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"Road Pricing" by Howard Blessington Edinburgh meeting of 6 February 2001

The Scottish Branch was privileged to have Mr. Howard Blessington give a presentation on Road Pricing. Mr. Blessington, a Director with Oscar-Faber, said that was often seen as the "Holy Grail" of transport economics.

Mr. H. Blessingtond

Mr. Howard Blessington of Oscar Faber.

© John G. Fender 2010

Road space was recognized as a scarce commodity in that there is finite capacity available on roads. Using roads incurs costs, including those incurred by delays, congestion, pollution etc., and the imposition of pricing is seen a way of generating revenue for new social investment. Current thinking is that such revenue will be hypothecated, but there is no reason why the money could not be used for the next best economic case. With road pricing, there is a charge for using congested road space. He pointed out that the idea had been around for some 30 years, but little had been done to implement road pricing schemes due to a combination of institutional inertia, political concern and behavioural resistance.

It has been estimated that in Central London, a £5 charge would reduce traffic by 15% in the peak periods and 12% during the day. In terms of economic benefit this would yield between £125 million and £250 million per annum.

There are two technique that could be used, these being the area charge and the cordon. An area charge would apply to everyone in the designated area whilst a cordon scheme would mean that vehicles crossing into an area would be charged. Mr. Blessington then outlined the requirements for the enforceability of road pricing schemes, pointing out that the necessary technology already exists. enforcement would need to be high visibility.

He then examined the practical aspects of implementing road pricing, covering such items as the issue of permits, the infrastructure required, the need for advance warning, the gateway treatment, the need to provide a diversionary route and escape routes. Cameras would be used in conjunction with automatic number plate reading equipment and he outlined how offenders who failed to pay the appropriate charge would be fined under the penalty charge system.

He looked at the legal processes and the need for a debt recovery system and also pointed out that there was a Customer Care requirement as well. He highlighted research in London had shown that a sample of people had revealed that 53% thought that road pricing was a good idea, 35% felt that it was a bad idea and 11% were neutral. However, when motorists were asked the same questions, the results were that 30% said it was a good idea, 58% thought it was a bad idea and 12% were neutral.

Mr. Blessington concluded his presentation by indicating that for such schemes to work, there would need to be investment and that some of the benefits would need to be provided in advance. Local authorities now have 5 and 10 year Spending Plans and they would have to have plans both with and without road pricing schemes. Mr. Blessington then answered many questions put to him on various aspects of road pricing.

The Scottish Branch would like to thank Oscar-Faber for their support of this meeting, Graham Atkins and Edinburgh City Council for accommodation and sandwiches.

Report by John Fender.


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