Wolfson prize winner seeks ‘pothole-free Britain’

A recent graduate has won the £250,000 Wolfson Economics Prize 2017 with a proposal for motoring taxes to be replaced with a single charge based on distance travelled and environmental impacts.

The competition posed the question ‘How can we pay for better, safer, more reliable roads in a way that is fair to road users and good for the economy and the environment?’

Gergely Raccuja, a graduate transport planner for Amey, was awarded the £250,000 prize by a panel that included the former chancellor and transport secretary Lord Darling for his entry ‘Paying for road use could be Miles Better’.

He argued that to restore trust between politicians and motorists, fuel duty and vehicle excise duty should be replaced with a simple and fair distance-based charge that also captures road and environmental impacts.

Under the proposal, drivers would not be asked to pay more overall, but would pay in proportion to the distance they drive each year, with lighter and cleaner vehicles paying less.

The charge would be collected by insurers, who already manage all data necessary for calculating the charge. When a driver pays their insurance, they would also pay their ‘road bill’.

Mr Raccuja said: ‘The key to our entry was to keep things simple, yet come up with an answer that was sophisticated enough to deal with an upheaval in cars and road transport, which hasn’t been seen since the introduction of the motor car well over a century ago. I hope I can persuade our politicians too that everything to do with our roads could be better.’

The RAC Foundation provided input for Mr Gergely’s final submission. Its director, Steve Gooding, said: ‘To be involved in this winning entry has been a privilege, but the really crucial thing is what happens next. The common themes of several entries have been both the pressing need for change and the belief there is a better option to balance what drivers contribute to the finances of the country and what they get in return.

‘Even if policy makers aren’t immediately persuaded by our arguments they know the clock is ticking for them to show they have got a plan that offers the country’s tens of millions of drivers a fair deal and keeps the country moving in increasingly challenging times.’

The system aims to boost investment and update how roads are run ready for a new generation of electric and autonomous vehicles, providing a ‘pothole-free Britain’ within five years.

The Office of Rail and Road, as regulator, would guarantee drivers get fair treatment by setting the base charge and ensuring a fair proportion of the proceeds are ring-fenced for spending on both local and national highways.

 
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