a camera on my bicycle helmet when I cycle

Clarkson: Why?

Hammond: So when idiots like you get out of their car having cut me up…

Clarkson: Who pays the road tax?

Hammond: Well…

Clarkson: You see I don’t mind if cyclists want to come on the road with their silly Victorian distractions I am not bothered, OK, but they must behave themselves

Hammond: There are a few militant cyclists I’ll agree

Clarkson: But you are are one of them

Hammond: I am not I am not a militant cyclist…

Clarkson: On a bicycle you are a peach. You are a peach most of the time. You are a big peach.

Hammond: You are just another fat car in his Mercedes who has a pop at me for riding his bike to work

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BBC producer replies to those folks who complained about Clarkson’s ‘road tax’ gibe

Thank you for your feedback about Top Gear broadcast on 6 February 2011. Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying.

Jeremy was singling out what he sees as aggressive cyclists, like the one who scraped his car. I don’t think anyone can deny that, as with motorists, there are cyclists out there whose road behaviour is hardly ideal. Jeremy made it clear that in his view cyclists are free to use the roads as long as they behave themselves. Whilst he’d clearly prefer them to defer to motorists, I think his comments stop a long way short of encouraging aggression. Of course Jeremy’s views were balanced out by those of Richard Hammond, who stood up for cyclists.

Yours sincerely

Andy Wilman
Executive Producer
Top Gear

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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.

Do cyclists not pay gutter-bunny tax?

IPayRoadTax.com Zero BED

Bristol Traffic is a website supposed to be about getting around town by car but, in fact, it’s a keyword-laden lure to convert motorists to the joys of city cycling. In a posting today, the site passes on a genuine email from a rattled cyclist. A motorist – dring a black SUV, registration number WP07CCE – shouted at the cyclist for daring to claim the lane, an assertive cycling technique now enshrined in Bikeability training courses.

Naturally, one of the key complaints from the driver was the fact the road user, as a cyclist, “didn’t pay road tax.”

The driver decided to overtake on the blind corner. This was despite the fact that I had taken the lane to round the corner to discourage such a dangerous manoeuvre. It being a blind corner he couldn’t see the cars coming around the corner towards us and swerved back in towards the curb to avoid them, very narrowly missing crushing me. All this so that he could pull up and wait at the red light around the corner.

As his window was open while he queued at the red light I took the opportunity to very calmly and nicely ask him to please not do that again to anyone as he could very easily kill or injure someone. That is all I wished to say and I started to cycle away.

His response was to shout that I “shouldn’t be in the middle of the road” and should “keep to the edge”. When I explained that I had moved to the centre of the lane to discourage anyone from overtaking on a dangerous blind corner his reply was that I had to keep to the side unless I was going to “pay tax to use the roads” and that was within his rights to pass so close as he pays to use the road.

How many drivers have the same mind-set? How many genuinely believe cyclists belong only in the gutter and for them to stray into parts of the road given over to motorists is tantamount to ‘asking for it’?

Sadly, it’s too many. There are countless thousands – perhaps even millions – who believe this tosh. And it explains why the Merc driver in the BBC Look East video below knocked into the cyclist from behind. The Merc driver was expecting the cyclist to stop in the gutter, behind the illegally-parked car, and wait for him to pass.

For deluded drivers, a cyclist ‘claiming their road space’ is an alien concept. How can a cyclist claim road space when it’s wrong of them to do so? Motorists have rights; cyclists have responsibilities, goes the wonky thinking. And the biggest responsibility is to get out of the way of those who pay for the road, and therefore own the road.

Classic bullying behaviour, of course, but with a lot of vehicular weight to back up their delusions of grandeur.