Jams today, and even more jams tomorrow

That’s what the RAC predict in their new report, highlighting the traffic nightmare the UK is sleepwalking into.

The UK already has the most intensive daily use of the road network out of all European countries. This is something that won’t come as any surprise to those of us used to planning our daily commutes around traffic jam blackspots.

And according to the RAC, this congestion is only going to get worse.

The future looks like a tailback

As the UK population climbs by another 10 million over the next 25 years, we can expect to see another 4 million cars on the road.

This will lead to staggering rises in traffic volume, with the RAC predicting an overall rise in UK traffic of 43% by 2035.

Some regions will be even worse hit, with increases of 48% and 44% estimated for the East Midlands and South East.

Drivers can expect more time stewing in jams, as delays grow by a horrendous 54%.

But the problem isn’t just more cars

The UK’s roads are already suffering from inadequate maintenance, with a hefty backlog of repairs and new road schemes postponed.

This probably doesn’t surprise drivers who have found themselves dodging pot-holes on the way into work or school-run.

What might comes as a nasty shock, though, is that the government’s road maintenance plans aren’t even enough to cope with the rate of traffic growth predicted by the Ministry of Transport itself.

Plus, the government is expecting revenues from fuel duty to fall by up to 20% in the next 20 years.

As this money is meant to pay for upkeep of Britain’s roads, this already small budget might become more pinched.

What this means for the UK’s drivers

The misery and stress of dealing with start-stop conditions, huge differences in journey times and massive delays caused by road works or accidents.

UK businesses are going to find themselves hamstrung by difficulties in reliably moving their products around the country.

It’s estimated to cost a business an average of £50 for every hour one of their drivers spends stuck in congestion. Long-term, this could be the difference between a profitable business and one that goes to the wall.

Apart from abandoning our cars, what can be done?

The RAC believe there are two main solutions to ease future traffic jams.

Although they are quick to point out that they are not in favour of a huge road building scheme, unsurprisingly more roads are one of their top solutions.

They’ve highlighted ten new road projects which would each bring in at least £6 for every pound spent on them.

Another solution is unappealingly termed ‘sweating the assets’, or making what we already have work harder.

This is already being used on some motorways, with hard-shoulder running and variable speed limits controlling traffic flow.

And how would this be funded?

The RAC is in favour of rebalancing expenditure, spending more of the money raised by road and fuel tax on the UK’s roads.

However, what they avoid mentioning is that this would surely mean cuts elsewhere. Improving the roads is unlikely to be popular if it comes at the expense of education or healthcare.

Another option is increasing current taxes, although this would be hugely unpopular, increase social inequality, and penalise people living in the countryside.

Proposed new roads could be paid for with isolated tolls.

Not feeling that any of these ideas are particularly attractive?

You’re not alone. The RAC believes that its preferred model for funding road maintenance and expansion, pay as you go charging, could avoid most of the pitfalls of the other options.

This model is successfully used in countries like France, USA, Australia and Germany, where drivers are charged to use certain roads according to how far they drive on them.

In the UK, the RAC propose that a pay as you go model could replace the road tax and fuel duty.

One of the main benefits is that it changes driver behaviour and demand, easing rush-hour urban congestion.

It also rewards those who travel less, would balance out the predicted drop in revenue and mediate the distortion between the cost of running electric and hydrocarbon-fuelled vehicles.

The list of supporters for this idea reads like a who’s who of the UK’s leading business and transport organisations.

Almost everyone you could think of, in fact, apart from the government, who have said they will not consider the idea.

One of the main problems cited by opponents is privacy. However, in a RAC poll, it appears that privacy was the least significant concern for drivers in implementing – a pay as you go scheme.

Have your say

Would you support a pay as you go system, either on motorways or throughout the UK’s road network?

Do you have any other solutions the RAC has overlooked?  Post your comments and feedback below.

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Andrew Kirkley
Latest posts by Andrew Kirkley (see all)
  • 9th December 2011

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