Charge tolls on Scotland’s roads, say engineers

Toll booths on the Forth Bridge. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Toll booths on the Forth Bridge. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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ROAD tolls should be considered for Scotland to help pay for the upkeep of highways as money becomes tighter, engineers have urged.

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Scotland has called for a national debate on the issue, despite conceding that charging drivers “would face significant public and political barriers”.

The body suggested either a flat fee or pay-as-you-go charging would be required to maintain roads and build new ones as government transport funding becomes squeezed.

Senior vice-chair Ronnie Hunter said a flat fee could be a successor to the tax disc, and its income would be ring-fenced for transport spending.

He said pay-as-you-go could use as-yet-undeveloped technology to charge motorists as they travelled around, possibly starting in urban areas.

The institution said such new funding methods would be required because the cost of supporting an ageing population would “increase the vulnerability of the transport budget”.

Income from vehicle tax and fuel duty is also expected to fall as vehicles become greener.

The proposal comes as the UK government seeks support for the planned A14 toll road in Cambridgeshire.

It is also eight years since Edinburgh residents rejected the council’s plan to charge drivers £2 to enter the capital, by nearly three to one in a referendum.

However, the ICE stressed it was motivated by solving funding problems rather than cutting congestion, which was the Edinburgh scheme’s primary aim. Scotland’s road repair backlog stands at about £2 billion.

Mr Hunter said: “This is to find some certainty for maintenance and road infrastructure –we really have to think forward.”

The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said charging was not on the agenda. A spokesman said: “Ministers have no plans to introduce road charging now or any time in the future.”

Labour, which was behind Edinburgh’s charging scheme, was similarly opposed to the suggestion. Infrastructure spokesman James Kelly said: “Scottish Labour would not support the introduction of road tolls.”

Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Alex Johnstone said tolls would be appropriate only for new roads.

He said: “Taxpayers and road users have already paid for the construction of existing roads. However, there is a discussion to be had on building new roads and paying for them on a tolling basis.”

Scottish Greens transport spokesman Patrick Harvie backed charging. He said: “It can be a higher rate in urban areas with plenty of public transport options, and a lower rate in rural areas or for those who genuinely have no alternative to the car.”

Motoring groups were split. AA president Edmund King said: “Putting tolls on Scottish roads would stifle the economy and hit tourism. The last thing Scotland needs is a toll tax on wheels.”

However, Neil Greig, the Scotland-based policy and research director of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: “Pay-as-you-go might actually be quite attractive to many low-mileage private drivers who can avoid the busy times and routes.”