Galileo could become just a road-pricing project
Economic pressures on Galileo could mean the only way to turn for project funding is road pricing, despite rejections of congestion charging in a number of UK cities – argues Brian Gregory
Road pricing does not deliver what it is purported to. Although traffic levels have fallen in central London, for example, congestion levels and journey times have not materially improved. The statistical evidence suggests that both are actually starting to deteriorate
And the emissions situation has certainly not been alleviated. If anything, since central London became primarily the preserve of largely obsolescent diesel-technology buses and taxis, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter levels have increased and there has been a documented deterioration in urban air quality.
Bus and cycle-lanes, randomised traffic-light phasing and junction-narrowing are all measures that have been "successfully" employed in central London. Inevitably, this has created traffic congestion, not relieved it. Congestion charging can only work by pricing road users off the road. And it is the poorest that will be priced out first.
Indeed, one of the "advantages" cited for a proposed congestion cordon scheme around Newcastle-upon-Tyne was that it would make it easier and quicker for the "high-rollers" to enter and leave their high-rent city centre offices during rush-hour periods. No real public consultation on the issue of road pricing has taken place since Edinburgh Council decisively lost a public referendum on the acceptability of such a scheme - by a four to one majority.
Under the previous Labour administration, central government was pressurising local authorities into putting in place local road-pricing schemes. Newcastle Council was even offered £1.4bn in transport investment if they, together with Sunderland Council, brought in a local road pricing scheme. If they refused, they were told they would get no transport investment whatsoever. This is state-condoned blackmail. A similar, morally dubious approach was unsuccessfully taken to try and force through road-pricing in Greater Manchester. It is meeting ever-stiffening public resistance.
There is also a supranational dimension to this political enthusiasm for road pricing. The European Union does not wish to be reliant on American Global Positioning System technology for military applications. As a result, it is developing its own competing technology named Galileo. Like every project the EU institutes, Galileo is massively over budget and seriously behind schedule.
Commercial applications for this technology are desperately needed to dig the EU out of yet another budgetary black hole. It has been estimated that the infrastructure required to install network-wide road pricing across, in the UK alone, would cost £60bn. It would cost some £7bn per year in fees to private service providers, to operate the system. That would have to be recouped from road users as an absolute minimum before any contribution towards paying the capital cost of the system could be made.
It would necessitate every single vehicle in the UK being fitted with a tracking device so that its exact location and speed could be monitored at all times, and its keeper automatically charged for its use - at differing rates dependent on time of day or night. It is totally unnecessary; we already have a perfectly-progressive form of road taxation through fuel prices. The bigger the car and the less economical its engine, the further and faster you drive it - the more tax you pay. No-one can avoid paying it. Nor does it require the installation of a £60bn infrastructure programme, with £7bn annual running costs, to collect it.
Neither does it require the infringement of the privacy and civil liberties of the entire road-using population through 24-hour surveillance. Currently, British road users pay more than £50bn per year in road-user taxes - only about £7bn of which finds its way back into investments into road maintenance and parking. In the mid-1970's, UK road users paid around £12bn per annum in taxes, which all found its way back into such investments.
As road-users, we are being comprehensively ripped off by government. We do not need road-pricing schemes - whether local, national, or at a European level. What we really need government to do is invest a much larger proportion of what it already extracts annually from hard-pressed motorists into the transport infrastructure and to fund shelved road improvements and bypasses as well as public transport, rail and air transport improvements.
Brian Gregory is chairman of the Association of Britain Drivers, in the UK