Congested with Cars

Motorists have ruined England – and they need to pay the price, says Alex Proud in the Telegraph.

In general, most of us are pretty happy with letting the markets allocate scarce (in the economic sense) goods by deciding the price for them. We’re broadly happy with how this mechanism works for goods that nobody needs (like caviar) and goods that most people need (like chicken). We know that price controls, in general do not work well and capitalism, by and large, delivers the goods. With me so far?

So what I want to know is this: why, the moment we get into our cars, do we all turn into screaming, pinko commies? Why do we reject the free market solutions that we embrace everywhere else. Why, rather than accept the idea that we should pay when we use a scarce resource (roads) do we ration them in the worst possible way. Why do we agree that, for a once-a-year fee, you can drive as much as you like, wherever you like and whenever you like?
The effects of this economic lunacy are there for all to see. According to the CEBR (Centre for Economics and Business Research), traffic delays cost £4.3bn a year (and 40% of this is in the London area). Air pollution from exhausts kills over 5,000 people annually, nearly three times the number killed by traffic accidents. And, if you add up the total negative externalities, as the Campaign for Better Transport has done, you get a range of figures that suggest that the cost motoring imposes on the country may be as high as £100bn. For comparison, the Policy Institute puts the total cost of smoking at about £14bn.

It might just be time for this kind of approach. The cost of driving on rural roads would be very low compared to the price of driving in the city, where alternatives are available like cycling and public transport. A congestion based tax would be better for rural and long distance driving than increased fuel taxes, which penalises rural dwellers. Hmmm.