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Charging for Road Usage Will Need To Be Handled With Care

There’s been a fair amount of coverage in the media recently of the Chancellor’s supposed plan to charge for road usage to fill the £40 billion tax shortfall caused by the rise in popularity of electric cars. This is a highly emotive issue and very little exploration of the topic has recently been undertaken – the last time it was raised as a potential strategy, over 18 million drivers signed a petition against the principle of charging for road usage with campaigners insisting that this should be free.

Over the years, we’ve been involved in a number of research projects exploring consumer attitudes towards road pricing – from the introduction of London’s Congestion Charge to the potential introduction of UK motorway toll roads. And in every case, the principle of paying to drive on the roads gets emotions running extremely high. Our MD Rob Sheldon recalls a focus group above a pub in Kingston exploring attitudes towards the anticipated London Congestion Charge. So incensed were the respondents, that they went downstairs into the pub and immediately formed a group “Kingston Against the Congestion Charge”! But, in the end, a way through to Londoner advocacy was enabled by good research and policy making.

If charging for road usage is seriously being considered by the government, there will need to be extensive research to understand consumer reaction to such a move, as well as exploring the best ways of communicating the rationale of such a plan. And this research will need to be extremely agile and broad-ranging to take into account the multiple elements and issues that this topic encompasses – the environment, data privacy, alternative charging systems, affordability, payment infrastructure, the viability of public transport options and so on. To get the most out of the research, a raft of alternative proposals will need to be tested, along with their respective arguments for adoption, or this initiative will be stopped in its tracks.