Driverless cars and Uber-style surge pricing could help the UK to abolish traffic jams, cut the cost of motoring by a third and the number of accidents by 90%, a leading economics think tank says. Will the government seize the opportunity offered by digital to reform the way our roads are paid for?
Drivers could pay 8p a mile to use roads – with Uber-style surge pricing – as part of a digitally driven shift towards cleaner roads with fewer traffic hold-ups, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) think tank says in a new report this month.
“Traffic jams cause pollution, waste productive time, damage economies and create frustration and road rage,” says CEBR deputy chair and report author Douglas McWilliams – saying its studies show drivers typically spend the better part of a week a year in traffic jams.
A CEBR road transport paper, produced with help from global infrastructure engineer Mott McDonald and opinion pollsters Populus, attempts to bring together advances in technology and new thinking into “a blueprint for the future”.
CEBR sees two clear trends emerging around technology and road usage – the move away from fossil fuels as an energy source; and the shift towards self-driving vehicles. It says these will lead to a fall in the cost of road usage and sharply cut payments of fuel duties overall.
The blueprint says that driverless car technology in particular presents a chance to abolish traffic jams, plus cut the cost of motoring by a third and the number of accidents by 90%.
Autonomous vehicles could, says CEBR, increase the number of vehicles on the road by 25% or more, but without congestion. It calculates that the introduction of mass-produced autonomous vehicles on a rental basis could cut the existing cost of road usage to car users from 20-60p to 20-45p per mile.
It says safety should improve dramatically with autonomous vehicles, removing the 80% of accidents that occur because of driver error and bringing down the remaining 20% with failsafe technologies.
CEBR recommends a shift in the way roads are paid for from the existing vehicle and fuel duty system, towards a road charging system, averaging about 8p a mile over the next 20 years.
Under this system of road use charges, Uber-style ‘surge pricing’ at times of high demand could generate additional revenue to finance more road space, says CEBR, if congestion continues to grow. This would reduce road consumption at peak periods, provide income to increase supply and also act as a signal for when new road capacity is needed.
CEBR predicts that charging would allow spending of at least £20bn a year – twice the existing amount – on roads. It says road usage will be safer, cleaner, less congested and cheaper; GDP could be up to 3% higher. “This is a prize worth aiming for,” says CEBR.
The CEBR blueprint also urges greater use of specialist materials to take advantage of technology, including solar power, safer surfaces and self-mending materials.
McWilliams wrote the influential Flat White Economy book for CEBR in 2015.