Friday, February 23, 2007

Brain teaser

It was Jane's birthday and John heard her say -
"I'm twenty-eight today. Last year I was twenty-nine and in two years I'll be twenty. See?"

Everything Jane said was the truth.

Exactly how old is Jane really today?

Answer at the bottom of Sweet Choice

Friday, February 16, 2007

Big brother wants to watch you (even more) - UK Road Tax Scheme

The UK government has plans to replace the current road tax and petrol duty with a pay as you go road use charge. (If any US readers are about to move on to a different blog - don't - If this goes ahead in the UK, you're next!)

Here is an outline of the key points of the plan (taken from the BBC website):
  • Each driver would be charged for every mile of his or her journey.
  • Prices would start from as little as 2p a mile on quiet roads outside rush hours.
  • The maximum price would be £1.34 a mile on busy motorways like the M25 at peak times.
  • Current charges of fuel tax and road tax would be scrapped.
  • A pilot scheme covering a region or large conurbation could be operating "within five years".
  • If all goes well a nationwide scheme could be rolled out within 10 years.
  • A Department for Transport (DFT) feasibility study concluded last year that a national scheme had the potential to cut congestion by about 40% with "only 4% less cars using the roads".
  • He (Mr Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport) wants a decision on whether or not road pricing should be implemented "during the course of this parliament".
  • Mr Darling said new technology was already being used to "better manage road space" - for example a new system of "traffic management " on the M42.
Now let's take a look at how this would affect the 'average' driver using an 'average' car (A
petrol Vauxhall Astra 1.6).

According to government statistics Mr Average drives 15,872 Km (9,862 miles) per year and pays road tax of £175 ($350) and pays 84.4 pence per litre ($6.39 per US gallon compared with US price average of $2.34!)

Of that 84.4 pence per litre 47.1p is fuel duty and 12.57p is VAT. (in US terms that amounts to taxes of $4.41 per gallon). Minus just the fuel duty petrol (gas) in the UK would cost 29.1p per litre ($2.15 per US gallon).

Mr Average's Astra car uses 1143 litres of petrol per year giving him an average of 8.63 miles per litre (that's 32.7 miles per US gallon). At current fuel costs Mr Average's costs per mile travelled are:
  • 7.3 pence per mile for fuel duty
  • 1.8 pence per mile for road tax
Total 9.1 pence per mile. (18¢)

If the new scheme were to be adopted then both of these taxes will be removed (I know what you are thinking - yeah right) and be replaced with a charge per mile that you travel.

Now if you live in the country and only travel on minor roads at non-peak times that would cost you 2 pence per mile which represents a saving of 7.1 pence per mile or £700 per year ($1,368). But how many of us drive like that? Most of us work in cities and have to travel there at peak times. Some unfortunates could find themselves paying mostly £1.34 per mile travelled or £12,318 ($24,000) a year worse off!

Just what is meant by 'peak' times and which roads will get the high charges? According to a document I found at the Department for Transport website it means 7:00-10:00am and 4:00pm-7:00pm and no fewer than 89 major roads are probably due for the £1.34 charge. Here's the list I found:
A1; A1(M); A1033; A11; A12; A120; A14; A168; A180; A19; A2; A21; A23; A259; A27; A282; A3; A30; A303; A31; A34; A35; A38; A40; A404; A404(M); A417; A419; A421; A428; A43; A449; A452; A453; A46; A47; A49; A5; A50; A500; A5111; A5117; A52; A55; A556; A56; A57; A590; A595; A6; A616; A628; A63; A64; A66; A66(M); A69; A742; M1; M11; M18; M180; M2; M20; M23; M25; M26; M27; M271; M3; M4; M40; M42; M45; M5; M50; M53; M54; M55; M56; M6; M6 Toll3; M60 via Barton; M60 via Stockport; M62; M65; M66; M67; M69

Now what about the 'gas guzzlers'? According to the plan there won't be any advantage in choosing to use a fuel efficient car over a 'gas guzzler'. Does anyone really expect this to be allowed? It seems to fly in the face of our aims for reducing carbon emissions. Perhaps different charge bands will be introduced for different vehicles? Maybe that £1.34 is for an 'average' vehicle?

How's it going to work? It seems dependant on GPS technology. Now judging from the number of times that GPS loses a signal or puts you on the wrong road, I expect there will be a few problems here! It's going to involve a £200 ($390) 'black box'. Guess who will pay for that! Will it offer any advantages such as the box recommending which road to use? Will we trust it? Will we all take to the back roads and cause new congestion on roads less likely to cope? How long will it take someone to come up with a hack to reduce your charges? If your car is stolen do you get to pay for the miles the thief drives?

What about privacy? The system will record exactly where the car is and exactly what time it travels. Who will be able to access this information? The police could use it to cut car theft but who else will be able to get the information? Now I can't think of a genuine reason why I would object to the police knowing my position but I can't really say I would be comfortable with this! What happens if I inadvertently travel from A to B at slightly more than the speed limit? Would I get an automatic ticket or a warning from the black box to slow down?

All in all the system proposed has some good features but is far too complex, open to abuse, will probably cause an increase in carbon emissions and will be expensive to run. Although I hate the amount of duty w pay, it would be far better to leave the current system in place.

As to the road congestion problem I would like to remind the government that around 1900 there was a serious concern about the amount of horse s*#t on the roads and predictions that by 1920 we would be knee deep in it.

So what can we do? Sit there and take it? For the first time it's now possible to have an effect on the decision. In a stroke of genius (rare in government circles) our government in the UK is allowing us to make our voice heard by signing petitions online. Go to the site - and sign it before the Feb 20th deadline. All you need is an e-mail address, house number and postcode. At the time of writing 10pm Friday 16th Feb 2007 no fewer than 1,535,803 people in the UK had done so. Tell all your friends to sign it too!