MPs are putting a controversial switch to hi-tech road pricing back on the agenda, warning that the advent of electric cars risks a “looming fiscal black hole” for the government if it continues to duck the issue.
An investigation will be carried out by the Commons Transport Committee, a decade after proposals for pay-as-you-drive charges were dropped by Tony Blair's administration after a public backlash.
It is acknowledged that the technology not only exists for the policy, but has already been in use in various places around the world for many years.
The 'tag and beacon' system allows vehicles to register passing through a charge point, by communicating with a transponder on an overhead or roadside gantry.
Drivers which fail to do so are recorded by a camera and identified using automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), either at the roadside or at a back office.
Satellite-based technology – allowing full time-distance-place (TDP) charging - has been used in tolling on German motorways.
In a report earlier this month, the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies warned the £40bn a year the government raises from motoring taxes was set to vanish.
“Fuel duty revenue has been eroded by a combination of cash-terms freezes and improving fuel efficiency,” the thinktank said.
“With the advent of electric cars, revenue from this tax is set to disappear altogether in the coming decades.”
Now that warning has been echoed by the transport committee – although it insisted its inquiry was simply to start a much needed debate.
Lilian Greenwood, its Labour chairwoman, said: “It’s been almost 10 years since the last real discussion of national road pricing
“In that time, we have become much more aware of the dangers of air pollution and congestion.
“Parliament declared a climate emergency in May, and local councils have begun to do the same. This requires a serious response, including rethinking how we manage our road network.”
Highlighting the “looming fiscal black hole,” Greenwood added: “We need to ask how we will pay for roads in the future and, in answering that question, we have an opportunity for a much wider debate about our use of road space, cutting carbon emissions, tackling congestion, modal shift and how we prioritise active travel.”
Insisting the technology did not mean “pricing drivers off the road,” she said: “It’s about making sure that as many people as possible have a say in future plans so that we can manage the changes to come. The transport committee wants to kick-start this conversation.”