‘No viable alternative’ to road charging as drivers switch to electric cars – MPs

Charging drivers for using roads has been backed by MPs who said today there was “no viable alternative” to pay for the network as motoring tax income dwindled with the switch to electric vehicles.

Support for road charging or pricing from the Commons transport committee comes weeks after the Scottish Government said it would consider such schemes as part of its ambitious target to cut traffic by 20 per cent by 2030.

However, committee chair Huw Merriman said there would have to be discussions between the UK and Scottish Governments over any UK-wide scheme because while roads were devolved to Holyrood, control of motoring taxes remained at Westminster.

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Scottish ministers have called for such taxes to be devolved too.

Road charging will be considered by the Scottish Government to help meet its traffic reduction target. Picture: Steven Scott TaylorRoad charging will be considered by the Scottish Government to help meet its traffic reduction target. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
Road charging will be considered by the Scottish Government to help meet its traffic reduction target. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

A report by the committee said the UK Government must urgently develop a new motoring tax to address the decline in revenue as drivers switched to electric cars because there was likely to be "zero revenue" from existing motoring taxation by 2040.

The sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned in the UK from 2030, with the fuel duty and vehicle excise duty from such vehicles – based on emissions – raising around £35 billion a year.

Neither tax is levied on pure electric vehicles.

The report said it has not seen a "viable alternative" to a road pricing system which used technology to track the movement of vehicles and charges drivers based on distance travelled.

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Such a scheme could factor in the type of vehicle and congestion, and support vulnerable groups such as those with mobility issues, and people in remote areas.

However, the committee stressed that drivers should pay "the same or less" than as under current taxes.

Mr Merriman said of the need for cross-Border discussions over the issue: "The Scottish Government may regard that they should own this because it's roads, whereas the UK Government may say they own it because it's all about taxes, so there needs to be a conversation with the devolved nations as to how this can be brought about."

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A spokesperson for the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said: “This report underlines the unfairness and unviability of the status quo.

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"We welcome the committee’s recognition that urgent action from the UK Government is needed, including structural reform to motoring taxes that the UK Government itself acknowledged is inevitable and required in their recent net zero review.

"We recognise a new policy direction is needed to address the decline of fuel duty and vehicle excise duty – which are reserved to the UK Government - both in the current environment and looking to the future when we have the powers to design and deliver fiscal solutions that best meet Scotland’s needs and interests.”

Scotland’s leading transport academic, Professor Iain Docherty of the University of Stirling, said the report was “extremely welcome, and government action is long overdue.

"Given Scotland has about a third of the land mass of Britain, there needs to be scope to ensure any scheme is devolved or at the very least appropriate for the very large and sparsely populated rural areas we have.

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"Rolling out electric vehicles quickly and moving to a charging regime that recognises Scotland’s geography is a key quid pro quo to the major public transport investment planned for the cities.”

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