Does the Transport Secretary know how Britain’s roads are funded?

Car tax poster

You and I know roads are not funded by motorists but by all tax-payers. This basic fact seems to elude Philip Hammond yet he’s the UK Transport Secretary.

I have it on very good authority that a senior civil servant in the Department of Transport patiently explained the intricacies of roads funding to Mr Hammond when he was appointed to his role earlier this year. He was told that the term ‘cyclists don’t pay road tax’ is wrong on many levels.

Hammond, a petrolhead who eschews train travel, might not have been giving his full attention to this civil servant. According to respected transport journalist Christian Wolmar, Hammond has been having a poke at ‘freeloading’ cyclists.

“Phil Hammond has again asked why cyclists do not pay road tax. Does he not yet realise there is no such thing?” twittered Wolmar.

Wolmar told me the anecdote came to him secondhand but that Hammond’s ‘road tax gibe’ against cyclists was batted down by a familiar bike nut: “Boris apparently corrected him when they went on a bike ride together,” said the well-connected Wolmar.

Good old Boris!

And this video must be from that bike ride, a jaunt on one of the London Cycle Hire bikes:

No pictures from the ride itself but it’s good to hear Hammond say cycling is “a great way to go…and I’ll be doing it again.”

But should he do so, he’d better watch out. There are drivers out there who shout abuse at cyclists for “no pay, no say”. Some throw missiles at cyclists for the same perceived crime.

Should either Boris or the UK Transport Secretary want to broadcast the fact that cyclists don’t need to pay ‘road tax’, because nobody does as it was abolished in 1937, there are some fetching cycle jerseys they could wear…

‘Charge cyclists road tax if they want to share roads with motorists’

Telegraph 'Road Tax'

Yesterday, over on, I asked what is it about the internet and the internal combustion engine that makes some folks so callous? A number of thoughtless commenters had peppered a forum with ugly comments following the death of a cyclist at the hands of an inattentive motorist. The forum commenters were all American, but motor-myopia is global.

Old joke: What’s the most dangerous part of a car? The nut behind the wheel.

Here in Britain we have our fair share of nuts behind wheels. ‘KeepCalm’, a TelegraphOnline habitué, is one of them. Dunno where he’s from, but I wouldn’t want to cycle in front of him. He believes – like way too many drivers do – that cyclists should only be allowed on roads when we pay ‘road tax’, a duty abolished 73 years ago.

In a pre-election debate about transport, the Daily Telegraph website asked: ‘How can we make British cities more cycle-friendly.’

Getting more Britons cycling would help to improve fitness, to reduce congestion and to ease fears about dwindling oil reserves and climate change. But many people in urban areas are worried that it is unsafe to cycle and that bicycle theft is rife. How can government help make cycling safer and more pleasant in British cities?

KeepCalm’s suggestion was to “Charge cyclists Road Tax if they want to share roads with motorists.”

I’d be a lot friendlier to cyclists if I thought they were paying a share of the costs of the roads they are using. Why should we have to pay all the road tax as well as the additional driving costs incurred by having to swerve and brake around cyclists?

KeepCalm wants cyclists off the roads, and on to footways:

Why can’t we ask cyclists to share the pavements with pedestrians rather than the roads with motorists? Removing cyclists from our busy roads would be welcomed by every motorist.

Sure, KeepCalm is a loon – thanks to the indecision over the current hung parliament, he wants a military coup in the UK – but he has a driving licence and is out there somewhere. Most motorists are not as extreme as KeepCalm but many view cyclists as irritants, slowing their progress, blind to the fact it’s other motorists slowing them down, not slim, easily-passed two-wheelers.

Part of the problem with road aggression from motorists is clock-watching, a desire to be somewhere sooner than it’s probably possible, but there’s also a great deal of selfishness involved.

Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins nailed this point in December last year:

Of all human activities that bring out the selfish in mankind, nothing compares with travel. The externalities of travel economics should be on every school curriculum. We see mobility through our own eyes alone, with no view of the similar demands of others. I am a free and independent spirit innocently enjoying the right to roam; you are a travel-mad lemming who thinks he has a God-given right to tarmac, train or plane just when I am there. Get out of my way.

Everybody thinks it is cars, trains and planes that cause gridlock – when in reality it is people.

Travelling must bear the global externalities that it imposes on other users of the planet. There is no absolute right to roam. There is no free trip.

Cyclists can be selfish too, of course (not all red light running is done for safety reasons) but a selfish cyclist has the propensity to do little harm. It’s a question of mass: cyclists don’t have much of the stuff, motorists have lots, and lots of mass, travelling at speed, equals danger. Not enough motorists drive in such a way to minimise their impact on the road, on congestion and on squishy sentient beings.

Selfishness is hard-wired in motoring, it seems. And you don’t have to be a bicycling Bolshevik to believe this.

Here’s what Maxwell Gordon Lay has to say on the subject:

The car’s high speed, particularly relative to walking, creates an aggressiveness that must be constrained. Certainly it has not been possible to rely on the self-restraint of the individual motorist, whose motoring decision-making is usually singularly self-centred.

Lay is a former Executive Director of the Australian Road Research Board and was Chairman of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria. In his book Ways of the World: A History of the World’s Roads and the vehicles that used them, Maxwell Gordon Lay also has a lot to say about roads funding, but more from him later.

How many motorists think roads are not for cyclists?

Cambridge King's College

When friends and family ask me what I’m up to I tell them. If I happen to mention the creation of the iPayRoadTax campaign I get quizzical stares. That’s if I’m talking to a non-cyclist. Fellow pedallers know instantly what I mean when I say ‘road tax’: it’s an all-too-typical form of abuse lobbed at cyclists by motorists. The Mr & Mrs Motormouth video is an extreme example, but by no means unusual.

Non-cyclists think I’m bonkers. Why would I devote so much time and trouble on what they consider such a non-issue? None of my friends and family have so far argued that roads are paid for by motorists, so cyclists have lesser rights; but on a recent press trip I got a very different reaction. I was pinned to the dinner table by a journalist who felt cyclists shouldn’t get in her way when she exits her farm access road. The county council had painted some white lines on a footpath that crosses her access road and, for her, this was deemed far too much provision for cyclists.

Now, her views might have been the red wine talking but what excuse does Peter Burkinshaw have? In 2009 he went on record saying motorists pay for roads and that cyclists are ‘freeloaders’. He’s a member of the UK Independence Party so perhaps it’s not surprising he has some odd views on life but it would be interesting to find out exactly what non-cyclists think about us.

Peter Zanzottera, senior consultant at transport consultancy Steer Davies Gleave, told the Scottish Parliament’s Transport Committee, that “People love cycling but hate cyclists.” How big a percentage of motorists think roads are paid for by ‘road tax’ and so cyclists shouldn’t be allowed on roads, or certainly shouldn’t be treated as equals?

I’d like to think it was only a small percentage and when a non-cyclist says they pay ‘road tax’ they don’t really think an annual payment of Vehicle Excise Duty funds the British road network.

But it could be a bigger percentage and it’s research I’d like to see carried out. If even only a small fraction of motorists think like Peter Burkinshaw and Mr & Mrs Motormouth, that’s got to be a worry. We ride our bikes next to a certain percentage of drivers who believe we have no right to be there. How many ‘accidents’ have been caused by motorists who feel we’re interlopers, and that might is right?

ukip transport

It’s worthwhile repeating Burkinshaw’s claims because they could be more mainstream than most UKIP utterances. As a thick-skinned member of UKIP, Burkinshaw is going to voice what others would be worried about saying in public.

He was standing for election to Cambridgeshire County Council in June 2009. The Cambridge Cycling Campaign asked all candidates for their views on cycling. Burkinshaw, with no chance of being elected, gave his honest views, not something politicians with any chance of power are likely to do.

“Provision for cyclists is already adequate. Please remember that motorists are the people who pay to use the roads whereas cyclists are ‘freeloaders’. They are entitled to use the roads but not disproportionately. If everyone cycled, as you suggest, there would be no roads to ride on.”

Shocking. Daft. Misguided. But very possibly a prevalent view among some motorists.

Bloody cyclists. Don't pay road tax blah de blah

Thankfully, UKIP has no chance in the national election but it’s possible that many of the party’s transport policies would be supported by a motoring populace. I listed these policies on the blog and Helen Pidd of The Guardian reported on them, too.

UKIP starts by saying it “supports pedal cycles as a healthy means of personal transport,” but quickly reveals their policies were written from a windscreen perspective. Cyclists should be made to pay for “a simple annual flat rate registration ‘Cycledisc’, stuck to the bicycle frame, to cover damage to cars and others, which are currently unprotected.” Locking-up bikes would also need paying for: “we support provision of cycle parking at reasonable charges.”

UKIP believes that “cycling on safe cycle routes, lanes, tracks and trails should be actively encouraged, particularly as a leisure pursuit,” but urban cycling needs to be reined in. UKIP “believes off road dedicated lanes are preferable to a confusing maze of cycle lanes on unsuitable or dangerous roads, which is problematic for cyclists as well as other road users.”

And here’s the kicker, here’s the policy that I fear far too many motorists would applaud:

“Local authorities should be given additional powers to enforce a ‘cyclists dismount’ or ‘no cycling’ regulation where there are safety concerns – such as on busy roundabouts, junctions or bus lanes, or where the road would be too narrowed by cycle lanes and cause unacceptable delays to traffic.”

Clearly, to UKIP, cars are traffic, bikes aren’t. Cyclists, remember, are “freeloaders.”

Who Pays For Britain's Roads?

iPayRoadTax-com 14

Want to be kept up to speed with iPayRoadTax? Use the form below to get the iPayRoadTax emailed newsletter (this won’t hit your inbox a thousand times a year, and your details will not leave the building):