Sunday, 23 October 2011

News Briefs - UK

More toll roads?

According to Public Finance, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has called for the government to develop major new roads with tolls, rather than the conventional PFI (Public Finance Initiative) approach used in the past.  PFI means PPP, but in the UK most PPP road projects do not involve tolls, but rather shadow toll or service availability payments.   A position I can understand, although of course they are hardly mutually exclusive.  I presume there is effort undertaken by the Highways Agency to identify toll"able" projects, as there should be by local authorities.   I'm in favour of there being some recognition that when vehicles use roads they pay fuel tax and that part of that revenue should be recognised as a positive contribution to the viability of the road (and to be fair the UK transport appraisal framework - WebTag - does count impacts of fuel consumption and fuel tax revenue, although not in that way).

Truckers want toll road fees cut

The Birmingham Mail reports that the Road Haulage Association has said that "the Government has to step in to find a way of making use of this important piece of infrastructure. We are not critical of toll road operator Midland Expressway, but it can’t be right for the country to have that infrastructure resource and not use it.”  Now the RHA has not said quite what the government should do, but it has three options.  Regulate it (which would hardly encourage private investor participation in infrastructure investment), subsidise it (which using fuel tax collected from the use of the road would not strictly be a subsidy), or buy it (and Midland Expressway is uninterested in selling).  I have previously written that I think the M6 toll is a success because the facility is there, well maintained, is reducing congestion, and its private owner is quite happy to retain it operating at a loss.   To get change, the RHA may have to convince Midland Expressway that the suppressed demand from the high tolls more than would make up for any reduced toll.

Detection based accounts popular for London congestion charge

MayorWatch reports that 150,000 "auto-pay" accounts have been created since they were launched in January 2011.  "Auto pay" accounts mean that motorists do not need to declare their intention to enter the London congestion charge area in advance of their trip, but can drive and have the amount of the charge automatically deducted from their account.   A £10 (US$15.95) registration fee per vehicle is required, and access to a credit/debit card or bank account direct debit, and in return there is a £1 (US$1.60) discount off of the £10 daily charge.  A benefit to users is no need to remember to declare, making it easier to be compliant.  However, a key part of the success has been the new generation of ANPR cameras increasing the reliability of detecting vehicles.  After all, declaration only payments meant people would pay to drive into the charging area whether or not they actually did so.  Detection based accounts mean that sometimes vehicles wont be picked up by the cameras, although given I was once told the average vehicle is seen by three sets of cameras on a trip within the zone, the proportion of vehicles not picked up by cameras is likely to be less than 5%.

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