Heard of the Infrastructure Bill going through Parliament right now? Nope, me neither until recently. But you should know about it as the implications for drivers if it passes could be huge. The Bill could lead to the government scrapping the Highways Agency and privatising parts of the UK road network, including motorways and A-roads.
Any company that bought a stretch of road would be responsible for maintaining it and making sure it runs smoothly. That, of course, costs money and the companies have to turn a profit, which raises the spectre of road tolls.
Whenever the issue of government-controlled road pricing has come up in the past, it has met with often angry resistance. According to the results of an independent survey of 1,537 people carried out for the Alliance of British Drivers, the prospect of private companies imposing tolls is just an unpopular.
In a slightly inflammatory press release, the ABD revealed that a vast majority of drivers questioned felt road tolls would adversely affect their standard of living and that they would change their route to untolled roads, even they weren’t entirely suitable. Further, most of the respondents were concerned about the road management companies recording the details of their journeys and most wouldn’t want the government to offload responsibility for Britain’s roads to the private sector in the first place.
The imposition of tolls might palatable if the taxes levied on motorists – i.e. fuel tax and road fund license – are reduced at the same time. I suspect what most drivers really want the government to do is spend most of the billions of pounds it already rakes in from motoring-related taxes on improving our road network. Or, for that matter, spending some of the £50 billion budget for the HS2 high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham on increasing the capacity of our strained motorway network.
Should the Infrastructure Bill pass, it is unlikely to be fully enacted before the General Election next year. Since road privatisation wouldn’t exactly be a vote winner, the cynical might suggest that it would be kept quiet until after the election when it would be introduced regardless of popular opinion.
It will be interesting to watch how this one develops.