It seems there is a trend towards variable tolls around world lately.
In my beloved Australia there is talk introducing it for the Sydney highway systems including the Sydney Harbour Bridge. And in Illinois they are also proposing the same thing (not to any harbour bridge though).
In Japan, the tolls for freeways are super high. But that hasn’t stopped people from using them. As Hugh Bartling has pointed out it only serves to stratify people – the rich-and-the-willing-to-pay type and the poor-and-cannot-afford-it type. And Japan seems to be like this.
How the revenue is spent is an important issue. If it is not used to create new alternative forms of ecologically sound mobility it is pointless and it ends up being a “revenue grab” as David Jeffery calls it.
As I have said before, money makes it all too easy to redistribute for other (mis)uses. Money, like labour, should remain closely related to the point it is collected. Otherwise we lose sight of the reasons for collecting it in the first place.
I believe in public transport. I went car-less and licence-less until my late twenties.
Apart from being a low emission way to get around taking public transport means you can do other things with your time, like read. So UK’s call to the shift back to rail and other similar public transportation is a welcome voice.
There are other ways for governments to promote public transport, of course. Tax, for example. Back in the 1980s (not now) in Malaysia the automobile tax made owning a car for the average person impossible. So this meant most people (over 90 percent) rode motorbikes, a much more fuel efficient way to travel. And Malaysia being Malaysia this also meant seeing entire four-member families and their luggage zooming down highways alongside lorries. While I do not recommend this circus-like suicidal balancing act I do think greater taxes on cars is a way to reduce their numbers on the road. Singapore is a another good example of this. Back in the 1990s a Singaporean friend of mine told me the price of a Toyota Corolla was over three times for the same car in Australia or elsewhere (that is, some other “normal” country).
Apart from this Singapore also has special systems for limiting traffic. For example they alternate days between odd and even ending number plates, so there is only ever half the number of cars in certain zones (eg. congested city-centres) at any one time. And the fine is heavy if you are caught in the zone with the wrong number plate ending. You might say then what stops people from owning two cars, one with odd and one with even number plates. The answer is a lottery. It is near impossible to get even one car ownership licence in Singapore. And if you are wondering why they use such an elaborate system then just check how small the country is for its population.
While Malaysia and Singapore were not doing this out of concern for the environment there still is a lesson to be learnt in how governments can take action in slowing down consumption. But because government intervention (apparently now called public sector) is not in vogue these days we suffer for it. Personally I think we should have more government intervention, if it is the right kind. And the only way to ensure that is to vote the right people in.