A friend sent me this:

> I haven't actually filled this in, as I'm skeptical... but I thought I
> would forward it to you all so you could make up your own mind. It looks
> legitimate and came from a reliable person known to me. Has anyone
> heard of it before?

> Hope everyone is well.
> Thanks,
> D
> From: M
> Sent: 15 January 2007 10:03
> Subject: Car Tracking
> Hi all
> The government's proposal to introduce road pricing will
> mean you having to purchase a tracking device for your
> car and paying a monthly bill to use it. The tracking
> device will cost about £200 and in a recent study by the
> BBC, the lowest monthly bill was £28 for a rural florist
> and £194 for a delivery driver.
> A non working Mum who used the car to take the kids to
> school paid £86 in one month.
> On top of this massive increase in tax, you will be
> tracked.
> Somebody will know where you are at all times. They will
> also know how fast you have been going, so even if you
> accidentally creep over a speed limit you can expect a
> NIP with your monthly bill.
> If you care about the continual erosion of our freedoms
> and stopping the constant bashing of the car driver,
> please sign the petition on No 10's new website. Log on
> to the internet and sign the petition and pass it on. It
> only takes a minute.
> http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/traveltax/
> Please pass this on to anyone who owns a car/motorcycle.
> It affects them.
> Regards

I replied:

Hi D,

This is a genuine petition; I knew about it before, and I knew about the road pricing proposals. But let's not forget we're talking about a PROPOSAL rather than a POLICY: GPS road pricing is only an idea so far, being explored for feasibility. So it may be that the petition is a bit premature.

I personally think the scheme has some merit, anyway. It would presumably be offset against the current setup of fuel duties (taxing your mpg), the fixed road tax, and local parking charges in some areas. The scheme has got congestion charging built in, and could also address 'green' concerns by, for example, charging more per mile for more polluting vehicles.

What it does really underline is the concept of an 'incremental cost' - where each extra journey actually costs you, noticeably. At the moment a large chunk of the cost of running a car (especially if, like me, you do a fairly low mileage) is road tax, insurance, parking, servicing, and the money tied up in the value of the car itself. These are all pretty much fixed overheads; mine are about £100 a month. It doesn't really cost me much extra to, for example, go to Finsbury Park this evening. Just a quid's worth of petrol, so sod it, I will. It's convenient, and negligible cost. It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet: why not have an extra slice of pizza if it's free?

Now, if my fixed overheads were only £60 a month but tonight's jaunt was going to cost me £10 in road pricing - because I will be going through Kings Cross and Islington at rush hour - then I might reconsider. I could get the tube and walk a bit, and save a fiver. Or I could allow myself to use the car for things like that once a week, and no more.

So that all sounds reasonable so far, and the BBC survey sounds good too. Modest rural usage is cheap. A commercial driver paying something like £200 a month sounds okay (don't forget it's the company which pays this), and would presumably be even more if he was clogging up the roads in rush hour, and/or in central London. And discouraging the school run is also a good idea IMHO (no matter how emotive the language) - as long as there are enough school buses.

This is the crux of the matter, I think. With recent increases in rail fares, and the severe cuts in the number of buses over the last 20 years, the public transport alternative is more and more unrealistic - at least, outside the major urban centres. If you want to encourage people out of their cars, you have to give them a reasonable alternative FIRST. Conversely, if we are all (even Londoners) pretty much obliged to use cars sometimes, it's ridiculous to penalise them too much.

There are other concerns, too. There's the setup and running costs, which of course are also paid by you and me. It's a hugely complex system to implement, and given successive governments' track records in other large high-tech schemes, there are serious doubts about whether it could be done within a reasonable budget and timeframe. And finally there are the human rights issues involved when the government can track ones movements. Which do worry me.

So on the whole, I am keen on some of the basic principles, but deeply suspicious of the implementation. I want to see detailed proposals before I jump either way.

In the meantime, though, there's always THIS petition: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/nonhshomeopathy/