£150 'poll tax' to use UK motorways?

Drive onto a UK motorway or main A-road and you could be charged £150 per year extra. The move - described by the AA as a 'poll tax on wheels' - is being considered by the Treasury in an effort to overhaul vehicle excise tax.

Owners of larger, heavier cars that emit higher amounts of CO2 could be hit by an even bigger annual bill.

New 'poll tax'?

"You're already paying fuel duty, you're already paying vehicle excise duty, you are already paying tolls on some roads and bridges, so an additional access charge is basically an additional tax," AA president Edmund King told the Mail. "It does nothing really to regulate traffic, it is just an additional charge."

Automatic numberplate recognition cameras would likely be installed in order to nab drivers who attempt to drive on faster roads without paying. But it could increasingly mean that poorer households become priced off main roads - a two-tier road system - especially if their journeys tend to be shorter or more local.

Flat rate - or two-tier?

As mentioned, owners of bigger, more polluting cars could be asked to pay more, although a flat rate could also be introduced (cheaper to do but not fair or 'green').

There is also concern about higher congestion levels on quieter (currently) country B-roads as motorists attempt to skirt the charge. But alternatives are needed, claims the Government while public finances remains tight, not to mention overseeing an increasingly complex VED arrangement with built-in carrot-stick incentives for lower polluting cars.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a free-market think-tank, estimates revenues from fuel duty and road tax currently exceed expenditure on roads by £30 billion per annum. But investment in road improvements have collapsed over the last twenty years, it claims.

More pressure

Bear in mind that UK road tax per se is a nonsense. Essentially it's a car tax - UK roads are maintained by general taxation, and have been for many years. Also bear in mind that the majority of most UK car journeys average just seven miles (DfT figures, 2010) and the vast majority of car journeys are single occupancy.

The news will not please many motorists; many remain incredulous that the Office of Fair Trading found little evidence to support claims of fuel price-rigging.