Understanding local authorities' views on a national road user charging system

Understanding local authorities view on road user charging system - front cover
The LGA commissioned independent research to gather local government views, insights and priorities around a national road pricing system.

Executive summary

The switch to electric vehicles will bring positive outcomes to transport decarbonisation, air quality (although concerns around particulates remain an issue) and noise. But there are also downsides. Currently, the cost of driving electric vehicles (EVs) is less than driving petrol or diesel vehicles, which could lead to increases in driving and congestion negatively impacting health, safety, social outcomes and the environment. The switch to EVs will also have a significantly negative impact on revenues from fuel duty and Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) collected by the government.

It is in this context that the LGA commissioned this research to gather local government views, insights and priorities around a national road pricing system. Twelve interviews were carried out with representatives of local authorities and regional bodies in England such as mayoral combined authority areas and sub-regional transport bodies to explore their views on a national road pricing system. Interviews were undertaken across a range of authorities with differing political perspectives and geographies to ensure that the study reflected the diversity of conditions. This report does not necessarily reflect the position of the LGA on road pricing but will be valuable in informing future policy development and discussions with Government.

The design of the interview protocol drew strongly on the Transport Select Committee Report on Road Pricing (February 2022).

Our interviews found that local authorities are at the beginning of the journey thinking about the implications of a national road pricing system. We find areas of strong agreement and areas of disagreement around what are important components of a national road user charging system.

Areas of agreement

Areas of disagreement

  • A new way is needed for electric vehicles to pay to use roads (to replace lost fuel duty)
  • A national road user charging system is needed
  • A national road user charging system must be seen to be fair (e.g. across different groups of the population, regions and between urban and rural areas)
  • Clarity is desired on the resulting funding model
  • A portion of the funds generated from a national road pricing system should be allocated to local authorities for transport investment
  • Strong (national) government leadership and good communication is needed to encourage the electorate to accept the need and see the benefits of a national road user charging scheme.
  • Need for revenue neutrality, with some local authorities feeling that limiting charges to be consistent with revenue neutrality was a missed opportunity to support local transport objectives whereas others felt that revenue neutrality was absolutely necessary to sell a national road pricing system to the public
  • Use of local top-ups allowing local authorities to generate additional funds from local charging systems, where some authorities welcomed this, whereas others thought it was unhelpful to wait for the introduction of a national system or that local top-ups could introduce unwelcome competition between regions
  • The level of complexity of a national road user charging system, particularly whether a simple system would be seen to be fair, or, on the other hand, more complex systems are implementable or acceptable to users
  • Urgency for introducing a national road user charging system, where some authorities felt that the introduction of a simple road charging scheme was vitally urgent whereas others felt that phased careful roll-out was required for such a controversial policy

 

Our interviews suggest that there will be a need for trade-offs between the complexity of the system, fairness (and ability to reach policy goals more widely) and urgency (or speed with which a system could be introduced). For example, it may be possible to introduce a simple system relatively quickly, but that system may not address policy goals as well as a more complex system (and it may be seen to be less fair, for example, if people in urban and rural areas are charged the same, although this is how fuel duty currently works). Alternatively, it may be possible to introduce a more complex system that is more aligned with policy goals (and is seen to be fairer) but this may take longer to develop, pilot and introduce.

Triangle graphs with 'policy goals and fairness', 'complexity', and 'urgency' at the corners, with 'effectiveness' in the middle
Road pricing system trade-offs. (Source: Mott MacDonald)

A key message from the interviewees was that a national road charging system should be as simple as possible and clear to users, but it should be seen to be fair.

We put forward a possible national road user charging system that could meet the needs of local authorities. This system has not been validated by interviewees. The aim is to start a discussion about what a national system that may be acceptable to local authorities.

Our proposed system encompasses three components – and it is important that all three components are incorporated into the system.

Component 1: Revenue neutral national road user charging system. Component 2: Agreement of allocation of funding (consistent with current funding levels). Component 3: Optional top-up with additional revenues allocated to local authority

The first component is a ‘revenue neutral’ national road user charging system that would generate lost tax income for electric vehicles equivalent to the levels of tax being collected now.

The second important component is government agreement to provide funding to local authorities that is (at least) consistent with current transport funding levels. With this agreement, no local authority would be worse off than they are now. It will ensure that local authorities are not penalised by their decision of whether or not to incorporate additional top-ups.

The third component is an optional top-up charge, where local authorities could add on additional road user charges to the national scheme for car journeys made in their area. Importantly, the additional revenues generated must be allocated to the local authority for spending on transport. It is important that this component is optional so that authorities who do not wish to add charges do not have to (and are not worse off than they are now), but those who do want to can do and that these charges can vary by area, road type, time of day, for example. It is therefore important that the national system (eventually) use telematic technology to allow for the introduction of local charges. Allowing (and encouraging) local authorities to piggyback onto a national system could support roll-out of local charging systems nationally because not all local authority areas would have to develop a bespoke charging system. Moreover, if all charges were collected under a national system, it may help avoid the potential problem of road users encountering a patchwork of different road charging systems if they make journeys across local authority areas.

Finally, our study identified a number of issues for further research and discussion.

Local government authorities are tasked with delivering future transport initiatives. They therefore should be a key stakeholder in government discussions about a future road charging system. We hope that the findings of this study provide a first step in fleshing out local government priorities, needs and concerns for a national road pricing system.

Our proposed system encompasses three components – and it is important that all three components are incorporated into the system.

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the helpful advice of our expert advisors, Emeritus Professor Phil Goodwin and the Mott MacDonald Professor of Future Mobility Glenn Lyons, in helping to guide the structure of the interviews and interpretation of findings. We would also like to thank all of the people who generously gave us their time and thoughts in the interviews from across the 12 interviews undertaken in this project.

1. Background

Emissions from transport are now the single largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the UK, and within that, cars are the largest component. Transition to electric vehicles (EVs) will play an important role in transport decarbonisation, particularly for cars and light goods vehicles. The switch to EVs will not only lead to reductions in GHG emissions, but also improvements in air quality (although concerns around particulates remain an issue) and noise.

But there are also some downsides. Currently, the cost of driving EVs is less than driving petrol or diesel vehicles, which could lead to increases in driving and congestion negatively impacting health, safety and the environment. The Department for Transport (DfT) has forecast car traffic to grow by between 11-43 per cent by 2050. (This is based on the latest published national road traffic forecasts, 2018, though these were before COVID-19, Brexit, and calculation of the effects of the decarbonisation agenda itself. Revised figures have been calculated, but are not yet published). The highest mileage scenario occurs where EV uptake is assumed to be fastest and where overall fuel costs were projected to fall by 63 per cent. The switch to EVs will also have a significant impact on revenues from fuel duty and Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) collected by the government:

The prospect of a complete switch to electric propulsion for cars and vans will lead to loss of most revenue from fuel duty, currently about £28 billion a year (HGVs might still require taxable fuel), offset to a small degree by VAT of 5 per cent on electricity. Vehicle Excise Duty [‘road tax’] raises some £6 billion a year, rather less than the annual capital and current expenditure on national and local roads of £8 billion in total. So VED could be raised to cover the full cost of the road system. But that would leave a major gap in public revenues and would, in the long run, imply much cheaper motoring – welcome to motorists but problematic in respect of the detrimental impacts of the car.

David Metz (2018) Replacing fuel duty in the era of electric vehicles

As a result, the government has committed to replace motoring taxes through this transition as part of the Ten Point Plan:

As we move forward with this transition, we will need to ensure that the tax system encourages the uptake of EVs and that revenue from motoring taxes keeps pace with this change, to ensure we can continue to fund the first-class public services and infrastructure that people and families across the UK expect.

Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, BEIS, Prime Minister’s Office, November 2020

The Transport Select Committee (TSC) has also responded to these growing concerns publishing a report on road pricing in February 2022. The TSC report recommends the introduction of a national road pricing system that charges vehicles on the basis of miles travelled, time of travel and vehicle type, with the aim of reducing the financial loss of fuel duty while managing congestion and travel demand. Appendix A provides a summary of the TSC recommendations.

Graphic of miles travelled, time of travel and vehicle type
Figure 1: Road pricing dimensions recommended by Transport Select Committee. (Source: Mott MacDonald)

It is in this context that the LGA has commissioned this research to gather local government views, insights and priorities around a national road pricing system. This work was undertaken between January and May 2022.

This short report sets out the findings of the study. We set out the methodology used to undertake these interviews in Section 2. Section 3 reports the findings from the interviews and Section 4 puts forward a possible way forward, based on the findings from the interviews. Section 5 sets out areas that require further research and discussion.

We emphasise that this research is the start of a discussion on national road user charging, including opportunities and challenges, from the perspective of local government policymakers.

2. Methodology

This study involved 12 one-hour semi-structured interviews carried out with representatives of local authorities and regional bodies in England such as mayoral combined authority areas. Interviews were undertaken across a range of authorities with differing political perspectives and geographies to ensure that the study reflected the diversity of conditions. The interviews were carried out with senior transport professionals within the local authority.

The aim of the interviews was to get local authorities’ views on a national road pricing system. The design of the interview protocol drew strongly on the Transport Select Committee Report on Road Pricing (February 2022).

Interim findings were also presented to the LGA’s Economy, Environment, Housing and Transport Board to give an opportunity for early sight and input from councillors.

These findings have been compiled into this report, which aims to be a starting point for discussion with government. In addition, we will deliver a webinar to a wider local government audience in June 2022 and produce an article on the study findings for LGA’s First Magazine.

This work has drawn on a team of staff with a range of expertise in interviews and road user charging. We have also drawn on advice throughout the project from Professor Phil Goodwin and the Mott MacDonald Professor of Future Mobility Glenn Lyons who are renowned experts in transport with deep understanding of road user charging. As such this report does not necessarily reflect the position of the LGA on road pricing but will be valuable in informing future policy development and discussions with Government.

3. What we learned from the interviews

Local authorities are focused on local plans to reduce carbon emissions and are at the beginning of the journey of thinking about the implications of a national road pricing system.

Most local authorities were in the early stages of thinking about the implications of a national road pricing system. Most have not yet started thinking about or have only begun internal discussions about this issue. Combined authorities and city regions were more likely to have been thinking about a national road pricing system and are having internal discussions and discussions with stakeholders.

How much has your local authority explored the impacts of national road pricing - from not at all to published formal views
Figure 2: Local authority answers on their level of exploration of the impacts of road pricing. (Source: Mott MacDonald)

Instead, their focus has been on developing local transport plans to reduce carbon emissions. These plans encompass both travel demand management measures to reduce car use and encouraging the use of more sustainable travel modes and switching to zero-emission vehicles, both for private and public transport. The focus on each strategy varies across urban and rural areas, with urban areas being more focused on demand management and introduction of zero-emission public transport while rural areas were more focussed on switching to zero-emission vehicles for personal travel, although most authorities were considering aspects of both strategies.

Many local authorities noted funding challenges in terms of providing public transport services and infrastructure to support walking and cycling, particularly when public transport ridership figures have not recovered since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some authorities were considering or had introduced local charging mechanisms, through workplace parking levies, increased parking charges, low-emission zones or local road user charges to reduce car travel and/or generate funds for local interventions. Several urban authorities were concerned that electric vehicles could hamper progress towards needed behaviour change to switch personal vehicle trips to public transport, walking and cycling and that electric vehicles would continue to contribute to congestion, poor air quality (through particulates) and transport inequality.

Local authorities were in strong agreement that a national road pricing system should go ahead but had questions about what this should look like

Just prior to our interviews the Transport Select Committee (TSC) published a report recommending a broad structure for a national road pricing system on the basis of miles travelled, time of travel and vehicle type with the parameters in Figure 3. In the interviews, we explored the level of support for road pricing in general and the TSC recommendations.

Be revenue neutral, consider the role of telematic tech, make concessions in interest of societal fairness, balance the shift to EVs while continuing to fund roads and not undermine targets on active travel and public transport, consider delivery alongside local charging schemes, and examine how road pricing can be a lever for behaviour change
Figure 3: The TSC proposed parameters for a road pricing scheme. (Source: Mott MacDonald)

Interviewees were in strong agreement that a national road pricing system was necessary and should go ahead. But they had questions about the TSC recommendations, such as how it would be delivered on the ground, whether all road travel would be charged, how the system would be policed, etc.

Many interviewees from local authorities in urban areas thought that the requirement for revenue neutrality was not ambitious enough in supporting local objectives in terms of encouraging more public transport use, walking and cycling. Although others felt that revenue neutrality was absolutely required to sell a national road pricing system to the public.

We note that the TSC report is not clear about what a revenue neutral system would look like, and at the time of writing this report the Government has not committed to a revenue neutral system. (Note that the TSC description ‘with most motorists paying the same or less than they do now’ implies arithmetically that any who pay less must be balanced by others who pay more, and the total is very dependent on what date is chosen for ‘now’.) Further, we emphasise that a system which is revenue neutral overall could result in substantially different charges for different types of trips, for example for urban or rural trips, compared to the current cost of travel. This could mean different costs of travel for different people and localities, even with a revenue neutral system. We recommend that this issue be further explored in future research.

There was also strong agreement that equality issues needed to be considered carefully in any national road pricing scheme and that fairness was extremely important in terms of public acceptability. Equality here included equality across different groups in society, for example, rich and poor households, as well as across geographies, for example, urban and rural areas and across regions. This implies that equality is relevant not only within the group of motorists, but also between motorists and non-motorists, and will be affected not only by the charge but how the revenues are invested. Many authorities specifically noted that a national road pricing scheme must work both for urban and rural areas, and that simple distance-based charges may penalise rural travellers who don’t have as many alternatives to the private car to make journeys.

There was also strong agreement across local authorities on the need for clarity on the funding model for local authorities and that some portion of revenues raised from a national road user charging system should be hypothecated for investment in public transport and active travel. Whilst there is no hypothecation of fuel duty for investment in transport currently, evidence to date suggests that a key part of public acceptability of road charges introduced in London and Stockholm has been around hypothecation of funds for investment in transport. One interviewee discussed the potential for commercial models to encourage private investment in road infrastructure.

Moreover, many interviewees flagged concerns over current funding levels for local transport initiatives. We observe that if a national system road user charging system to charge electric vehicles is not introduced, treasury funding could be reduced dramatically from the £35bn which is currently gathered from fuel duty and vehicle excise duty combined. This could negatively impact local authority funding for transport.

There were mixed views on whether the possibility of local top-ups was helpful or led to unwanted competition between regions

One of the recommendations of the TSC report is that government should consider how a national road user charging system would work alongside local schemes. There were mixed views on whether top-ups were helpful or led to unwanted competition between regions. Some authorities, particularly those in higher-income urban areas, felt that a national system using telematic technology would offer an opportunity to implement local charging at a lower cost, which would be welcome, if, importantly, the revenues generated in the local areas could be kept within the region. Others, however, felt that adding another charging layer on top of an existing system, such as clean air zones or workplace parking levies, would add unwelcome complexity to the cost of travel for users. Yet others felt that the urgency of climate change issues meant that it was not helpful to wait for the introduction of a national system and would instead prefer to reduce reliance on national government progress by forging ahead with their own schemes.

There were also authorities, particularly more rural authorities, who felt that pushing funding generation through local top-ups would introduce unhealthy competition between regions. For example, they had concerns that if they introduced additional road user charges local businesses may move to other regions which did not do so. And if they did not, they would not have the necessary funds to invest in local public transport or active travel infrastructure. They argued that local top-ups could worsen levelling up and that local funding for transport interventions should not depend directly on local road travel volumes (and that there could be perverse incentives to authorities to encourage more road travel if funding was directly dependent on road traffic volumes).

Most authorities felt that a national road user charging system should be as simple as possible, but that it also must be fair

Most authorities felt that the system should be as simple as possible for users to use and understand – and that people should know the cost of making a car trip before they set off on a trip - but that it was equally important that the system was seen to be fair. Again, many authorities felt that the simplest system, a price per mile, would be seen to be inequitable (although this broadly mirrors the current fuel duty system), for example for those making rural journeys where there are fewer alternatives.  Most authorities thought that a national road charging system needs to be complex enough to distinguish where people are, discourage car travel in cities and on local roads and charge differentially for urban and rural trips, for example. One view was that the back end could be as complex as necessary, but that user experience was the key factor which should be as simple as possible.

There were also mixed views across authorities on the urgency of rolling out a national road pricing system

Some local authorities felt that it was important that government urgently get on with developing and introducing a national road charging system. Whereas others felt that a phased careful rollout was required for such a controversial policy, ensuring that the electorate understands the challenges and is brought along the journey and that introduction of such is scheme is done carefully with pilot testing to ensure that unintended consequences were well understood. One viewpoint bringing these perspectives together was that there is no time to waste in beginning public engagement to deliver it properly with the necessary urgency.   

Nearly all local authorities noted that strong government leadership and good communication would be needed to encourage the electorate to accept the need and to see the benefits of a national road user charge.

Summary of findings

Whilst there were areas of agreement across interviewees, there were also important areas of disagreement. Key areas of agreement and disagreement are set out in the table below.

Table 1: Interview outcomes: Areas of agreement and disagreement

Areas of agreement

Areas of disagreement

  • A new way is needed for electric vehicles to pay to use roads (to replace lost fuel duty)
  • A national road user charging system is needed
  • A national road user charging system must be seen to be fair (e.g. across different groups of the population, regions and between urban and rural areas)
  • Clarity is desired on the resulting funding model
  • A portion of the funds generated from a national road pricing system should be allocated to local authorities for transport investment
  • Strong (national) government leadership and good communication is needed to encourage the electorate to accept the need and see the benefits of a national road user charging scheme.
  • Necessity for revenue neutrality, with some local authorities feeling that limiting charges to be consistent with revenue neutrality was a missed opportunity to support local transport objectives whereas others felt that revenue neutrality was absolutely necessary to sell a national road pricing system to the public
  • Use of local top-ups allowing local authorities to generate additional funds from local charging systems where some authorities welcomed this (as long as the revenues generated from a local system were kept within the authority), whereas others thought it was unhelpful to wait for the introduction of a national system or that local top-ups could introduce unwelcome competition between regions
  • The level of complexity of a national road user charging system, particularly whether a simple system would be seen to be fair, or, on the other hand, more complex systems are implementable or acceptable to users
  • Urgency for introducing a national road user charging system, where some authorities felt that the introduction of a simple road charging scheme was vitally urgent whereas others felt that phased careful roll-out was required for such a controversial policy

 

Triangle graphs with 'policy goals and fairness', 'complexity', and 'urgency' at the corners, with 'effectiveness' in the middle
Figure 4: Road pricing system trade-offs. (Source: Mott MacDonald)

Moreover, some of these areas are interlinked and therefore there will be a need for trade-offs. Specifically, there seem to be important interlinkages between the complexity of the system, fairness (and ability to reach policy goals more widely) and urgency (or the speed with which a system could be introduced). For example, it may be possible to introduce a simple system relatively quickly, but such a system may not address policy goals as well as a more complex system could (and it may be seen to be less fair, for example, if people in urban and rural areas are charged the same, although it is emphasised again that this is how the current system of fuel duty currently works).

Alternatively, it may be possible to introduce a more complex system that is more aligned with policy goals (and is seen to be fairer) but this may take longer to develop, pilot and introduce. It is not clear which system would be ‘better’ or more acceptable to the public. A key message from the interviewees was that a national road charging system should be as simple as possible and clear to users, but it should be seen to be fair. It follows therefore that there needs to be a clear presentation of this perspective over time, i.e. how the system might develop, not only its initial definition.

4. A possible three-tiered system as a way forward

Through the interviews undertaken for this project, we have learned that no one system is likely to meet the needs of all local authorities. Trade-offs, compromises, or selection of a system that is sufficiently flexible that different authorities can adapt or augment for their own purposes will be necessary to widen support.

Below we set out a possible national road user charging system, taking account of the views of different stakeholders that could meet the needs of local authorities. Importantly, we emphasise that it has not been validated by interviewees. The aim is to start a discussion about what a national system may look like that may be acceptable to local authorities.

Our proposed system encompasses three main components – and we emphasise that it is important that all three components are incorporated into the system.

Component 1: Revenue neutral national road user charging system. Component 2: Agreement of allocation of funding (consistent with current funding levels). Component 3: Optional top-up with additional revenues allocated to local authority

 

The first component is a ‘revenue neutral’ national road user charging system that would generate lost tax income for electric vehicles equivalent to the levels of tax being collected now. It may, in the first instance, only apply to electric vehicles (with road tax for petrol- or diesel-powered vehicles being collected through fuel duty, as now). It may also, initially, offer lower charges relative to road tax to support take-up of electric vehicles, in which case revenue neutrality would require some increase in fuel duty (which could have the additional benefit of encouraging take-up of electric vehicles). To increase fairness of such a system, grants to support purchase of electric cars or to encourage scrappage of older vehicles should be offered to lower-income households to reduce the barriers to purchasing electric vehicles.

The second important component is government agreement to provide funding to local authorities that is (at least) consistent with current transport funding levels. With this agreement, no local authority would be worse off than they are now. It will ensure that local authorities are not penalised by their decision of whether or not to incorporate additional top-ups (the third part of this system is discussed below). Further, such an agreement would ensure that local authorities have a clear understanding of future funding, so they can make long-term transport plans.

The third component is an optional top-up charge, where local authorities could add on additional road user charges to the national scheme for car journeys made in their area. Importantly, the additional revenues generated must be allocated to the local authority for spending on transport. It is important that this component is optional so that authorities who do not wish to add charges do not have to (and are not worse off than they are now), but those who do want to can do and that these charges can vary by area, road type, time of day, for example. It is therefore important that the national system (eventually) use telematic technology to allow for the introduction of local charges. Allowing (and encouraging) local authorities to piggyback onto a national system could support roll-out of local charging systems nationally, because not all local authority areas would have to develop a bespoke charging system. Moreover, if all charges were collected under a national system, it may help avoid the potential problem of road users encountering a patchwork of different road charging systems if they make journeys across local authority areas. An important principle for such a system would be that information on charges were available to travellers before they make their journeys.

Would such a system be fair?

Fairness would be conditional on the pattern of travel charges, and the pattern of how revenues are spent. The proposed system would not be less fair than the current system and it has the potential to be fairer than the current system. Road travellers in local authority areas that do not opt to include top-up fees would pay similar levels of road use taxation to what they pay now (with current levels of fairness). In local authority areas that opt to include top-up fees, additional fees could be generated from those who have more travel options or better access to public transport services, with additional funds generated being used to improve transport services more generally, which would increase accessibility and fairness.

Other benefits of the proposed system

The proposed system would allow trials of different charging mechanisms and the opportunity for learning and innovation across local authorities. Those who opt out of charges at first could observe the impacts of charges in other areas, which may encourage them (or not) to add their own local charges. Similarly, those who opt for top-up fees would be able to see the impacts of charges on other areas and review and amend (or drop) their top-up fees. Ideally, the national system would allow for innovation and amendment to help local authorities best manage local travel demand and generate revenue for investment in local transport services.

Other challenges to be considered when developing a national road user charging system

Several interviewees raised a number of more general challenges and questions, which would apply to this (and other) systems, including:

  • Political challenges, especially if the cost of living is increasing.
  • Technology challenges: is the telematic technology up to providing charges by distance and time for different types of roads and different areas?
  • Potential legal issues around tracking people – are these an issue?
  • How do you prevent people cheating the system? Who polices the system?
  • What if the digital charging infrastructure fails?
  • Is there a risk of perverse incentives, for example, rewarding local authorities for encouraging people to drive or creating dependence on road pricing revenues?

None of the interviewees specifically mentioned challenges around the structure of the system, specifically whether a new independent agency would be needed to collect and manage the money, although this has been discussed more widely by others.

5. Further considerations for the LGA

In this research, we have started exploring the potential impacts, challenges and opportunities of a national road user charging system with local government officials. We have undertaken twelve interviews, across local authorities, combined authorities and local regional bodies.

Our original hope was that these interviews might bring to light some key principles for a national road pricing system from the lens of local government. However, we find that the local government landscape is more nuanced. We find some areas of strong agreement. We find strong agreement that a new way is needed to charge electric vehicles to use roads and replace lost fuel duty. We also find strong support for the introduction of a national road user charging system and that this system must be seen to be fair. There was also strong agreement that at least a portion of the funds generated from a national road pricing system should be allocated to local authorities for transport investment (although current road taxes are not hypothecated). On the other hand, there were areas of disagreement, particularly around the necessity for revenue neutrality, the opportunity for top-ups to allow local authorities to introduce local charging schemes, the needed level of complexity of a national system and the urgency for introducing the charging system.

So instead, we provide a picture of trade-offs, specifically potential trade-offs between the required complexity of the system, its ability to meet policy goals and fairness and the urgency of introducing the system.

We identify several areas that require further discussion and research:

  1. Further exploration of local authorities’ views of the needed complexity of a national road pricing system, its ability to meet policy goals and fairness and urgency for introducing the system.
  2. Would the three-tiered system proposed in this study be acceptable to different local authorities? What amendments could and should be made? What is the minimum acceptable system? Are top-ups acceptable in a three-tiered system as proposed?
  3. What is a revenue neutral system? How would costs affect different groups and regions? How would it be implemented?
  4. Is current telematic technology up to the challenge? Can it charge vehicles by distance and time, for different types of roads and different areas? What other charging dimensions could be introduced? For example, could the system charge vehicles of different sizes differently? Could the system be used to charge for parking? What public engagement is needed to explore the public’s views on a national road pricing system and its characteristics?
  5. Is there potential for designing and implementing a national road user charging system on a cross-party basis – as was done in the TSC report – in order to avoid it becoming dependent on a specific party in Government?

Local government authorities are tasked with delivering future transport initiatives. They should be a key stakeholder in government discussions about a future road charging system. The TSC have called for the government to create an arm’s length body to urgently explore road pricing and report back with recommendations for the government by the end of 2022. This gives little time for Local Authorities to influence the shape this may take. We hope that the findings of this study provide a first step in fleshing out local government concerns, priorities and needs for a national road pricing system.

Study methodology

This research project involved four phases as set out in figure 5. and which we briefly describe in further detail below. Our team has drawn on an expert advisory panel across the project, particularly in terms of the design of the interview protocol and review of the interview findings. The advisory panel was made up of Professor Phil Goodwin and the Mott MacDonald Professor of Future Mobility Glenn Lyons who are renowned experts in transport with deep understanding of road user charging.

Design workshop, interviews with 12 local authorities, findings review workshop, and reporting
Figure 5: Project methodology.

B1 Design workshop

The design workshop drew together the client, project team and advisory panel to design an interview protocol capturing the most pertinent questions related to the discussion of road user charging. The protocol can be found in Appendix C and responds directly to the recommendations in Transport Select Committee Report on Road Pricing (February 2022).

B2 Interviews with local authorities

Twelve interviews were carried out with representatives of local authorities and regional bodies in England such as mayoral combined authority areas. The interviews were carried out with senior transport professionals within the local authority. The interviews were undertaken across a range of authorities with differing political perspectives and geographies (see figure 6) to ensure that the study reflected the diversity of conditions across England. The interviews were semi-structured and lasted one hour. They were undertaken online using a whiteboard platform to collect information from participants. Participants spoke from their own experiences and context. The study report does not identify the views of any specific interviewee or local authority to allow them freedom to speak openly during the interview.

Interviews authorities were mixed political perspectives, rural and urban, geographically spread, and local and regional. Interview format was one hour, with own views, anonymous and interactive.
Figure 6: Characteristics of interviews and authorities.

Towards the end of the interview process, we presented to the LGA’s Economy, Environment, Housing and Transport (EEHT) Board to give an opportunity for early sight and input from councillors on the findings.

B3 Findings review workshop

The interview findings were analysed by Mott MacDonald to identify common themes and investigate how those themes vary across authorities and types of location. These were brought to a second workshop with the LGA and the advisory panel. This workshop aimed to digest the findings and identify next steps, recommendations or gaps to be filled for the LGA.

B4 ​Reporting and dissemination

To give the findings the maximum impact, the following outputs are being developed from the project:

  • a summary report of the views of local government support for road pricing overall and individual options, to shape discussion with central government;
  • a webinar to promote the findings to a wider local government audience
  • a virtual roundtable discussion with LGA EEHT Board (already complete - see section B.2)
  • an article of about 500 words in length for First Magazine (the LGA’s magazine for councillors –approx. reach 20,000).

This document is the summary report.