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Time to end the myth of road tax

Time to end the myth of road tax

The following was sent as a letter to the Editor of The Herald newspaper and appeared in a slightly edited form on the 26th July 2013

The full original version is here:

Dear Editor,

In your recent correspondence regarding cycling and road safety there
have been several references to “road tax” and how this supposedly gives
motorists a greater right to use the roads. It really is time we nailed
this myth once and for all. There is no such thing as “road tax”, the
roads are paid for by all of us out of general taxation. Many
“motorists” like to ignore the inconvenient fact that the road fund was
actually abolished in 1936 by Winston Churchill, as Chancellor of the
Exchequer, on the grounds that it was giving motorists what he regarded
as a dangerously inflated sense of ownership of the public road. Boy,
was Churchill right on that one
, 77 years later this delusion still
persists, with many drivers not understanding that owning a car doesn’t
give them a greater right of access to the public road. Indeed there is
no right to drive a motor vehicle, it is a privilege granted under licence.

Just to make it clear, everyone pays for the roads and everyone has the
right to use the roads, either on foot, riding a bicycle or a horse, but
you are only permitted to drive a motor vehicle by licence because of
the inherent risk that you pose to others while doing so. With a driving
licence come responsibilities, such as the legal requirement to drive
with due care and attention. If you are not willing to accept the
responsibilities which come with a driving licence, you should catch a bus.

Your sincerely

Kim Harding

 

Onus should be on the cyclists?

Onus should be on the cyclists?

Following the death of yet another cyclist on Scotland roads I was deeply saddened to see the following letter in The Herald newspaper:

Onus should be on the cyclists
Tuesday 23 July 2013

ONCE again the strict liability law is being peddled with the aim of protecting cyclists and pedestrians (Agenda, The Herald, July 19).

The writer, Brenda Mitchell, states “our goal is to change the culture among road users”.

As a pedestrian and former cyclist I would suggest that rather than attempting to change the law and further burdening other road users the only culture that needs changing is that of the cyclist.

Among the initiatives they may consider adopting are wearing suitable clothing and protective equipment (for head and hands) and obeying the current motor traffic laws – and not riding upon the footpath.

Perhaps it is also time for legislators to require all cyclists to fit, and sound, a suitable warning device in order to alert unsuspecting pedestrians to their presence.

In short, the public at large would be better protected if cyclists obeyed the law as it stands rather than seeking to introduce legislation that would be nothing more than another impost upon the motoring public who, after all, already pay to use the road.

Ian F Mackay,

5 Smillie Place,

Kilmarnock.

 

Lets just take a closer look, Mr Mackay starts by asserting that he is a “pedestrian and former cyclist”. Why does he feel the need to do this? We are all pedestrians at some point, and why is he a “former cyclist”? Oddly he doesn’t tell us, he also doesn’t let us know whether or not he is a driver (although it is implied), again why? Could it be that he is embarrassed to admit to being a driver, when he goes on to complain about “further burdening other road users” before going on to suggest that the only problem is with cyclists. Which other road users would this be? Are pedestrians and horse riders going to feel that a strict liability law is going to burden them? Or would the more vulnerable users of public space feel that a law making the operators of dangerous and heavy machinery being used that space liable (under civil law) for their actions, giving the most vulnerable greater protection? After all, this has been shown to be effective in the workplace where there is a strict liability on employers to ensure safe working practices.

He suggests that cyclists “may consider adopting wearing suitable clothing and protective equipment (for head and hands)” – is this for the protection of other roads user? Or merely trying to pass the blame when cyclists are injured by negligent actions of other road users? To use the workplace analogy again, the use of “safety equipment” is not a substitute for operating potentially dangerous machinery in a safe manner.

Then comes “obeying the current motor traffic laws – and not riding upon the footpath”. Hum, are cyclists “motor traffic”? Certainly they are traffic, as are pedestrians (the origin of the word traffic is from the Arabic word taraffaqa, which means ‘to walk along slowly together’, only in the late 20th century did it become “to drive along slowly together”, we needn’t go into the origin of the word “jam”). However, according to Mr Mackay, it is the failure of cyclists to obey laws which is the cause of all the harm to roads users. This fails to explain why not a single one of the 54 pedestrians killed on Scotland’s roads last year were killed by a person riding bicycle, all where killed as a result of being hit by motor vehicles.

Next, we come to “Perhaps it is also time for legislators to require all cyclists to fit, and sound, a suitable warning device in order to alert unsuspecting pedestrians to their presence.” How exactly will this help to deal with the problem of 54 pedestrians killed on Scotland’s roads? Some of those were mown down by motor vehicles driven on the foot way, others killed while crossing the road at pedestrian crossings by motorists jumping the lights. Oh, but of course, Mr Mackay isn’t concerned with the real issue of people being killed or the roads being too dangerous for many people to ride a bike on. He has given no thought as to why shared use paths are over crowded and how we might go about dealing with this issue, such as making the roads safer and providing a fairer allocation of space to non-motorists. He is more worried that bad drivers might actually be held to account for the injuries and deaths they cause, which is what would happen if we were to “introduce legislation that would be nothing more than another impost upon the motoring public” (although the version I have proposed would also apply to cyclists).

Instead, according Mr Mackay bad driving is apparently OK and should continue to tolerated, on the grounds that “the motoring public who, after all, already pay to use the road.” So there we have it, we shouldn’t do anything to hold bad drivers to account, because they pay “road tax”. Of course there is a major flaw in this argument, there is no such thing as “road tax” , we all pay for the roads, and we should all have the right to be safe from harm by others whilst using those roads.

Strict Liability and the Road Share campaign

Strict Liability and the Road Share campaign

For some time now, I have been in favour of a law of Strict Liability. This defines who is liable when collisions occur on the roads. So I was pleased to learn that a Peebles lawyer, Brenda Mitchell, had started a campaign for Strict Liability called Road Share. This is a very welcome move, Brenda has done a lot of research on this issue and makes a very clear case for including Strict Liability as part of our civil law, in the same way as the majority of European countries have done (see map below).

Why it is that Scotland hasn’t made this change yet is unclear, it is not as if the concept of strict liability does not already exist under Scots law, as it underpins much of the Health and Safety legislation. For example, if you are felling a tree with a chainsaw, and a third party walks into the line of fall of the tree, it is the person operating the chainsaw that is held to be liable if there is injury to the third party. Likewise, if you fire a firearm, you are automatically held liable under civil law if you hit someone accidentally, and liable under the criminal law if you shoot them deliberately. This is an important distinction and one that is often missed by critics of Strict Liability. This new campaign to apply the principles of strict liability to road traffic collisions is about changing the civil law code, not the criminal law, where the central principle is (and will remain) that the accused will remain innocent until proven guilty. Strict liability is solely about who has the greater duty of care, and that should clearly be the person who is in the position to do the most harm.

Taking the firearm analogy above, we allow people to own and use firearms strictly under licence, because firearms are fundamentally dangerous. Similarly, we only permit motor vehicles to be driven on the public highway under licence because motor vehicles are fundamentally dangerous: a moment’s inattention can be fatal, and not necessarily only to the driver. For this reason, any suggestion that pedestrians or cyclists owe a duty of care to motorists is absurd, as in the event of a car hitting a pedestrian, the driver is very rarely, if ever, the one that is hurt.

Similarly, a case can be made that cyclists do owe a duty of care to pedestrians, and this would be covered as part of the hierarchy of strict liability. This, however, would not lead to the need for cyclists to take out compulsory third party insurance. Many cyclists already have third party insurance (although they might not realise it), in my case it is bundled in with my household insurance. The thing about insurance is that it is priced according to risk, with riding a bicycle for transport or leisure being a low risk activity such for causing harm to others (sports cycling maybe excluded). As the risk of a claim is so low for the insurance companies, they feel that they can bundle it in with other insurance packages for free, as incentive to buy. This is not the case with motoring insurance, where premiums are higher because the risk of a claim is very much higher. It is because driving is inherently dangerous that is a legal requirement for all drivers to carry third party insurance, if the risk to others was as low as that posed by cyclists, then there would be not legal compunction.

A law of strict liability would also have an impact on motoring insurance premiums, and the good news for drivers is that it would result in lower premiums. The main reason for this is that the UK is one of the most expensive countries for motor insurance BECAUSE it doesn’t have a law of strict liability. Therefore, in the event of a collision involving a motorist and a vulnerable road user resulting in injury to the vulnerable road user, that person often has little choice but to sue the motorist to gain compensation from the motorist’s insurance company. Often the insurance company will try to reduce the payout by making claims of “contributory negligence”, which is often a way of blaming the victim for being hit and has nothing to do with fairness. The only people to really gain from this type of litigation are the lawyers.

Given that there are so many obvious advantages to having a law of strict liability, it seems strange that there is so much opposition to it. Part of this is due to a failure understand that it benefits everyone in some way. Another reason is the mistaken belief that there is some sort of right to drive motor vehicles which there isn’t – driving is only permitted under licence and that licence comes with responsibilities. If you are a safe and considerate driver, you have nothing to fear and much to gain from a law of strict liability. It is time that we, as a society, vigorously challenge the Mr Toad’s attitude to driving. Strict liability is not a panacea, it can not by itself make our roads safer, but it is a part of the solution.

No_Strict_Liability_Map_reduced

The BBC and the myth of “road tax”

The BBC and the myth of “road tax”

Why is the BBC so keen on perpetuating the myth of “road tax”? The term is totally misleading in that it suggests that roads are paid for out of taxes raised on motoring. As I have pointed out before, this is totally false. Today (Monday, 29th Oct 2012) there is a news story about a right wing lobbying group suggesting that the roads system be privatised and a system of two tier charging for use of the roads be introduced. I first heard about this on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, which made persistent references to “Road Tax”. This was then repeated on the hourly news bulletins. It is not just today that the BBC has made references to “Road Tax”, it frequently uses this misleading term for motoring taxes.

Today I found this so annoying that I decided to send a formal complaint to the BBC (Case number CAS-1748928-PFD9YS):

In BBC programmes and News broadcasts we are being told that there is a thing called “Road Tax”, this is simply not true. There is no such thing as “Road Tax”, there are taxes on motoring such as Vehicle Excise Duty. These taxes are a part of general taxation and do not contribute directly to the maintenance of the roads, any more than taxes on tobacco pay directly for the NHS.

It is time the BBC stopped propagating this myth. The Road Fund was abolished in 1936 by Winston Churchill, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the grounds that it was giving motorists a dangerously inflated sense of ownership of the public road. By doing so, he brought to an end to hypothecated road taxation in Britain. It is the BBC’s stated Mission that it is to ” inform, educate and entertain”. The perpetuation of the Myth of Road Tax is clearly contrary to the first two of these aims. Please in future make it clear in your news and current affairs programmes that motoring taxes are not hypothecated and have not been so since 1936. There is a very real issue around the motorists’ dangerously inflated sense of ownership of the public road, as it leads to death and serious injury on a daily basis. Research has shown that there are over 800 deaths a year (mostly of pedestrians and cyclists) due to disrespectful driving as a result of this mistaken sense of ownership.

Where your entertainment programmes make reference to “Road Tax”, could you make it clear that this is fiction, and not a reference to the real world.

 

I hope to get a reply within the next two weeks, and will post it here when I do.

There was a time when the BBC was a respected organisation which was prepared to speak truth to power, but those days are sadly gone and now it just repeats PR releases from dodgy “think tanks” without questioning validity or accuracy. It is really sad that it has come to this.

Manifesto suggestions for active travel revisited

Manifesto suggestions for active travel revisited

With the Scottish elections coming up in May, I thought I would revamp my manifesto suggestions for active travel.

Active travel is a great idea as it achieves so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it reduces congestion in towns and cities, it can boost local economic activity, and it is healthy (active people, such as regular cyclists, live longer). In addition, people who use active ways of travel to get to work are more productive, and it is relatively cheap and therefore has great potential to save money (the future savings in health cost alone make worthwhile). So, with a general election looming, I thought I would make a few suggestions, which the political parties might like to adopt for their Manifestos for the coming Holyrood elections with regard to active travel.

First off, what is active travel? Well, at its simplest it is making short journeys by active means, such as walking or cycling. So how do we encourage active travel, here is a proposal from an unexpected source:

 

  • Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes
  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities
  • Go beyond minimum design standards
  • Collect data on walking and biking trips
  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling
  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)
  • Improve non-motorized facilities during maintenance projects

Now these might sound like the sort of policies you would get from a liberal neo-socialist European country (or Enrique Peñalosa in Bogotá), but just look at the spellings, this was cut and pasted from the official blog of the US Secretary of Transportation. If the Americans can do it, why can’t we?

So here are a few other suggestions:

Strict liability. As I have pointed out elsewhere on this blog, this is an issue which the Scottish Parliament can and should legislate on.

Reduce speed limits in built up areas from 30 mph to 20 mph, throughout all built up areas. People living in built up areas want to feel safe on the streets. One of the major reasons for people not feeling safe when walking or cycling is the speed of traffic in areas with busy roads. The thing with 20 mph zones is that not only do people feel safer, they are safer. There is a wealth of data on the effects of these lower speed limits, studies have shown that introductions of 20 mph zones are associated with a reduction in road casualties of up to 42%.

Enforce the speed limits. Drivers who speed are more likely to be involved in collisions, and they are also more likely to commit other driving violations, such as red-light running and driving too close to the vehicle in front. A DfT 2007 Speed Survey showed that on 30 mph roads, 49% of car drivers exceed 30 mph and 19% exceed 35 mph. Tougher enforcement of the existing traffic laws would also help, currently the police are reluctant to prosecute drivers exceeding the 30 mph speed limit, unless they are travelling in excess of 40 mph. This is a major reason for people not feeling safe when walking or cycling in areas with busy roads. This is creeping on to the political agenda in Scotland, but all too slowly.

Cycle training. There is an excellent training programme available for all school children in Scotland, but less than half of Scotland’s school children get the training. Cycle training to at least National Standard Level 2 (Basic on road skills) and preferably to Level 3 (Advanced roads skills) should be part of the school curriculum, this is an import life skill, not just a leisure activity like golf.

A tax car on parking spaces. Over the last twenty years is there has been significant growth of retail parks and shopping malls, these use large car parks and have greatly increased levels of traffic congestion, while at the same time strangling the life out of small High Street retailers. One way to redress the balance would be to tax car parking spaces. This could also be applied to workplace car parking to discourage commuting by car and again reduce congestion.

Encourage the provision of cycle parking. This could provide real economic benefit, an Australian study has shown each square metre of space allocated to cars contributed A$6 per hour in expenditure, whereas each square metre of space allocated to bicycles brought in five times as much (A$31 per hour). A significant element is that a bicycle take up 12% of the space used by a car, therefore, one car parking space can be used by 8 bikes. So it can be seen that replacing car parking with bicycle parking makes economic sense as part of a parking management plan.

Even the Westminster government has recognised that pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users provide as much if not more spending power than car users in town centres. However, there is a consistent misinterpretation by traders that the majority of their customers arrive by car, and this is not just a UK phenomenon. In Graz, Austria, traders reported that 58% of customers arrived by car when objective data showed that this was 32%, while 68% arrived by sustainable travel modes and yet traders believed just 42% did so. Surveys in Edinburgh, Bristol, and Leicester have shown similar results.

To encourage the provision of cycle parking, rebates and grants could be given for providing secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the front entrance to buildings. Also, to introduce a planning requirement that all new developments should have to provide secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the main entrance to the building, at a minimum rate of one bicycle space per 500 m2 of floor area for commercial offices, and one bicycle space per 900 m2 of floor area for retail and most other commercial uses. Of course people also need secure bicycle storage at home, and this should be encouraged.

Require planners to count pedestrians and cyclists when they carry out traffic surveys, by law. Every traffic planner in the country can tell you how many motor vehicles there are on the roads in their area, but few (if any) can tell you how many cyclists and pedestrians use the same routes. How can you plan for non-motorised traffic if you don’t know how many people are travelling by these means?

Commit a minimum of 5% of the transport budget to be spent on active travel. Let’s face it, 5% isn’t a big ask, the return on investment from active travel infrastructure is far higher than for other forms of transport, by as much as 20:1! This is far greater than the return on investment from providing infrastructure for electric cars. However, currently less than 2% of the total transport budget is spent on active travel, and yet we are all pedestrians at some time in the day. No one can drive absolutely everywhere, no matter how much some people might want to…!

Introduce a lifetime driving ban for drivers who kill, without exception. Currently drivers who cause death by dangerous driving are given a five year ban, starting from the date of sentence (this runs concurrently with any prison term). Drivers who kill, but are convicted of lesser offences, often leave court with little more than a fine and six penalty points on their licence. Anyone causing the death of another by means other than driving can normally expect a substantial prison term, so why are we so lenient with drivers?

Give people back their travel choices, help them to choose active travel, for a longer, healthier, and happier life!

Complaint to the BBC

Complaint to the BBC

Dear BBC

The BBC charter states the BBC aims to inform, educate and entertain. While some may regard Mr Clarkson’s comments on running over cyclists because they don’t pay “road tax” as entertainment (Top Gear BBC2 07/02/2011 21mins 25seconds in). I do not see incitement to murder others on the basis of their choice of transport, as legitimate entertainment. A car is a potentially lethal weapon, a pedestrian or cyclist hit by a motor vehicle is at risk of being killed.

His comments were not only distasteful, they were factually incorrect, road tax does not exist, the roads are paid for by general taxation, therefore we all pay for the roads, whether we own a car or not. Everybody in the UK has the right to use the roads on foot, riding a bicycle or riding a horse (with the exception of motorways), drivers are only permitted to use the roads under licence, driving is not a right.

The owners of many motor vehicles are required to pay Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), a tax based on pollution. However, it is not payable by all motor vehicle owners, there are an increasing number of zero rated motor vehicles. So why has he not suggested that drivers of VW Polos, or Nissan Leafs be driven off the road? If bicycles were required to carry VED tax discs, they would also be taxed at the zero rate.

If he had made suggestions that people be run over on the basis of their race, colour, creed or religion, not only would he have been sacked, he would have probably been arrested. Yet the BBC, by broadcasting Mr Clarkson’s views, endorses the idea that an incitement to murder or seriously injury another person is legitimate, so long as it is based on their choice of transport.

Yours etc.,

For the record, I do drive (I have held a clean driving licence for over 20 years), I have also held a number of advanced driving qualifications and was a fully qualified driving instructor. The above complaint has been sent to the BBC and I am currently awaiting a response, which I expect to receive within 10 working days.

You may also be interested in comedian Steve Coogan’s views on Top Gear, and he is a huge fan.

Addendum. I have now received the following reply from the BBC:

“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”

 

Personally I feel this is a total cop out and shows that the BBC is not interested in taking responsibility for the comments made by its presenters. While Mr Clarkson may feel threatened by some “aggressive cyclists”, that is no reason to issue an incitement to murder or seriously injury another person based on their choice of transport. It should also be remembered that an estimated that 800 lives a year are lost due to “disrespectful driving“, whereas, on average, only one life a year is lost to reckless cycling. I am not suggesting that reckless cycling is in anyway any more acceptable than reckless driving (neither is acceptable), I am just trying to put the scale of the problem into perspective. Sadly, Mr Clarkson has a tendency to promote the idea that reckless driving is acceptable, and that we should accept death and injury on the roads as a price worth paying.

Manifesto suggestions for active travel

Manifesto suggestions for active travel

Active travel is a great idea as it achieves so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it reduces congestion in towns and cities, and it is healthy (active people, such as regular cyclists, live longer). In addition, people who use active ways of travel to get to work are more productive, and it is relatively cheap and therefore has great potential to save money (the future savings in health cost alone make worthwhile). So, with a general election looming, I thought I would make a few suggestions, which the political parties might like to adopt for their Manifestos with regard to active travel.

First off, what is active travel? Well, at its simplest it is making short journeys by active means, such as walking or cycling. So how do we encourage active travel, here is a proposal from an unexpected source:

  • Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes
  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities
  • Go beyond minimum design standards
  • Collect data on walking and biking trips
  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling
  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)
  • Improve non-motorized facilities during maintenance projects

Now these might sound like the sort of policies you would get from a liberal neo-socialist European country, but just look at the spellings, this was cut and pasted from the official blog of the US Secretary of Transportation. If the Americans can do it, why can’t we?

Here are a few more suggestions:

Strict liability, this is common in most western European countries, in fact the UK is one of only five countries which does not have a law of strict liability, the other four are: Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Romania. The principle is simple, the person who is in charge of the heavier vehicle should be presumed liable in a crash. For example, if a lorry was in a collision with a car, the lorry driver would have to take the greater responsibility. So where the driver/rider of a motor vehicle is involved in a crash with a cyclist or pedestrian, the motorist would be presumed liable. This is not always popular with motorists, there are people who are not willing to take responsibility for their actions, but this is why we need to enshrine strict liability in law. The other objection which is often given by motorists is that this would lead to cyclists and pedestrians deliberately running into motor vehicles in order to claim compensation. This seems unlikely, but where the motorist could prove the cyclist or pedestrian was at fault, i.e., if the motor vehicle was stationary and a cyclist ran into the back of it, then the motorist would not be liable (as is currently the case for crashes between motorists).

Reduce speed limits in built up areas from 30 mph to 20 mph, not just around schools, but throughout all built up areas. This would make the streets safer for everyone, as around two-thirds of crashes in which people are killed or injured occur on roads with a speed limit of 30 mph. According to RoSPA the probability of serious injury to a person wearing a seat belt in a front seat at an impact speed of 30 mph is three times greater than at 20mph. At 40 mph it is over five times greater. Impacts at higher speeds are more severe than at lower speeds, and so lead to more serious injuries. At 35 mph a driver is twice as likely to kill someone as they are at 30mph.

It is sobering to realise that:

  • Hit by a car at 20 mph, 3% of pedestrians will be killed – 97% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 30 mph, 20% of pedestrians will be killed – 80% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 35 mph, 50% of pedestrians will be killed – 50% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 40 mph, 90% of pedestrians will be killed – 10% will survive.

Added to this, drivers who speed are more likely to be involved in collisions, and they are also more likely to commit other driving violations, such as red-light running and driving too close to the vehicle in front. A DfT 2007 Speed Survey showed that on 30 mph roads, 49% of car drivers exceed 30 mph and 19% exceed 35 mph. Tougher enforcement of the existing traffic laws would also help, currently the police are reluctant to prosecute drivers exceeding the 30 mph speed limit, unless they are travelling in excess of 40 mph. This is a major reason for people not feeling safe when walking or cycling in areas with busy roads. [Update: this is now creeping on to the political agenda in Scotland, all be it slowly.]

Cycle training. All school children should have cycle training to at least National Standard Level 2 (Basic on road skills) and preferably to Level 3 (Advanced roads skills). In addition, training needs to be made available to adults, there is a “lost generation” of adults who have received no cycle training and who don’t understand that the correct place to ride is on the road rather than the pavement, and that the rules of the road apply to them too.

Scrap Vehicle Excise Duty, and instead raise the tax revenue by increasing fuel duties and tax on car sales. This would discourage the excessive driving which has become the norm. People choose to drive short distances rather than walking or cycling because driving is relatively cheap. According to the RAC, in real terms it is 24% cheaper to buy a car and 57% cheaper to run a car now than it was 20 years ago! At the same time the cost of public transport has risen significantly. Overall, tax incentives are pushing people towards driving rather than using other forms of transport.

Reduce VAT on bicycles, the car scrappage scheme was used to encourage the sale of new cars (which helped to lift France and Germany out of recession), why shouldn’t there be an extra incentive to encourage people to buy bicycles?

Tax car parking spaces, another change over the last twenty years is the growth of retail parks and shopping malls. These use large car parks and generate significant traffic congestion, while at the same time strangling small High Street retailers. One way to redress the balance would be to tax car parking spaces. This could also be applied to workplace car parking to discourage commuting by car and so reduce congestion. Rebates and grants could be given for providing secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the front entrance to the building. As a planning requirement, all new developments should have to provide secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the main entrance to the building, at a minimum rate of one bicycle space per 500 m2 of floor area for commercial offices, and one bicycle space per 900 m2 of floor area for retail and most other commercial uses.

Require planners to count pedestrians and cyclists when they carry out traffic surveys, by law. Every traffic planner in the country can tell you how many motor vehicles there are on the roads in their area, but few (if any) can tell you how many cyclist and pedestrians use the same routes. How can you plan for non-motorised traffic if you don’t know how many people are travelling by these means?

Commit a minimum of 5% of the transport budget to be spent on active travel. Currently less than 2% of the total transport budget is spent on active travel, and yet we are all pedestrians at some time in the day. No one can drive absolutely everywhere, no matter how much some people might want to…!

A lifetime driving ban for drivers who kill, without exception. Currently drivers who cause death by dangerous driving are given a five year ban, starting from the date of sentence (this runs concurrently with any prison term). Drivers who kill, but are convicted of lesser offences, often leave court with little more than a fine and six penalty points on their licence. Anyone causing the death of another by means other than driving can normally expect a substantial prison term, so why are we so lenient with drivers?

Lets give people back their travel choices, lets help them to choose active travel, for a longer, healthier, and happier life!

You don’t pay tax…

You don’t pay tax…

One of the more stupid statements made by motorists to cyclists is “you don’t pay tax”, sadly this is just not true. We all pay tax, as the old axiom has it: there are two things in life which are unavoidable, death and taxes. However, when challenged on this point, they go on to say that they alone pay something called “road tax”, and that the payment of this gives them a greater right to use the roads than anyone else. Again this is not true, here in the UK there is no such thing as “road tax”, there used to be a form of tax called the “Road Fund Licence”, but as I have pointed out elsewhere, this was abolished in 1936! We all pay for the roads through our taxes, so effectively we all pay “road tax”. Despite this, there is a widespread perception among motorists that they are somehow unfairly taxed, unlike those free loading cyclists and pedestrians who dare to use their roads.

So just how true is this perception that motorists are so unfairly taxed? Well in the financial year 2006-07 £28.43bn was raised from taxes on fuel and Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). In the same year around £8.78bn went toward maintenance and £11.91bn new road building, but that is not the whole story. The cost of policing the roads and the expense incurred by the judicial system has been estimated to be £3bn. Also, the cost to the NHS of injuries due to road accidents crashes, according to figures from collated by RoSPA, was £9.93bn. So the total cost to government was £33.62bn, meaning there was a short fall of £5.19bn, which had to be covered from other non-motoring related taxation.

In addition there is the cost to businesses and other drivers due to delays caused by congestion, estimated by those rampant greens, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), to be about £19.1bn.

Even this does not cover the whole cost of motoring to the nation as a whole, there are a large raft of hidden costs borne by all UK tax payers, these include –

  • Noise pollution: in the form of lowered house prices, spoilt semi-natural areas, ill-health and disturbed sleep, estimated to cost £3.1bn. One case study was based on over 3500 property sales in Glasgow, suggested that property prices were depressed by 0.20% for each decibel increase in road noise. (also see Roads: traffic noise)
  • Air pollution (not including CO2): estimated to be between £8.5 billion and £20.2 billion a year and this is likely to be an under-estimate! [Update: A conservative estimate for one type of air pollution (particulates) is that it reduces average life expectancy in the UK by around six months, worth £16 billion a year. DEFRA 2015] When looking at the costs associated with global warming, the figures are more difficult to pin down, but have the potential to dwarf our entire economic system. Transport contributes about 23% of UK domestic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and road transport is responsible for 93% of this.
  • Water pollution: in the form of run-off into rivers and drainage of leaking oil, break fluid, exhaust and soot from vehicles, rubber particulates from tyres and salt used in winter. Again estimated costs are uncertain, but are somewhere between £1bn and £16bn per year.
  • Costs to health due to lack of exercise: the British population is one of the fattest in Europe. The direct cost of obesity to the NHS is £0.5bn per year, the indirect health impacts of physical inactivity, estimated to be £10.7 billion per annum, and on top of that the indirect cost to the UK economy is at least £2bn per year.
  • Insurance: Car insurance is a competitive business. Figures released by the Association of British Insurers show that the payouts to road users were not covered by their premiums. The average shortfall for the five years from 1988 to 1992 was £626 million per year. In other words, insurance companies are charging more on other kinds of insurance to subsidise motorists.
  • The cost of repairing pavements damaged by illegal parking: this has been estimated to cost in the region of £234m a year and that does not include the cost of policing, installing bollards and other devices to stop vehicles parking illegally or the cost of compensation claims for trips and falls caused by this damage.

The simple inconvenient fact is that it is 18% cheaper to run a car now than twenty years ago. This shows that “the motorist”, far from being unfairly taxed, is being heavily subsidised by the non-motoring tax payers. So it is motorists that are the free loaders on Britain’s roads, not the long suffering cyclists and pedestrians.

Now I really must get back to filling out my tax return, if only I could get a rebate for not owning a car …

Roads are for cars!??

Roads are for cars!??

Anyone who cycles regularly on British roads is likely to have heard the comment from car drivers that “roads are for cars!” This is often stated as fact, which poses the question why are roads for cars? Despite the currently prevalent believe among some motorists, roads weren’t actually invented for cars, as roads have been around for quite some time before the car was invented. The road was invented in Asia around 3500 BC (although the Chinese probably claim to have invented them earlier), and strangely enough Herodotus made no mention of Babylonians using their roads to drive around in cars.

Modern methods of road building where invented by John Loudon McAdam who died in 1836, thirty one years before Karl Benz invented the car. It was the invention of the pedal bicycle, by fellow Scot Kirkpatrick Macmillan, which became increasingly popular through the 19th century. This in turn led to a great public concern at the deplorable conditions of the nation’s roads. The roads thus improved, enabled Henry Hewetson to import from Germany the first motorcar to run on the “British Highway” in 1894. So, if it hadn’t been for the bicycling boom in the 1890’s leading to the construction of better roads, cars wouldn’t have become common in Britain. Interestingly the early cycle paths were constructed in towns in the middle of the street to help cyclists avoid the discomfort of cycling over a cobbled surface. No concession to cars there then.

Explain all of this to the average motorist, and they will tell you that they have more rights to the road because they pay tax. Before going further, it should be pointed out that, in Britain, the vast majority of adults pay tax (unless they are Russian billionaires, in which case they live London specifically because they don’t feel the need to pay tax), and that public roads in Britain are paid for out of general taxation. Therefore, all adults in Britain have a right to use the public roads, having paid for them through taxation. However, many motorists will then claim that they have a greater right to the road as they pay something called “road tax”, which oddly enough doesn’t exist. Most motorists will pay Vehicle Excise Duty. This is based on the level of CO2 emissions, it doesn’t have anything to do with paying for the roads. Besides which drivers of vehicles which produce emissions of 100 CO2 g/km and below are exempt from VED, and cyclists would fall into this category if tested (also the right to breath has yet to be taxed).

So where did this idea that motorists are somehow exclusively paying for the roads come from, when in reality we are all paying for the roads through taxation?

The earliest form of motoring tax was introduced under the Finance Act 1908, which levied a tax of 3d (£0.01) on a gallon of petrol from 1st April 1909. This was then followed by the Finance Act 1909-10, which introduced a tax based on the horsepower (hp) of the vehicle. It was stated at the time that revenue from this tax would be paid into a Road Fund, which was to be used for road improvements and this would pay up to half of the cost of some new roads. In 1910 Road Fund Licences introduced, which was charged at £2-10 for vehicles up to 6.5hp and £42 for 60hp. A Road Board was set up to administer the Road Fund and grants paid to local authorities for road improvements. In 1918 the Road Board was disbanded and its functions were taken over by the newly formed Ministry of Transport. The Finance Act 1921 replaced Road Fund Licences with Car Tax (Road Fund Licence) which was set at £1 per hp. The Road Fund continued until 1936, when Winston Churchill, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, abolished it (on the ground that it was give motorists a dangerously inflated sense of ownership of the public road) and so brought to an end to hypothecated road taxation in Britain. So the only drivers on British roads who can truly claim to have paid for the road through car tax are those who are over the age of 88!

QED: roads are not for cars, but are for people however they choose to travel. The act of driving a car confers on the driver no more right to the road than that of any other road user.

Green Taxes

Green Taxes

So the Tories are proposing a move towards more environmental taxes, based on the principle the polluter pays. Now I am all in favour of increasing environmental taxes and reducing direct taxation, but can we trust the Tories on this one? After all this is a party whose leader cycles to work to show his green credentials, but then has an aide driving a car with a change of clothes and his papers. As someone who also cycles to work, I have always managed to carry all I need in panniers or a rucksack. (Indeed I managed to carry all I needed for a weekend away in two panniers, but I digress). Where did they get these new policies from? Well, it appears that they copied them from the Liberal Democrats, nothing new there then.

Changes in tax aimed at changing behaviour require political bravery and strong leadership, do we have such politicians? The current evidence is that we don’t. When it was proposed that Edinburgh should have a £2 congestion charge during rush hour (it wasn’t even going to be for the whole day) the politicians bucked at the first squeal from motoring groups. Even though all the evidence from other cities which have such a charge is that it has been successful, I have often heard car drivers claim that they have more right to the road because they pay road tax. But if they had to pay the real cost of their road usage in a tax based on the damage they do they would be quickly looking for other forms of transport. So long as the cost is paid for from general taxation it will remain hidden. The money raised from Vehicle Excise Duty (it is not road tax) is only a small fraction of the cost of maintaining the road system and not counting the environmental cost.

I am not saying there should be no cars at all, just that other forms of transport should be given equal support and the most appropriate forms of transport should be given priority according to area. I.e. in towns and cities cars should be at the bottom of the list, in rural areas with low population densities mass transit systems are less practical. The car is not going to go away any time soon, as the Swedes and Brazilians have shown, even when we have stopped using fossil fuels cars will still be around. Saab have shown that cars running on bio fuels are far more efficient in terms of raw power.

It is not just transport, that can benefit from the application of green taxation measures. A recent report suggested that, in order to encourage recycling of household waste, the way we are charged for the disposal of rubbish should be changed. Instead of the current flat rate which is included in the Council Tax, householders should be charged according to how much non-recyclable rubbish they produce. From a personal perspective, again this is a move I would support. I live in a household which has a recycling rate close to the European average, way above the British average (we would recycle more if the facilities were available). Such a change would save us money by making the polluters pay and ending our subsidy of them. Obviously increased recycling is not the only solution, it is better to avoid buying over packaged items in the first place, which is not always easy.

I could go on, but I think I will save it for later posts.

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