Once again, the issue of road funding arises, with the Government recognising that even maintenance is massively underfunded, and the road lobby claiming that “road users pay for the roads many times over”.
The truth, of course, on both sides of the atlantic, is that this supposedly ‘private’ transportation is both provided and maintained at public expense, and that there is no sustained source of funding. The road lobby always neglects 1) collateral expenses, such as policing, rescue and medical costs of road accidents, pollution, and carbon emission, and 2) the fact that it is perfectly legitimate for the State to raise taxes on what is largely a luxury (otherwise everyone would drive a Citroen 2CV, on those rare occasions they didn’t walk or cycle to work, like their grandparents did).
If something is given away free, at point of sale, then expect a queue. The market is part of nature and cannot be denied. Demand is regulated either through price or through queuing. With road use, relying on a queue (congestion) is both immensely costly – the one thing on which the CBI, the government and Friends of the Earth agree is the cost of congestion, in just lost production, at around £20bn a year, and that was back in 1996 – and dramatically reduces the value of any road ; who would pay the same for a ticket when journey time has doubled?
There will be no road pricing, since no politician has the balls to suggest it. Congestion will double over the next twenty years, and the economy will suffer just as badly as people stuck in the jams.
Unlike the US, most of which has been built recently, the UK fortunately has the remains of a fabulous alternative transport system, built by our Victorian ancestors, who were just as great at investment as they were at engineering. Demand for rail travel is rising exponentially. Sadly, unlike the rest of Europe, we have added almost nothing, building only one new line in the last hundred years. Even maintenance has been minimal, resulting in many deaths before it was reluctantly dealt with, but without adding significant capacity.
As oil prices rise, as they inexorably will, road transport, along with the stupid car-predicated sprawl that goes with it, will become increasingly uneconomic, leaving life for so many people impossible, and the economy dying of the equivalent of atherosclerosis – clogged arteries.
To quote Monty Python : Let’s ‘ope there’s some intelligence somewhere up above, ‘cos there’s bugger all down ‘ere on Earth…