MOTORISTS could be forced to pay money to the government for every mile they drive on UK roads.
But what is “pay per mile” road pricing, and why are ministers considering it now?
What is pay-per-mile road pricing?
Pay-per-mile road pricing is a way for governments to generate revenue from private car owners.
It means drivers pay tax based on how much and how often they drive on public roads.
People who drive long distances or on a frequent basis will pay more of this tax than drivers who only use their cars occasionally.
Critics of the scheme argue that it disproportionately affects poorer people, carers and people living in rural areas far from public transport.
But proponents say it’s a fairer way of taxing people for using the road – all while “incentivising” people to drive less.
Why is per mile road pricing being discussed?
At the moment, car drivers pay tax when they fill their cars at petrol stations.
For every litre of petrol or diesel they buy, around 58p goes to the government.
That means someone filling their 45-litre petrol tank in their Volkswagen Polo from almost empty will be paying around £25 in tax.
Spread across every petrol station, every day, that’s a lot of money flowing into government coffers – about £28 billion every year, in fact.
But because petrol and diesel cars are being slowly replaced by electric cars, this figure will drop.
Around 15% of all new cars being sold in the UK are electric.
And with each one of these cars – around 33,000 per month – representing a petrol tank not being filled at a forecourt, that’s a big gap in government earnings.
And the government is trying to find ways of replacing this valuable cash generator.
How does per-mile road pricing work?
In order to charge drivers based on how much they use the road, the government will need to know how far and how often each individual motorist is driving.
This could be done using a number of different technologies.
GPS "black box" systems could be used to track vehicles, which could then incur a charge.
Automatic number plate recognition cameras (ANPR) could be used to monitor vehicles’ whereabouts.
And drivers’ smartphones could also be used to track an individual’s travel habits.
Privacy campaigners have criticised road pricing plans as needlessly intrusive.
Has road pricing been used before?
London’s Congestion Charge zone and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) are both versions of this system currently in use in Britain.
Drivers pay to use certain roads in the capital, which are monitored using hundreds of ANPR cameras.
Drivers must remember to pay online to use these roads – if they forget, they could receive a huge fine.
Electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles are exempt from these charges, as are most motorcycles and scooters.
Several bridges, motorways and tunnels have tolls for use, including the Dartford Crossing and the M6 Toll.
In Europe, large amounts of the motorway network cost drivers money to use, in the form of tolls collected either automatically or in person at toll booths.
But nowhere has successfully implemented a nationwide per-mile road pricing scheme.
Will per mile road pricing be used in the UK?
Road pricing is a politically difficult topic, with governments reluctant to forge ahead due to the backlash anticipated from angry motorists.
But public opinion is thought to be changing, meaning future governments might be more inclined to implement the change.
At the moment, it’s thought to be the fairest alternative to fuel duty – which will need replacing in the next decade or so.
And while there are no immediate plans to force drivers to pay per mile, due partly to the political implications of doing so, road pricing at some point before the year 2030 is pretty much inevitable.
Otherwise, the government will have to rise taxes elsewhere.
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