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E-petition: Response from the Prime Minister
Thank you for taking the time to register your views about road pricing on the Downing Street website.
This petition was posted shortly before we published the Eddington Study, an independent review of Britain's transport network. This study set out long-term challenges and options for our transport network.
It made clear that congestion is a major problem to which there is no easy answer. One aspect of the study was highlighting how road pricing could provide a solution to these problems and that advances in technology put these plans within our reach. Of course it would be ten years or more before any national scheme was technologically, never mind politically, feasible.
That is the backdrop to this issue. As my response makes clear, this is not about imposing "stealth taxes" or introducing "Big Brother" surveillance. This is a complex subject, which cannot be resolved without a thorough investigation of all the options, combined with a full and frank debate about the choices we face at a local and national level. That's why I hope this detailed response will address your concerns and set out how we intend to take this issue forward. I see this email as the beginning, not the end of the debate, and the links below provide an opportunity for you to take it further.
But let me be clear straight away: we have not made any decision about national road pricing. Indeed we are simply not yet in a position to do so. We are, for now, working with some local authorities that are interested in establishing local schemes to help address local congestion problems. Pricing is not being forced on any area, but any schemes would teach us more about how road pricing would work and inform decisions on a national scheme. And funds raised from these local schemes will be used to improve transport in those areas.
One thing I suspect we can all agree is that congestion is bad. It's bad for business because it disrupts the delivery of goods and services. It affects people's quality of life. And it is bad for the environment. That is why tackling congestion is a key priority for any Government.
Congestion is predicted to increase by 25% by 2015. This is being driven by economic prosperity. There are 6 million more vehicles on the road now than in 1997, and predictions are that this trend will continue.
Part of the solution is to improve public transport, and to make the most of the existing road network. We have more than doubled investment since 1997, spending £2.5 billion this year on buses and over £4 billion on trains - helping to explain why more people are using them than for decades. And we're committed to sustaining this investment, with over £140 billion of investment planned between now and 2015. We're also putting a great deal of effort into improving traffic flows - for example, over 1000 Highways Agency Traffic Officers now help to keep motorway traffic moving.
But all the evidence shows that improving public transport and tackling traffic bottlenecks will not by themselves prevent congestion getting worse. So we have a difficult choice to make about how we tackle the expected increase in congestion. This is a challenge that all political leaders have to face up to, and not just in the UK. For example, road pricing schemes are already in operation in Italy, Norway and Singapore, and others, such as the Netherlands, are developing schemes. Towns and cities across the world are looking at road pricing as a means of addressing congestion.
One option would be to allow congestion to grow unchecked. Given the forecast growth in traffic, doing nothing would mean that journeys within and between cities would take longer, and be less reliable. I think that would be bad for businesses, individuals and the environment. And the costs on us all will be real - congestion could cost an extra £22 billion in wasted time in England by 2025, of which £10-12 billion would be the direct cost on businesses.
A second option would be to try to build our way out of congestion. We could, of course, add new lanes to our motorways, widen roads in our congested city centres, and build new routes across the countryside. Certainly in some places new capacity will be part of the story. That is why we are widening the M25, M1 and M62. But I think people agree that we cannot simply build more and more roads, particularly when the evidence suggests that traffic quickly grows to fill any new capacity.
Tackling congestion in this way would also be extremely costly, requiring substantial sums to be diverted from other services such as education and health, or increases in taxes. If I tell you that one mile of new motorway costs as much as £30m, you'll have an idea of the sums this approach would entail.
That is why I believe that at least we need to explore the contribution road pricing can make to tackling congestion. It would not be in anyone's interests, especially those of motorists, to slam the door shut on road pricing without exploring it further.
It has been calculated that a national scheme - as part of a wider package of measures - could cut congestion significantly through small changes in our overall travel patterns. But any technology used would have to give definite guarantees about privacy being protected - as it should be. Existing technologies, such as mobile phones and pay-as-you- drive insurance schemes, may well be able to play a role here, by ensuring that the Government doesn't hold information about where vehicles have been. But there may also be opportunities presented by developments in new technology. Just as new medical technology is changing the NHS, so there will be changes in the transport sector. Our aim is to relieve traffic jams, not create a "Big Brother" society.
I know many people's biggest worry about road pricing is that it will be a "stealth tax" on motorists. It won't. Road pricing is about tackling congestion.
Clearly if we decided to move towards a system of national road pricing, there could be a case for moving away from the current system of motoring taxation. This could mean that those who use their car less, or can travel at less congested times, in less congested areas, for example in rural areas, would benefit from lower motoring costs overall. Those who travel longer distances at peak times and in more congested areas would pay more. But those are decisions for the future. At this stage, when no firm decision has been taken as to whether we will move towards a national scheme, stories about possible costs are simply not credible, since they depend on so many variables yet to be investigated, never mind decided.
Before we take any decisions about a national pricing scheme, we know that we have to have a system that works. A system that respects our privacy as individuals. A system that is fair. I fully accept that we don't have all the answers yet. That is why we are not rushing headlong into a national road pricing scheme. Before we take any decisions there would be further consultations. The public will, of course, have their say, as will Parliament.
We want to continue this debate, so that we can build a consensus around the best way to reduce congestion, protect the environment and support our businesses. If you want to find out more, please visit the attached links to more detailed information, and which also give opportunities to engage in further debate.
Yo, contemptible wretched plebs!
First, we'd just like to say a big thanks to all 1,955,362 of you for obligingly giving your e-mail addresses in order that we can keep a watch on your subversive internet activities. I am willing to give the appearance of listening to the electorate, but *I* alone know best, and so I shall not be taking even the slightest bit of notice of your albeit democratically-held, but irrelevant little views, wearisome suggestions, and insignificant protestations, and so will sweep them into the Recycle Bin and press on regardless with a foundation for my Legacy...I mean the important plans for a road- pricing scheme, with a special £600 "black box" fitted into every vehicle, and ultimately for Britain to be swallowed-up and become a mere administrative region of an expanded United States of Europe, a federal New Socialist absolute superpower, with, of course, myself to go down in history and to be crowned the inaugural President (like my bestest friend George W. Bush) for a 5-year term in the first instance, starting in time for me to come back over to Britain and open my glorious showpiece 2012 London Olympic Games. That's *at least* 9.2 billion quid (now including VAT) to be invested in the long- awaited, welcome regeneration of that desolate toxic cesspool, London's East End, thanks to Tessa Jowell's dubious accountancy...then we can double the Congestion Charge from a tenner to a score and extend it as far as Walthamstow, Ilford and Dagenham...that is if Ken Livingstone is not too busy with his little newts...and sucking-up to Arab terrorists and to despotic communist dictators, comparing doormen to Third Reich concentration camp guards, and pushing the occasional person over walls whilst intoxicated at dinner parties in Tufnell Park. Following that, in my second term, I can open the World Cup.
So look...it is important to understand (if you can) that it doesn't matter what a pig's ear we've made of the transportation network since the 1997 landslide, because it's obvious, is it not, that before long no-one except, for instance, Cabinet Ministers, other lesser (Socialist) politicians, civil servants, certain celebrities, and also the upper echelons of the public sector will be able to afford (or be allowed) to drive anyway? And so what if this ingenious New Order spy- in-the-sky technology is more complicated than the *still* non- functioning National Health Service systems that we've already frittered-away down the toilet...whoops, sorry, I meant invested...52 billion smackeroonies in. I mean, whatever...it's not as if it's *your* dosh the esteemed Patricia Hewitt wastes or anything, is it? I mean, come on...we acknowledge that only, I'd estimate what...21 percent of the common British electorate voted for me last time...someone has to operate all the new-fangled technological stuff, and nowadays we have to get whatever extra votes wherever we can, innit?
Backhanders...I mean cash donations...no, um...I suppose we'd better make that special secret "loans"...from dubious business magnates and sordid venture capitalists can only go so far, especially with that useless fat bar-steward John 'Chipolata' Prescott's departmental waste and the unctuous Lord Falconer's lunch expense sheet to pay for. Hence my new Orwellian snooper army of New Labour-voting council "Lightbulb Inspectors", and "Window Panoramic Aesthetics Standards Arbitrators", and "Peace and Quiet Measurement Statistic Officers", and the faceless "Cigarette-down-the-pub Stasi", and the four-thousand "House Sellers' Pack Administration Operative" parasites on eighty-grand-a-year each...and a barcode on your dustbin, and neutering the Police "Service", the traditions of the Catholic Church, (ditto the House of Lords), and politicising the British Broadcasting Corporation, and crippling stealth taxes, and excluding smokers, the clinically obese and the middle classes from hospital treatment, and positive discrimination, and electoral boundary shifting to suit Labour council purposes, and diverting funds from National Lottery good causes, and destruction of the conventional family to encourage even more ill- educated teenage schoolgirl single mothers to produce even more "sweet little bay-bees" on benefits, and incessant systematic persecution of the cash-cow motorist, and 24-hour licensing, selling Britain's gold reserves, and cowboys running Las Vegas-style Supercasinos (thanks again, Tessa!) and so on...I mean, for goodness sake, things are so tight in Downing Street now that poor Cherie ("The Wicked Witch") even has to point-out her Human Rights in order to be able to keep whatever welcome little tidbits, clothes and presents are tossed in her direction...we even have to rely on the charity of various millionaire socialist friends for occasional exotic holidays in the sun. (PS: Remember to offset your carbon emissions!)
So...forwards, not back...we suggest you stop your counterproductive, cynical whingeing, drop the attitude, and instead be so eternally grateful to me that there is not a specific tax on breathing...actually, now why did we not think of that one earlier? Silicon chips implanted into everyone's lungs! What a worthwhile idea! I'll get "Old One-Eye", Gordon "Robber" Brown on the case now... that ought to keep him happily being Chancellor of the Exchequer for another 1 or 2 years, as I have not actually sorted out any worthwhile employment as such, in the wheeling-and-dealing wilderness inbetween when I exit No. 10 Downing Street and when I start at the new job at Berchtesgaden...and I don't suppose that there is any guarantee that anyone on the lucrative American lecture circuit will give two hoots about whatever the wife Cherie and I have got to say about ten years of success together, which is a bit unfortunate when we have various mortgages adding up to 20-25 times our basic annual income.
But anyway, to conclude...doubtless by now you will all have been won over by my good looks, charming disposition, whitewash-white smile, important visionary ideas, swift decisiveness, statesmanlike manner, selflessness, and persuasive (totally correct) opinions. An egotistic poodle? You know, I think that most people who have dealt with me think that I'm a pretty straight sort of guy...so just click on the link below to register your support for my road-pricing scheme:
...I mean, the general concensus is that we've got to do something about noxious gases, have we not? Doing nothing is not an option. Anyone who replies before 01.05.07 will receive, free, either a knighthood or a peerage for their troubles. (Please state which you would prefer). Best hurry up before Assistant Commissioner Yates gets hold of me...or Her Majesty rumbles me and dissolves parliament.
Oh, by the way, any dissidents who do NOT click the link to give my concept a virtual rubber stamp will doubtless be "persuaded" by Botcher Reid, with the use of whips, chains and thumbscrews, to sign up for the new compulsory combined NHS/DVLA/Inland Revenue/mobile phone/Google search Biometric Identity Cards, and be brainwashed and forcibly sterilised. Don't forget, now we know who ( and where) you appalling troublemakers all are...Big Brother is watching you! Anyway, enough of all this tedious politics stuff...because *I've* been watching Big Brother...on Channel 4! So if you'll excuse me, toodle- oo! I've got a personal audience with Mother Shilpa of Bombay to go to.
Lord Blair of Islington