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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for November 14th, 2009

The Dutch Introduce Road Pricing

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You can read very similar information about this new legislation at either Associated Press or Deutsche Welle (in English)

The Dutch government approved a bill on Friday that will implement a new per-kilometer-tax on drivers. Beginning in 2012 the law will abolish current road taxes and sales taxes for automobiles, cutting the cost of a new car by 25 percent, in favor of the pro-rated distance tax.

Drivers will be charged 0.03 euros per kilometer (7 cents US per mile) in an attempt to reduce traffic jams fatal accidents and carbon emissions.

The tax will increase every year until 2018, when it will cost 6.7 cents per kilometer to drive in Holland.

The government says the tax will benefit 6 out of 10 drivers, with those who drive the most and at peak hours with the most burden to bear.

The system is based on GPS which will track every vehicle. These short pieces say nothing about how the civil liberties groups responded to this.

The system is expected to cut carbon emissions from driving by half and increase cycling and use of public transport. And, of course, the Dutch already have very high rates of use of both of those alternatives to driving  and very good provision of services and facilities. Once again the policy, like carbon tax and U Pass trots out the old “revenue neutral” line, but at least in this case there is a commitment to steadily increase the cost of driving and a note that if the mode shift is not as great as anticipated, there will be greater increases.

Such a system will be instantly dismissed here as politically untenable. Unfortunately, the physics of climate change do not understand that concept. Canada – and also the United States – is increasingly out of step with the rest of the “developed” world. Countries like Denmark, Sweden and Norway all saw that something needed to be done about an oil dependent life style back in the 1970s with the first great oil shock. The Dutch had significant reserves of North Sea gas but that has been rapidly depleted. The wiseacres said at the time that they “wasted the opportunity” because they continued to provide a decent level of social services when so many other countries fell into the grip of the Chicago school and slashed public spending and instead gave the rich tax breaks.  The Dutch felt that if anyone deserved a break it was poor people, not the rich or the corporate behemoths.

Our present system is clearly not working well. Not only do we have traffic congestion and an appalling toll on the lives of road users, we also have wasteful land use, unhealthy lifestyles and a carbon footprint greater than nearly anyone else on the planet – and one that is growing. We distribute a very scare resource – peak hour road space – the way they used to distribute everything in the former Soviet Union. It is essentially given away to anyone willing to line up to use it. And we have failed to provide any realistic alternative in most places.

There are similar ideas like distance based car insurance, which is now becoming increasingly available  just tot he south of us, but which we steadfastly refuse to even discuss. If the main stream media do pick up this story I imagine we will see the spin trotted out once again about “punishing drivers” and “social engineering” as if the present system did not punish pedestrians, cyclists and transit users and also socially engineered widespread obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Plus of course social isolation for those who cannot drive, loss of farmland, pollution of watercourses and all the rest.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 14, 2009 at 4:20 pm