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July 10, 2017


  • Technological change presents an opportunity to abolish traffic jams PLUS cut the cost of motoring by about a third and the number of accidents by 90%.
  • The polluting effects of fossil fuels in propelling vehicles could be ended.
  • A ‘Barnett formula’ could be worked out providing the Treasury with rent from road users for the use of roads, providing approx. £30 billion a year.


A blueprint for cleaner roads with fewer hold ups


Traffic jams cause pollution, waste productive time, damage economies and create frustration and road rage.


Cebr studies show drivers typically spend the better part of a week a year in jams[1].


Technological change now presents a chance to break this deadlock, abolish traffic jams. PLUS Cut the cost of motoring by about a third and the number of accidents by 90%.


The polluting effects of fossil fuels in propelling vehicles could also be ended.


This special road transport paper from top London economists Cebr, produced with help from global infrastructure engineers Mott McDonald and influential opinion pollsters Populus brings advances in technology and thinking together into a blueprint for the future.


Cleaner, cheaper safer road transport – and a good bye to traffic.


The technology surrounding road usage is at a cusp, but two clear trends emerge


  • The move away from fossil fuels as an energy source;


  • The shift towards autonomous self-driving vehicles.


We believe these will lead to a fall in the cost of road usage and will sharply cut payments of fuel duties.


This permits road users to pay road usage charges varying with congestion while still in total paying less for their road usage because of reduced depreciation, fuel and insurance costs.


We predict the road usage charges will both pay a rent for the land use involved in road usage and will allow spending of at least £20 billion a year, twice the current amount, on roads.


And if congestion threatens to grow, it will generate through ‘surge pricing’ additional revenue to finance more road space.

Our Road Transport Plan


Road usage charges eliminate traffic jams in two ways: they discourage marginal road usage and generate revenue to pay for more road space.


Our plan to take advantage of the technological changes and abolish traffic jams for the UK is set out below:


  • Speed up the move to fossil fuel free vehicles by a range of tax and other incentives.


  • Also accelerate the move to autonomous vehicles, although in this case the speed of uptake needs to be harmonised in line with the verification of the technology


  • Control of the entire road system to pass to a National Roads Authority with a level of political independence like that of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee.


  • That authority be statutorily responsible to Parliament for managing roads in the interests of road users, once externalities such as the costs external to the system of accidents, pollution etc. are compensated for. The body will be responsible for receiving the receipts for charges and taxes levied directly on road users and reinvesting them in the road system.


  • A charging rate averaging about 8p a mile for a car be introduced over the next twenty years – this would allow a gradual increase in spending to about £20 billion a year to pay for improvements and automation and for pedestrian and cycle routes to segregate cyclists and pedestrians and;


  • Surge pricing on the Uber model for charges at the time of high demand. 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 if peak prices keep increasing.


  • A division between major roads and minor roads. Major roads would be like motorways today, with pedestrians and cyclists diverted to new purpose built specialist routes and would exist not only intercity but also within towns. Pedestrians and cyclists could ONLY be taken off such roads AFTER new alternative specialist segregated routes have been built by the road user authority. Minor roads would be similar to most roads today.


  • Roads would increasingly involve specialist materials to take advantage of technology. This would permit solar power, safer surfaces and self-mending materials. Roads might be decked, with underground and over ground routes whilst incorporating an asset management approach.


At present transport policy for road usage in most countries comprises a series of half hearted but often irritating attempts to cut car usage and to a lesser extent usage of other vehicles.


Once the externalities associated with car usage largely disappear, and when supply of road space becomes less scarce as a result of better management and increased funding, policy could be aimed at targeting the level of usage where the marginal cost is equal to the marginal benefit.


With currently excluded groups being able to use autonomous vehicles, it is quite reasonable that the amount of traffic accommodated without congestion could increase by 25% or more.


Currently the cost of road usage to car users is their own time plus a total cost of 20-60p a mile. Ultimately mass produced autonomous vehicles on a rental basis could reduce this cost to 20-45p in today’s money on average (lower in rural areas). Environmental externalities should fall proportionately with the use of fossil fuels. We assume that this will decrease by 55% within 20 years and by 95% within 40 years. Safety should improve with autonomous vehicles, removing the current 80% of accidents due to driver error and bringing down the remaining 20% with failsafe technologies.


We have tested the proposals in two focus groups. While they remain sceptical of the feasibility of the technical advances we have outlined, they provide strong support for the view that if these changes can be achieved they would definitely be a superior result.


Road usage will be safer, cleaner, less congested and cheaper; GDP could be up to 3% higher. This is a prize worth aiming for.


For more information on the attached report please call contact principal author:


Douglas McWilliams

Deputy Chairman

Centre for Economics and Business Research

Unit 1

4 Bath Street

London EC1V 9DX


Email: dmcwilliams@cebr.com

Phone: 0207 324 2860 or 07710083652



Cebr is a leading independent commercial economics consultancy with particular strengths in macroeconomic and market forecasting and passenger demand forecasting. The report has been authored by Cebr staff.

Cebr has also a speciality in transport economics, leading with economic impact studies and co-authored the largest ever report into transport fire safety after the Mont Blanc Tunnel fire.

The full report is available from Cebr on demand.


For more information, please contact:


Douglas McWilliams 020 7324 2860 mob 07710083652


[1] http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/11/economist-explains-1  The Economist 3 November 2014

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