Queuing conundrum

Here’s an old economist conundrum about queues.

Suppose there is a water fountain in a park. It’s a hot day and lots of people want to drink from the fountain. Being awfully British and civilised, they form an orderly queue at the fountain.

Now, if the number of thirsty people strolling past the fountain is large enough, the rate at which people join the queue will exceed the rate at which people satisfy their thirst and leave the queue. So the queue will get longer and longer.

drinking.jpgBut at some point, thirsty people will reason to themselves that the displeasure of waiting in the queue is not worth the pleasure of the drink at the end. They’ll avoid the wait, and the queue will grow no longer.

So far so good. That’s how life works in many ways.

But this simple account has a devastating implication.

If there are people who are not joining the queue because it’s not worth it, then the people who do join the queue are probably barely getting any positive benefit out of their drinking fountain experience at all. They enjoy the drink, but for them, it is only just worth the wait. It’s a close run thing between bothering to drink or not.

In fact, you might as well not have a drinking fountain on the hot day, as no-one can enjoy it without paying a time penalty that more or less wipes out the benefit.

I hope I’ve explained this properly. It’s a simplified account, and it relies on all the people in the park having a similar taste for drinking and not queuing.

queue.jpgBut it shows that when queuing does the rationing, it does a really bad job.

In the park, if you could get a warden to ban people from queuing, and who instead insisted that only random people could drink, (people whose surname begins with A to K for example), the fountain would give more benefit, (although that benefit would be distributed a little unfairly).

There is another alternative that’s a little more equitable. If it’s practical, you can charge people to use the fountain.

Now, those who do pay, have the benefit of drinking without queuing, but they have the cost of paying. So on balance they are better off using the fountain, but probably only just better off. As far as they’re concerned, we haven’t improved things much over the queuing situation: we’ve just changed the pain of queuing by the pain in the purse.

The difference is though, that the money they’ve handed over can be of benefit to someone else, or the population at large. There is an upside to the drinkers’ displeasure, unlike in the case where the queue does the rationing.

Or to put it another way: when you queue – I get no benefit from your pain. When you pay, I probably do.

Now that is a pretty good argument against the use of rationing by queues.

It may not be a good argument for road pricing, but it does explain why economists tend to think of the price mechanism as a better method of rationing things than congestion.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 10:33 AM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Ed wrote:

Theoretically I suppose it's a fair argument. But it is distinctly unlikely that people will have a similar need for water, and have similar constraints on their time.

Assuming that it is a very hot day and everyone wants to drink, you could argue that the people with the tightest time constraints (ie walking through the park back to work) would also be most able/willing to pay for water from a shop; and people with lots of time on their hands (just going for a walk in the park) wouldn’t mind the wait, and might not even be going near the shop in the first place (assuming that the shop is near to the place of work).

[Or if there were no shops near this hypothetical park, why not install a second water fountain with a charge attached? Or maybe just charge in peak times – eg lunch hour.]

  • 2.
  • At 10:51 AM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Sam wrote:

In this case incorporating payment into the system added a bonus benefit. There's nothing particularly special about money though - you could simply ask people to do something constructive whilst queueing and the outcome would be similar.

I'm afraid I don't have any suggestions on how you would marry this idyllic model with road pricing though!

  • 3.
  • At 10:56 AM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

Back in the real world, the money collected by the park keeper would barely cover his salary. He has to be paid to police the fountain and the queue, and is so busy he is not available to pick up litter and keep the yobs under control, so the park becomes unattractive. Likewise with congestion charging (& tolls of any kind), they will cost a lot (think of the cost of installing the tracking equipment), and distract the police from what they should really be doing.
Why not reduce congestion in other ways - better public transport, changing tax structures to encourage people to move and live near work and school, and put up fuel duty.

  • 4.
  • At 11:06 AM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

I think the argument is a good one for road pricing, of course some would argue that they have the time but not the money, and by pricing the good equally for everyone, the richer you are the better access you have. If the money goes into the public purse, and results in slightly lower taxes for everyone (fat chance), those who are rich benefit much more from the deal than those who are poor. However, this tends to ignore the fact that the overall benefit is greatly increased, and the argument about sharing the cake tends to obscure the focus on making the cake bigger.

A similar argument can be made for emissions charges. Charging for all emissions as a scarce resource (as they increasing should become, if a sensible government restricts the supply), and allowing free trade in the permits, leaves everyone to get on with their life, instead of collecting aluminium cans, forcing manufacturers to change their products and trying to calculate their carbon footprints. It's not so much an orderly queue as a bun fight in the dark where no one really knows where the fountain is, but they sure as hell want to get there.

  • 5.
  • At 11:10 AM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Neil wrote:

I think you have to think about the psychology of the sunk cost as well. Once you've joined the queue, you're committed to it psychologically and are prepared to wait your turn. Different people are prepared to wait different lengths of time: one person might be prepared to wait ten minutes and be happy to join a five minute queue, another might not want to join a queue longer than two minutes.

An instructive comparison is the NHS. Waiting lists are the equivalent of the queue - but if you suggested that everyone pays for their treatment, I suggest you would get short shrift.

Also, fountains aren't free to start with. So who's paying for it - the capital required to build it, the person who cleans it, the electricity for the water pump - is it coming out of the council tax of the residents? In which case they may object to paying twice for it.

To compare the road pricing debate, the thing I object most to is not just the double payment but that any implementation would require unacceptable breaches of my privacy. I do not want the government to be tracking my every car journey. Road pricing is an ID card on wheels.

  • 6.
  • At 11:35 AM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Ian wrote:

What about the thirsty people who can not afford to pay? Do they drive home to save money?

So it is a good thing if the money to use the fountain is used to install more fountains, but not if it is used for something else, like a new statue in the town hall.
So road pricing could be good if the money collected goes back into improving transport by improving roads and railways but not if it pays for defence.
The other question is the cost of setting up pricing, paying the park keeper to take the money in your analogy and the black box in road pricing. Where as you would have to pay the set up for the fountain for roads you could just increase fuel tax and look into London style charges and see if one set of cameras is better value than a black box for every car.
The last point is there are no civil rights questions for paying for a water fountain, parkie isn't taking your name and address or noting in which other parks you drink or using the opportunity to try and do law enforcement based on the fountain charge. Whereas all of these concerns exist over the black box proposal for country wide road charging.

  • 8.
  • At 12:02 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Neil Wilson wrote:

Given the lack of rationality that there seems to be about road pricing (which is essentially a hypothecated duty on the occupation of road space and is equivalent in tax type to the duty on a packet of cigarettes), is it any wonder that governments won't increase the use of hypothecated taxes.

How much better would life be if we could actually see how much of our taxes is spent on various things and then vote for those who will alter the percentages mor in keeping with our views?

But that requires rationality and consideration of the alternatives, not an emontional knee jerk reaction.

  • 9.
  • At 12:06 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • JD wrote:

This pressuposes queueing or paying are the only two solutions. This country boasts of its orderly queues and looks down on countries who do no queue. If memory serves though, research showed that in this country you can be pregnant, old or both and people will not let you on the bus ahead of the rest of the queue. Abroad, however, there may be no orderly queue but the needier are nonetheless instead allowed on first. Applying this to fountains, a less rigid queue system might work better than rigid queuing or paying? As for roads, could multiple occupancy or carrying freight create an entitlement to use a reserved lane?

  • 10.
  • At 12:10 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • malcolm wrote:

A completely false argument.
People mainly HAVE to drive to work, they cannot choose not to go just because the roads are congested, nor can they choose to go at different times. THAT'S WHY RUSH-HOURS OCCUR!

  • 11.
  • At 12:12 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Dave Jones wrote:

So what if everyone agrees to pay for the drink. The queue is just as long. People are just as frustrated and also out of pocket. Charging has achieved nothing apart from making a lot of money for someone.

  • 12.
  • At 12:13 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Tim wrote:


This explains why this country is going to the dogs. We are ruled by bureaucrats with their silly clever-clever little money-go-round schemes rather than by sensible pragmatic people.

If there is a problem with the drinking fountain in the park a sensible person would turn to a plumber for a solution.

When faced with congesion the sensible person would speak to the engineers about expanding road or rail or building a tram system.

When faced with a poor postal service the sensible person woudl sort out the management of Royal Mail not tinker with competition or a silly system of fines and incentives

The rediculous thing is that money spent to silly complicated shemes like trackers in cars, number plate recognition, rail franchisings and PFI contracts could be spent to something concrete which would acually make a difference.

  • 13.
  • At 12:20 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Neil wrote:

The government (current or Conservative)'s solution would be to have a second, high-quality 'toll fountain'. People are then given three choice; queue for your water, pay to get your water quickly, or go without.

However, the amount to pay for the toll fountain is the same irrespective of who you are and how much money you have, meaning it is of no consequence for the wealthy to pay and get their clean, fresh water immediately, but the poor will always have to queue for warm and murky water.

Not only does that resemble road pricing, it also resembles the tiered health system we're inexorably heading toward.

  • 14.
  • At 12:24 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Eion wrote:

What you say about price being better than congestion to most efficiently use scarce resources may be true, ignoring fairness.
However, to make your fountain hypothetical closer to the situation with road congestion, a few changes need to be made as follows:

A group of people get together and decide to create a park (this represents road users). They all agree to pay a sum of money every year to a management company (this represents the government) to maintain the park and the facilities, including the fountain (this represents the yearly road tax). Each person also pays the management company for time spent in the park (this represents fuel tax).

Meanwhile, the management company siphons funds off to use for other projects and their own overhead (this represents government waste, transport subsidies, et cetera). Park users don't seem to complain that much, and there's only one management company to choose from anyway. The management company realises they're on to a great scam, and therefore raises the dues every year.

As population increases, more and more people want to use the park, and pay to do so. The management company doesn't complain - more people paying, more money into their coffers. Park users start to complain about overcrowding.

The management company comes up with a perfect solution to make even more money from park users, while improving overcrowding, all without having to spend a penny on the facilities. So when summer rolls around, they declare that whenever people who have paid for the park want to use the fountain, those people have to pay another fee proportional to how crowded the park is and how hot it is (this represents the congestion fees and pay-as-you-drive schemes). The management company, of course, continues to collect the existing dues from park users (it's fantasy to think that road duty or fuel tax would disappear with the proposed schemes).

That hypothetical is much closer to reality in this case, I think.

This is, of course, separate from the more-or-less regressive nature of pay-as-you-drive congestion charging schemes, and not forgetting the civil liberties issues either.

Then again, I'm not an economist.

  • 15.
  • At 12:25 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Dave wrote:

You miss a point on the analogy. All the park users have already been charged to use the fountain regardless (like car tax, petrol tax), the fountain is only open at set times (like the school run, work starts at nine etc.) so the queue forms regardless as they have no choice of alternative fountains (public transport).

Then you get the park keeper who has failed in all the other projects he/she has done to keep details of every person using the park regardless if they queue or not.

Alternative fountains spring up (railways) but are so popular that their prices are raised to stop people queuing at them, thus forcing them back to the original.

  • 16.
  • At 12:26 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Nigel Tunnicliff wrote:

The comments are totally inappropriate to road pricing simply because you are not paying to walk through the park in the first place. The simple fact is that we are paying to use the roads by way of paying car tax. What we will end up with if we contiue in this direction is a road pricing structure that basically restrict individuals use to roads that are decaying due to appropiation of taxes for other uses (wars etc),or, roads which they must pay through the nose for in order to travel anywhere, and these poor individuals who just scrape through lifes existance ie those who have to work for a living, will bear the brunt, with the end result being a road system for the MPs and the rich and famous. what should be done is provide a much better public transport system!!!!!!!

  • 17.
  • At 12:31 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Jackie Cole wrote:

If there are a number of people for whom this fountain is their only source of drinking water, then they will be compelled, without a choice, to join the queue no matter how long it is. Add a charge, and they still have to queue.
When the journey is unavoidable, as it is for many people driving to work where the public transport links are poor, a charge does nothing to reduce the congestion.

  • 18.
  • At 12:37 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Kendrick Curtis wrote:

As Neil says, it's an interesting argument, but there are plenty of scarce resources in Britain that we ration by time not money, including the NHS, because we think it's fairer somehow to do it that way. If we don't discriminate against poor patients, should we discriminate against poor road users?

My answer would be "no", but others may vary.

  • 19.
  • At 12:42 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Peter Washington wrote:

How can anyone suggest that applying a charge to anything "is a little more equitable" than picking people at random? All the arguements for reducing congestion are linked to increasing the cost and pricing the least able to pay off the road. With no account taken of need (to either drink water or drive a car). Why for example should a carer of a disabled child be priced off the road when someone like Two Jags Prescot will just put the increased cost through his MP's expenses!
If, as we are lead to believe, something like 2 million people already drive without insurance then increasing the cost will result in more individuals in the lower socio economic groups finding ways to break the law and avoid those higher costs.
If we are truly serious about reducung congestion start with.
1) Getting the illegal drivers off the road and crushing their vehicles.
2) Limiting the amount of vehicles allowed per household, perhaps with a link to off road parking available to them.
3) Restricting the size and capacity of vehicles.
4) Limiting the population of the country? (A whole seperate debate)

Otherwise, if pricing poorer drivers off the road is the only way to cut congestion then stick to doing it by taxing petrol. It has no set up costs and no "Big Brother is watching your every move (speed)" implications.

  • 20.
  • At 12:44 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

I haven't looked into the privacy issue around this, but it sounds like a pretty easy thing to get around: have an option to pay for the box in cash, and pre-pay your account with cash (or scratch cards used online). This seems to work fine for Oyster cards on London tubes.

  • 21.
  • At 12:46 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Megan wrote:

What happens when it's a pay-per-use fountain and more than one person wants a drink?

You end up with a queue AND a charge.

This is what will happen, with little benefit to anyone except whoever runs off with the money. And that's why so many people are not impressed with the idea of road-pricing.

  • 22.
  • At 01:03 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Alex D wrote:

Even if you pay to drink from the fountain, it still takes you a fixed amount of time to do so. So a queue may still form, if people turn up at a greater rate to pay compared to the rate at which the fountain can deliver. The only way to avoid this is to provide effective and attractive alternatives to drinking at the fountain, which meet the same needs of the people in the park. Similarly, road pricing will do little to alleviate congestion, unless there is investment in transport alternatives.

  • 23.
  • At 01:05 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Geoff Edwards wrote:

One thing that is missing from the argument is that if there are enough people that, for example, need a drink from the fountain, and can afford to pay - there will still be a queue! Plus the queue stands every chance of getting longer if there is no alternative to the single fountain (liken this to transport and the fact that in many areas there is not much alternative to using the car!)

  • 24.
  • At 01:06 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Candy Spillard wrote:

Yes but road pricing as practiced by HMG is like going round removing all other possible sources of thirst-quenching infrastructure and /then/ charging for the (one remaining) fountain.
I put it this way because there exists at least one example (cited recently in Private Eye) of rail links parallel to proposed toll roads being 'leaned upon' to reduce their service frequency.

  • 25.
  • At 01:13 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Cam wrote:

It's more equitable to charge for the fountain?

In that case the people who can't afford it will be unable to drink... and will be excluded from the park, which is a shame if it's supposed to be a public park.

If the analogy is applied to road pricing, it seems even less equitable to try to reduce the usage of a shared resource by making it artificially more expensive.

I'd like to know more about the hidden costs of any theoretical schemes to reduce road usage. If a congested area supports a level of commerce, then people are discouraged from using that area, what do we expect the reduction in commerce, jobs, etc. to be?

  • 26.
  • At 01:13 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

I don't agree with the comparison:

What if you were in a situation where you were already paying heavily for the water, and that you relied on the water to survive because it was your only source of water. What would your reaction be if you were then told there would be an additional charge for queueing?

Perhap installing another fountain would be a better way of reducing the queue.

  • 27.
  • At 01:14 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • bill wrote:

Just because you pay, doesn't mean that you will not have to queue. If enough people pay, a queue will still form. A good example is the Dartford tunnel. Blackwell tunnel is Free, but people still choose to queue and pay to use Dartford.....Theory blown out the water me thinks!

  • 28.
  • At 01:14 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Andrew Taylor wrote:

Why not install more drinking fountains?

  • 29.
  • At 01:14 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Mark E wrote:

If economists think like this then no wonder the country is in such a state.

If it is a thirsty day and you have a desperate need for water the only thing stopping you is when you physically can not afford to pay the cost.

So if this cost is financial then the majority of people who can afford to drink from the fountain will - if their desire is great enough.

Say out of a 100 people, if 75 people can afford to drink and really desire to drink then you would expect maybe 65-70 of them to join the queue. This has the result of lowering the queue slightly but not removing it totally.

So basically these people have a slightly lower "time cost" but in addition they have an additional financial cost. As there is no viable alternatives they are forced to pay AND to suffer the inconvience.

The only way to really limit the queue is to increase the financial price higher and higher. So the logical conclusion of this is that economists/government want to price people away from the fountain so they can drink in peace.

  • 30.
  • At 01:20 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Donna wrote:

So your basic argument is that it is much fairer to allow people without money to die of thirst for the benefit of those who can afford it?

Great article.

One thing economists often forget is that money means more to some people than others, just as time does. Rationing use by time creates a system skewed in favour of the poor; rationing by money creates a system skewed in favour of the wealthy.

But that doesn't invalidate your point - and neither does the fact that the people queueing have in fact widely different levels of desire both for the time and the water / travel.

I'm not worried about the cost of the equipment: the money spent on it creates jobs and goes back into the economy. I am concerned about other possible uses of data - a concern the goverment could easily remove by legislation, but probably won't. On the other hand, if the system could give people an audible queue when they exceed the speed limit, and then automatically prosecute them if they failed to slow down - that would probably bring more benefits (and revenue) than any other aspect of the scheme.

  • 32.
  • At 01:25 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Lewis Graham wrote:

This is an interesting analogy to road pricing. Suppose a stall selling water or other drinks were to be set-up next to the fountain. Those who wished to, could pay for a drink and would absorb the cost of providing the service. This is analagous to a toll road. If time is important to you, buy a drink. If not, wait for the fountain or go elsewhere.

Now, suppose this stall were only to accept credit and debit cards and rejected cash. It could be argued that this would lead to a list of drink buyer's names and addresses begin available to anyone who wanted one. But it's not true. Apart from the effort needed to track down all the information from different card companies, such data would be protected by the Data Protection Act. In any case, it is possible to buy a pre-paid card where there is no record of your name and address.

Similarly, if road pricing were so arranged that your car's box calculated the cost and filed a single record (say once a month) with the road-pricing organisation, there would be no journey by journey record and your privacy would be protected. Whilst there is a link between your car and address in such a system, controls can be in place to stop mis-use.

Road-pricing is not automatically a issue for civil liberties, it's only one if govenrment plans are not scrutinised well enough.

  • 33.
  • At 01:27 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Russ James wrote:

Lovely example, but rubbish comparison to road charging!

If we pay-per-mile on every single road, then, unlike in the fountain option whereby the poorer people que and the wealthier people pay to get it straight away, there would be no 'free but que' or 'pay but don't que' option...

Put simply, we would all be paying to que, thus no better off than we were before in terms of the wait, but worse off in terms of finance.

People who travel and sit in ques now do so as they HAVE to for work. By charging them to do so isn't going to make it optional whether they travel (again, unlike the water fountain where "to drink or not" is an option).

These grossly overpaid economists should take a reality check!!!

  • 34.
  • At 01:27 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Dave wrote:

Adding the charge doesn't solve the fundamental requirement users have to drink from the fountain. If the charge provided access to the fountain without queuing it would be fair - will it happen? I'm expecting queues just as long as at present, but at least they'll know who's in the queue!

  • 35.
  • At 01:28 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • C Leach wrote:

Unfortunately, we all get thirsty so we all end up paying, we still join the queue but the money goes elsewhere and nothing changes.

Do we know that people who travel more earn high enough salaries to warrant having to pay more? The inequalities in the property market mean that people do have to travel more to be able to afford somewhere to live. Plus road charging does nothing to stop Scrummies in their Chelsea tractors polluting the atmosphere for just travelling 5 miles down the road. Where do they get charged? It becomes cheaper for them! I thought this was all about easing congestion and the impact on the environment?

  • 36.
  • At 01:33 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Michelle wrote:

So as long as you can afford to pay for the water then everything is fine.

  • 37.
  • At 01:33 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Ian Kemmish wrote:

Suppose all cars used hydrogen fuel cells and a way had been found to manufacture hydrogen without pollution.

Then I wouldn't care how long private motorists had to queue, and I'd only care how long truck drivers had to queue because it would be reflected in my weekly grocery bill.

The behaviour we're hoping to change is presumably not the congestion itself, but the pollution (and particularly carbon pollution) it creates. This suggests, as a couple of others have said, that the best way to price roads is with good old-fashioned, low-tech, fuel duty.

Now, if only the government hadn't bottled out in 2000.....

  • 38.
  • At 01:33 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

If the infrastructure of the park cannot support the people using the park, the park has failed. What Evan Davies is talking about is finding a way to limit the demand on the infrastrucure to avoid having to pay for improving it (whilst at the same time raising a nice chunk of revenue, thank you very much) A Heath Robinson approach - such as a road charging system - to solving underlying inadequacies of our infrastructure will only lead to a bigger government and a more complicated way of going about our lives and businesses.

We need to understand why demand is rising and then deal with the root cause in a low impact and yet beneficial way. We also need to view the impact of proposed policies in a more joined up way. If we take our most congested towns and cities, say London, as an example, where are the people denied road access to go? Is there really that much spare capacity in the underground network? Do buses really satisfy their needs? Getting from A to B might be simple, but what about getting to X or Y? How many times have you got to change buses and wait in the rain? No, reducing mobility will reduce economic activity and opportunity. Hang on, aren't these the same arguments being put forward for road pricing? Seems they will have the same net effect. Ah!, but they'll only affect the poorest people, so that doesnt matter, does it.

So why is the infrastructure unable to cope? Health Service, Water Supply, Housing, Energy and now roads are all subject to the same problems of increasing demand. Lets not try to hide from the truth. The problems with transport are not about an increase in the volume of cars. Cars are driven by people. This is about population growth. We need to get this under control before restricting access to any of our infrastructure to only the wealthy.

We elect a government to do the big and difficult things. Not difficult as in complex, but difficult as in bold or brave. And they need to be for our benefit, not theirs. How exciting it must be to be in control of a major new project. Liasing with suppliers and contractors and consultants. Think of the contacts one can make. After a good stint at this, a minister could retire to a part time seat on the board of any number of large paying multinationals. Lovely !!

There is no getting away from the inevitable unpalatable truth. The population count of this small island needs bringing under control. It has grown and continues to grow faster than we can cope with. There is one government department that holds the key to problems with growing inadequacies of our infrastructure. It's not the DFT, or even the DTI. It's the Home Office.

  • 39.
  • At 01:38 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Ken Smith wrote:

Identify the funding for a park keeper to monitor the queue and payment when charging for use of the fountain came into force then re-allocate the funding to installing more free fountains.
With regards to charging to reduce activity as in congestion charging. Charges would need to be punitive. To be equal for all income groups you would need to make the charge high enough to affect the highest paid which would make it exclusive for people on lower income which is why current 'green' taxes do not reduce congestion/air pollution they just raise money.
The only real way to stop people doing what they currently do is to incentivise them to use an alternative. If the recent airline ticket tax was directly linked to a subsidy making travel and or holidays in the UK cheaper I would be more inclined to support it.

  • 40.
  • At 01:42 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Alastair wrote:

One way to resolve this problem would be to introduce an alternative such as a booth providing drinks. This would shorten the queue and keep people happy.

In road terms this could equate to introducing the alternative of public transport but whilst the price of train journeys remains so high and the services are relatively infrequent there is no alternative.

Countries like Switzerland have good public transport and don't have the congestion problems that we have. The only charge is an annual £40 vignette.

  • 41.
  • At 01:42 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Bridget wrote:

You're assuming that it's an either-or situation - rationing is achieved either by queuing or by charging. If demand is sufficiently high, then people will have to both queue and pay. Yes, there would be the option of using the money to install another fountain, but that might just draw more people into the park...

  • 42.
  • At 01:44 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Henry wrote:

If this argument was meant to relate to the british roads and its proposed road pricing, the location would not be a park. But a desert, and there is no fountain but a puddle of dirty muddy water.

Because essentially that is the type of service we get on our roads - The alternative, the Public Transport, would be like your fountain but that pumps out the same cloudy dirty water the puddle provides.

If we all actually drop our cars and take on public transport for even just one day, the chaos it would create would bring the entire country to its knees.

The government knows they can create any tax on the roads and get away with it because people have to use it. There is NO alternative.

Walk away from the queue for water and you will struggle to live.

  • 43.
  • At 01:47 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Colin Lea wrote:

I thought the whole point about road pricing was that road tax would be ablosihed alongside it. Thus those who drive a little will pay significantly less tax and those who drive on congested roads a lot, will pay more. Hopefully this will encourage them to move closer to work/work from home etc etc Not only that, but the Govt gets cash to improve public transport (except they won;t spent it on bigger trains, tram systems etc as all thopse have recently been cancelled), so they'll probably spend it on offence (as apposed to defence)!

  • 44.
  • At 02:01 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Alex wrote:

Did the author study economics? I did not finish reading this article because the foundations on which it is built are completely wrong. Only for the marginal person in the queue is the benefit just about equal to the cost. Hence there is a plenty of social benefit since all people in front are gaining much more than they are losing. Furthermore, people have heterogenous utility functions meaning that it is not necessarily the case that the last person to join the queue has no net benefit.

The rest of the article may or may not have been topical but please do your research if you want your article to be read.

  • 45.
  • At 02:03 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Mark Ziemba wrote:

Paying for a drink from the fountain and the London Congestion Charge have an important similarity. I know how much my drink will cost before I queue and pay for it, and I know how much I will have to pay if I decide to drive into Central London - or, indeed, how much the equivalent journey would cost by public transport. With the current road pricing plans, as I understand them, I will not know how much my journey will cost until it has been completed - a bit like trying to work out the cost of a future telephone call when I don't know how long it will last. It is impossible to plan ahead to obtain the best value.

An interesting analogy, but it cannot be applied to road pricing. Whereas someone unwilling to queue for the water fountain can see out an alternative source to quench his thirst (another fountain, or buy a drink at a shop), road users all must share the same road network.

Pricing would indeed limit the number of road users, but at what cost. Those on lower incomes may be forced off the road without an alternative, thereby damaging the wider economy.

My approach would be to improve both public transport and the road network to give people a realistic choice. Investment in low or zero emmission vehicles should be made to prevent increased emmissions.

  • 47.
  • At 02:13 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Alan Chance wrote:

Fine, until the government gets hold of the idea. Then you have a ring of cameras round the fountain on unsightly poles, large Fs cut into the park grass to warn you when you are entering a Fountain Charge Zone, a new department set up to administer the system, with the essential checks and balances of course (OFFOUNT and a Fountains Ombudsman) and all the money raised goes towards replacing Trident - for a short time. Then children start paddling in the water, slip and hurt themselves, and the fountain is closed down.

  • 48.
  • At 02:16 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

Surely the net result of charging people to use the fountain is simply the same queue of thirsty people who also now have less money?

And it really can't be used as an analogy for road use, because while somebody can choose not to have a drink, for some people road use is a necessity.

  • 49.
  • At 02:18 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Robert Phillips wrote:

The problem with this model is that it provides a free/cheaper alternative. Wait long enough and get it for free (a huge incentive) or pay a premium and get it quick. With PAYG road pricing, you have to pay for everything anyway, even the queues. There is no free alternative. Public transport is more expensive than private transport, and we have to pay fuel tax and road tax for private use. But private transport offers no benefit over public transport other than a more comfortable experience.
The suggested model will not work because EVERYONE will still have to pay, albeit more than before. There is no tiered system that offers privileged drivers quicker access. Maybe in other countries, but not Britain.
You may say that the increased charges could be put back into public transport, but there is no public transport service outside of London any more. All coaches and trains for inter-city travel are privately owned, and the government has NEVER supported these companies, except to bail them out of trouble. This new pricing system is not going to change that.

  • 50.
  • At 02:25 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • vasco wrote:

a good argument in theory, but with a few flaws:
You're assuming the number of those prepared to pay are not sufficient to cause a queue and that charging will automatically bring the numbers down to an acceptable level, whereas in reality, if there is sufficient volume of people who are thirsty enough, queueing will still occur but it will become an expensive wait instead of just a tiring one.
You're also assuming that people drink from the fountain out of choice, ignoring those who have no option to drink as there are no other supplies elsewhere. Finally, you're not taking into account those who have no alternative but to drink from the water fountain, as they have no other means of getting water, but who cannot afford to pay to join the queue: these are the people who will be most affected by the decision to charge for water and who will suffer terrible hardship as a result.

  • 51.
  • At 02:27 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Bob wrote:

The outcome - rich people drink as much as they like and poor people die of thirst.

  • 52.
  • At 02:28 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Roger Newnham wrote:

An Economist's explanation, but as usual no real solution. With the governments track record of any public systems most of the income will disappear into Quangos that will tell us what we are supposed to know, and not how it is. The key is a realistic mass transport policy but successive governments have dismantled our public transport systems. We need rapid tram type transport around towns and suburbs, good inter town links by trains with regular bus links for smaller villages. There are examples of this in Germany, (and it does not require numerous committee visits to evaluate).
There seems to be too much rhetoric and absolutely no action.
Not to difficult but what politician is going to stick his neck out and sign it off?
PS If Congestion charging is the answer, why have the Oyster Cards, for London Transport doubled in price over the last three years?

  • 53.
  • At 02:38 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Anti-Pricing wrote:

That's all well and good, but shouldn't road tax already be doing the rationing in addtion to fuel tax? Road pricing is another tax when the current taxes have already failed. Also, the current road taxes are not reinvested into the infrastructure that is now potentially to be "rationed" by pricing. If it were, it could well be the case that we would not have the present problem. If pricing were to come into place, what guarantee would the commuting public have that the money raised would be reinvested into the transport infrastructure?

If only all life was as rational as the billable drinking fountain, and people could see that any asset or service which is free at point of use becomes abused. Is the NHS not like a big bowl of ice cream anyone can tuck into and hence the service is hugely expensive to taxpayers and not surprising there are never enough ice cream cones to go round?

  • 55.
  • At 02:49 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

The basic argument is a sound one but we already have a payment mechanism in place that applies to the vast majority of private vehicle use - fuel tax.
Why introduce more complexity? Make it simple; scrap road tax, bin road charging and hike up the cost of fuel. This would force people to decrease private vehicle use and/or use more efficient vehicles. Clearly this only works if backed up by investment in public transport, but would have the added benefit of low administration costs.

  • 56.
  • At 03:15 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Will Thorman wrote:

This assumes that there is only 1 fountain. However, there are many road routes, buses, and trains. The people queuing at the M6 “fountain” have got alternatives. They are not queuing because it world be NICE to get to where they want to go – they are queuing because they MUST get to where they want to go (work). They are already paying for the M6 “fountain” many times over and charging them again will not change the fact that they have to go to work. It may force some poorer people onto already over crowded trains, but that is it.

Congestion charging trying to address a symptom, not the cause, like taking Asprin for Bird Flu. We need to reduce the NEED to travel. If we encourage everyone to live closer to work, then we will all live on top of each other 24hrs a day instead of just when commuting.

The answer is staring us in the face. IT and communication are now such that most people could organise their working week so that they can work from home on 1 or more days per week. Each day is worth a 20% reduction in congestion. Individuals would jump at the chance, the problem is changing out of date business attitudes. A concerted government campaign, and the use of taxation carrots and sticks as tools, could persuade businesses to accept this as a normal way of working. I don’t believe Eddington’s report covered this obvious solution, but then is he just another out of date businessman?

Back to the park. Fewer people in the park, no queue, no need to charge for the fountain (and therefore none of the associated costs). Those who NEED to be in the park can get a drink, and think of all the other benefits eg. Less pollution, less consumption etc.

  • 57.
  • At 03:38 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • john ickringill wrote:

lets face it they want every penny you`ve got and wont be happy till they have it all. this is the beginning council tax next TAX TAX TAX TAX TAX.

  • 58.
  • At 04:20 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Dougie Lawson wrote:

How do you deal with the Frenchman who arrives in the park with no equipment to pay for charging and 100,000 empty Perrier bottles that he needs to fill?

Or in terms of road pricing how do we deal with the "foreign" (and that could be GB Haulage Firms with trucks registered abroad) who want to use the priced roads.

What is the problem with just having simple toll gates (exactly like the péage system on the French autoroutes)?

Why does this government always want to go for the high tech wizz-bang database way of solving the simplest problems?

  • 59.
  • At 04:27 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • John Bush wrote:

Let's extend the analogy to include an ice-cream truck that sells fizzy juice and the original fountain.

The truck is beside the main park rides, the fountain is 10 minutes up a hill. The fountain is free to use, but conseqeuently has a very large queue for use. The truck sells the juice at a price but large crowds gather round it because it is the most convenient. When a customer is polled about his use of the truck instead of the fountain, he replies "I'd use the fountain - but it's way up on the hill. I don't like the crowds down here - but it's still more convenient."

The park manager has been informed that the crowds around the truck are unacceptable and decides to increase the prices to discourage the crowds.

The end result is that some people migrate into the fountain queue - but most stay next to the truck, begrudgingly paying the higher prices.

If only the park manager had thought to install a new fountain in a good location... There wouldn't have been a need for a price hike.

As #56 implies - no-one wants to queue on the M6. But the only alternative may be to pay over £100 for a train ticket that will run at a poor time, to a poorly located station, amidst overcrowding.

  • 60.
  • At 04:53 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

Sorry, go to the back of the class.

Am I to assume that you have never been to a pub on a friday evening?

Just because you are paying, doesn't mean that there isn't a queue, unless you propose to make the cost so prohibitively high that only the rich can afford to pay.

  • 61.
  • At 04:58 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

To the people who say there will be a queue even if you have to just keep raising the price until say half of them lose interest, then the queue is half as long.

To those who say people have to travel to work during the rush-hour: do you really believe no matter how much the cost of getting between work and home is raised, even (to take things to absurd lengths) if the cost is more than their whole salary, no one will let that affect where they work or live, even in the long-term, i.e. when they would have changed job/home anyway? There are always some people in the process of making that decision, and if they choose a cheaper commute they will be making more space for you immediately.

  • 62.
  • At 05:05 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Josh W wrote:

I once read a book where the government regulated "ability to earn", so inheritance was banned and theft was an extreme crime. The idea was that if wealth attribution was somehow made fair, then price could be a fair way of give resources to those who most wanted them. Of course, this does not always relate to the actual benefit: How often have you bought something then found it not as good as you thought?

Besides, is waiting really that bad? I always wait for computer parts to come down in price before I buy them, but that doesn't mean I sit outside the computer shops in a tent!

The other point is to insure that your sorting system has zero-sum benefit. In other words get people to pay other people to stand in front of them in the queue, but you have to go from back to front, or pay everyone you displace, that way the patient people get more money, and even if you do have inequality, the downtrodden now get paid for it!

  • 63.
  • At 05:14 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Sam wrote:

How does this model apply to rural drivers, who often have no other viable alternative? They can't even see the fountain, let alone get a drink!

  • 64.
  • At 06:23 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Abby Jackson wrote:

Of course pretty much all of the 57 comments are against road charging. Congestion is a classic market failure in that it is a free common resource that we all want a bit of.

Charging or other legislation is the only way to get people to change their behaviour. Most people don't bother to think beyond it will cost money for me to do what i want. Selfish or thoughtless?

And people who say what about people who can't afford it? How about the people how can't afford cars, but who can not rely on the public transport system which is close to non existant outside of London?

  • 65.
  • At 07:07 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Ian Hunter wrote:

I'd just like to clarify why road pricing is more efficient at reducing congestion than road tax or fuel tax, which seems to be causing some confusion. Annual road tax charges the same price to a sunday driver as to a rush-hour commuter, who causes far more congestion. Fuel tax charges the same price to a rural driver who uses the same amount of fuel as the rush-hour commuter, who again causes more congestion. Road pricing allows you to target the cause of congestion directly, and means that rush-hour commuters who can easily switch to public transport have an incentive to do so. Regarding the fact that poorer people will spend a higher fraction of their income on road charges than richer people, this is a very valid argument, but the income tax system, not transport policy, is the correct tool for income redistribution.

  • 66.
  • At 07:27 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Neil wrote:

To malcolm - your comment "People mainly HAVE to drive to work, they cannot choose not to go just because the roads are congested, nor can they choose to go at different times. THAT'S WHY RUSH-HOURS OCCUR!". Where you work and where you live is your choice. This is a free society. When making such choices, you have clearly chosen to work and live in places that can only be travelled between by car. That is your choice. Congestion charging applies the cost of your decisions to you and not to the rest of society.

  • 67.
  • At 07:27 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Larry Jay wrote:

The queue arises because of underinvestment in water fountains by the local authority, despite payment by ratepayers for the provision of adequate facilities. As the local authority are the source of the problem they have no role to play in the solution which will be provided by: -

a) Entrepreneurial vendors of bottled water
b) Those queuing who are cash rich but time poor trading places with those in the converse circumstance at a freely negotiated prices. This I believe is similar to the argument deployed by Rod Eddington during his tenure at BA in the context of valuing and trading Heathrow landing slots.

Regards Larry Jay

  • 68.
  • At 07:46 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • T Lawson wrote:

What about the people who can't afford to pay to use the fountain ?

- Give them some of the money raised from charging people who can afford to use the fountain !

  • 69.
  • At 10:48 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Adam Gordon wrote:

Oh dear, what a lot of misunderstanding around this article. The example tells us that we need to think to come up with a solution. If you think a whole lot of people giving up and just leaving the queue is fine, when potentially they may die of thirst or become so dehydrated that they step out in front of a bus, then leave the status quo. Or take some cash from social services or street cleaning and build a 2nd free fountain. Comrades, there are other ways to skin a cat. One of the points of the art/science of economics is to help us think of solutions, so that we get more from the same amount of resources.
"Poor people consigned to die of thirst”: a Pay-per-use fountain could be set up nearby by a PFI, for those who want to pay, freeing up space in the queue for thirsty poor people (a bit like M6 Toll road, or private health care) . Or people could get themselves organised and when they visit a park, bring (near) free tap water with them in a handy reusable bottle (pick up a free map and plan your journey using public transport). That would leave the roads (err, fountain) free for people who had no choice but to use them: to attend a funeral, carry their work tools to a jobsite, deliver fruit & veg to local shops (err, found themselves walking in the park because they were lost, or too early for the nearby job interview, skipping school, or how ever else you find yourself out and about without supplies or the wherewithal to buy them).
“Population growth out of control” yep, that’s true! But it’s the population of cars that is growing fast, and as we get “richer” we want to drive in our own statement of personal style, so we are driving further, more often. But most people agree that paving even more of the country is not the answer. Longer, more frequent trains, bus only lanes, staggered working hours, reduced or variable speed limits, are quite cheap ways of “getting more from less”. New routes for trains, tubes, trams are more expensive and are longer term solutions. The Olympics may be a wonderful waste of money in some peoples eyes (mine included, although once they start, I’m sure I’ll enjoy the occasion), but it’s a great kick up the bum to get some long needed improvement to infrastructure! “It’s the economy, stupid!” is why so many cars are on the road. I’m sure that we want imaginative solutions, though, not a recession!
“Money siphoned off” I agree that it’s a shame when money raised thru the taxing of an activity is diverted off to unrelated expenditure. But it’s a fact that the NHS has to deal with issues arising from transport, whether it is accidents or the health effects of pollution. So as long as most of the money goes back into transport (but not much on new roads). Mind you, a healthy debate on exactly how much money is fair would be interesting.
One conclusion: shut up about congestion if you are not willing to get out of your car when an alternative exists. Communication your lack of concern about congestion to your local politicians, so that they stop worrying about it and concentrate instead on one of the other many concerns you have (health, education, welfare, defence, conservation). Explain to your family that, rather than have some time with them in the evening, you’d rather be stuck in a jam on the M25 than be subjected to travelling with the masses on public transport, vote in support of the demolition of your own home to make way for extra lanes on the M4. Buy shares in a company floated to build a “Crossroad” toll motorway under London. But whatever else you do, DON’T LOOK OVERSEAS FOR IDEAS, because no one else is in this situation, anywhere, and so there is nothing to learn from their successes or failures.

  • 70.
  • At 11:07 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Adam Gordon wrote:

Will Thorman (comment 56). Very good idea! I overlooked this obvious, cheap, way of reducing congestion.
Of course, it won’t work for ME: I need access to all my files and past paperwork. Hang on a mo’: maybe we could (as a bit of a project) scan all of our documents so that we can look at them, any time, from anywhere in the world! Then, each day in the office, who ever is in and looking after the mail room function could scan my mail and then I could review it, too! Cool: problem solved!
Hang on: no dice, I’ve paid for a monthly/weekly/annual travelcard and so wouldn’t get any advantage from savings on travel. Sunk costs, anyone?
Hang on: what if TfL give me a further 20% discount by specifying a day of the working week that my travel card won’t be valid! And I could have the choice of changing that day each month (via my Oyster account) depending on what others in the office wanted needed! Cool: I could then pick up little David from football practice/ballet/karate on Thursday nights!
Hang on a mo’: broadband is rubbish and unreliable, and no one is doing anything about it or has an idea about a solution, plus: who’s going to pay for my connection. If I use it for work, I don’t feel I should have to pay for it. What do I get out of it?
Hang on (again), what’s this about VDSL on wikipedia? What, work are offering to help pay AND offer a router so that little David can use the connection for homework after school?
Nah, solutions can’t keep coming along, can they?

  • 71.
  • At 11:15 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • David Andrew wrote:

Sorry - your arguement is ridiculous.

Let's imagine the same park where they charge for water, only this time in the UK.

All the charges are swallowed up to pay for the attendants. (e.g. London Congestion charge).

The people that paid now need to earn more in order to get a simple drink of water. (Inflationary effect of paying for an essential service that provides no value-add).

The people that couldn't afford to pay even if they could have waited, collapsed in the heat. (What happens outside London where alternatives to driving are limited - have you tried this yourself!?)

I think we call it WCUK.

Keep drinking the Kool-aid.

  • 72.
  • At 01:03 AM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • K wrote:

I'll give you another scenario. The parkie can be bribed or intimitated into doing a deal with me and my pals. After all, it's not worth dying for. So a whole new opportunity is opening up for me to fiddle the system and make a few more bucks out of the system. Don't you just luv the free market system!

  • 73.
  • At 01:11 AM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Charles Richard wrote:

What a terrible analogy.

If I went into a pub on a hot day and paid £2 for a cold drink, I'd be very unimpressed if they then asked me to pay another 50p for the use of the glass !

We've paid an awful lot over the years through duty on fuel and then VAT on top of that.

It's not as if the government (this one, OR previous ones) has done anything to offer a genuine alternative.

  • 74.
  • At 07:34 AM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • George wrote:

Is it not an option to build a second fountain to solve the future problem?

  • 75.
  • At 07:42 AM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Rob wrote:

well written and adds some common sense to the debate.
when demand exceeds supply the price goes up. why should roads be any different?
the arguments about the NHS are misguided. health is already regulated by supply / demand and price; the private health sector plays a role - and the argument that you can't create a parallel road system doesn't wash. with health we use the same people (consultants work in both sectors)at different times.
what road pricing will do is reallocate the traffic to public transport or quieter times of day. buses have to play a bigger role - subsidised by funds from road pricing.
I can understand the 1.5m not wanting change but they offer no real alternative or solution to overcome congestion (costs and environmental damage)
road pricing is an inevitable answer to ration a scarce resource.

  • 76.
  • At 11:11 AM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Graham Smithers wrote:

A good picture but missing a few points....On our roads today we are overloaded with European transporters that pay nothing for the use of our roads. This should be changed so a fee is paid on arrival at our coastal ports. We british have to pay to use european roads, so why not the same here!!!!
Also road fund license fee is an incorrect method to collect tax for our roads, this should be switched to a tax on fuel - low cost for implementation (Closure of current DVLA process) and zero cost to collect (as tax is collected currently) and NO AVOIDANCE. Those who use the roads most pay for them, high fuel consumption (Chelsea tractors/performance cars) will result in the paying more. Replace the tax disc with MOT and Insurance discs to be displayed - this enables an easier way to police, as long as all MOT and insurance details are online to police viewing (this process is underway).

  • 77.
  • At 11:18 AM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • jon d wrote:

The fundamental problem with this is that it is looking at the wrong problem.

You cannot compare water drinking and petrol usage because water usage has not changed over the decades. We still drink, on average, the same amount of water as we drank 50 years ago. Petrol usage, however, is a different matter. We 'need' (for that read 'want' or allow ourselves to be forced to) much more petrol to travel vastly bigger distances.

The problem is that every individual wants to be able to choose where they live and work, where they have their holiday cottages, where their kids go to school, where they shop. This has broken public transport because people no longer live as close to these services as they used to. The provision of cheap, unsustainable Private Transport has led to this.

Now that there is a threat of making cheap, unsustainable Private Transport more expensive, all the users are complaining that they need their cars, when in fact that have used their cars to create that need. It is a circular argument that does not wash.

The solution is to make people think twice about the distances and frequencies they drive. Cost is the only way to do this. I'd make the water more expensive, rather than use a Toll system etc.

(Oh, and for the benefit of several posters here, there is no such thing as 'Car Tax'. In fact there is no tax that is taken from road users for the roads. People who do not have cars pay for roads as much as car owners. It is facile to say that car users pay for the roads.)

  • 78.
  • At 11:20 AM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Annhatty wrote:

Economic theory is all good but not reality.

The economists ideal that "those who do pay, have the benefit of drinking without queuing" only works if the cost deters enough people from drinking AND there is sufficient additional supply to satisfy those who pay, otherwise even though paying people will still be queuing. Try the M6 toll road (Like in most government schemes)

Congestion is supply and demand, over demand at peak periods and inadequate supply. Lauded reports of the London congestion charge reducing traffic fails to explain where the travelers have gone? I suspect many have merely been displaced onto busses and the tube (nice if your city has them) hence both are hugely overcrowded.

Road Charging as a solution to congestion assumes
a) People currently choose to make unnecessary journeys at peak times
b) Paying a charge will automatically decrease demand
c) There is a viable alternative

Flawed I think.

Gordon Brown has a £2bn deficit in tax revenue. A significant evasion being foreign registered HGV’s, (and canny UK haulers’) filled up on French diesel paying no UK tax. Road charging could catch them ?

Road charging already exists. Fuel duty. The more you drive the more you pay. Spending billions to introduce a spy in the car is a waste of money.

We need longer term solutions. Central government is forcing South East councils to allow building of tens of thousands of new homes. Because demand exceeds supply they are being sold at market rate £250K+ (a nice profit for the developers). The problem being to afford these homes the residents will need high paying jobs which invariably means travel into London.

Demand does not disappear it is only ever displaced.

  • 79.
  • At 11:25 AM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Colin Smith wrote:

Well you see...

I also pay road tax, fuel duty as well as VAT on my fuel duty to the government as well as the purchase of the vehicle, the servicing costs, insurance. Hardly free... It mounts up, so there must be a very very good reason to spend all this money on using a car rather than using the alternatives.

Basically it's the network effect, I can take a car along any road to virtually any point in the UK. There are no current alternatives which can do this. Essentially, the road network has a monopoly on the point to point travel service. Buses, trains, trams being group based vehicles are physically unable to provide a similar service, they must follow a fixed route and run to a schedule by their fundamental nature.

In addition, the government heavily subsidises rail, tram and bus services making it uneconomic for newer transport technologies like PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) which potentially could offer a near point to point service to compete with the incumbent technologies.

Essentially, the government are making things worse rather than better.

  • 80.
  • At 11:49 AM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Mark K wrote:

Apart from in the real world the 'park keeper' has artificially reduced the flow of the fountain to a trickle, locked people in the park, and is already taking most of their money just for being there. He, and his cronies, are now sitting in his big house, overlooking the park, and enjoying the peoples suffering while getting rich from their labour.

Maybe a more accurate analogy would be a concentration camp commandant.

  • 81.
  • At 12:08 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Matt W wrote:

Economic theory is often correct but also often wrong; the practicalities of what may work in theory are often such that whilst the outcome proposed is desireable and plausible, it really has no chance of working the the real world.

Applying this to the issue of the motor car, it seems to me that there are simple reality checks that are often ignored by the media and policy makers whilst in search of the solution.

Firstly, is it not possible to simply accept that the car is one of the best inventions of man in terms of its practicality, desireability, and purpose? So why waste time and money trying to deal with its success negatively.

A more rational approach is surely to promote improvement by moving technology forward - such as tax incentives for engine and environmental development to deal with the climate impact, and the same for using location technology to control car spacing optimally on busy routes instead of using it to levy a charge.

Secondly, I believe society has forgottn how much infrastructure costs. The UK has not adapted its infrastructure to the baby-boom population explosion or to the socio-economic changes that mean that very few of us now work in the town we live in - most commentators live in urban areas where this is not the case, but for most people they are not sat in a queue on a road or train for the fun of it; there is clearly a need.

Finally, if we price people off the road how will they get to work? This is a simple fact that commentators and policy makers scoff at. If 100,000 people decide to take the train instead of the car, are there suddenly 100,000 seats that are just waiting conveniently to accomodate? Is the platform long enough for the extra carriages, the tunnels high enough for a 2-tier carriage, or does the train track snake its way conveniently to every retail park or employment park?

The answer is no.

The solution? Surely accept the car, and make it work. And that is achieved on two fronts - encourage the producer, and be realistic with the substitute product; we all need to get used to the fact that we have lived off the infrastrucutre created very cheaply 60-100 years ago.

There are more of us now, and each of us expects to own a house, drive a car, go on holiday and provide for our children. Thats the progress previosu generations worked for.

There are no vast armies of cheap labour for modern day Brunel's to use; thats why the West Cost improvement cost so much; its just we all hate paying for it..

  • 82.
  • At 12:49 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

A car travelling at 60 miles per hour needs almost 100 meters of road in front of it, to be safe. That means for the time you are travelling, you occupy a space of, say, 300 square meters of road, the size of a large house. There is a limited amount of space, but an unlimited number of cars who want to use it.

Say you want to travel 60 miles down the road, and it takes you one hour.

If you have to share this space with another car, you only have 150 meters of road each, and you can both only travel at 30 miles per hour, so you both have to occupy the space for twice as long, and it takes you two hours each. You use roughly the same amount of petrol, so you pay the same amount of fuel duty.

If you could agree with the other car that you travel first, and he travels next, you both get there twice as fast, WITHOUT USING ANY MORE ROAD SPACE. In fact, he will get there at EXACTLY THE SAME TIME as he did before, but he saves an hour before his trip, you save an hour after.

However, you both have nothing to gain from letting the other guy go first, so you insist on going at the same time, at snails pace. This is how roads work today.

Let me then make a suggestion. You reason with the other guy, and explain that this is pointless, you can both save an hour if you take turns. You discover that you both really want to get there as early as possible, but you want it a bit more. So you offer to pay 3 pounds of HIS petrol duty, and he agrees to wait for an hour before setting off. You both save an hour each, he gains 3 pounds WITHOUT GETTING HOME LATER, and you get home AN HOUR EARLIER.

All this is made possible simply because you had a mechanism to bargain with the other guy, and agree on who should go first. You saved two hours of your lives, because you managed to agree with the other guy who should have which hour. That is road pricing.

Fears for your privacy, double taxation, and that it won't work anyway or will be too costly to implement are all valid, but they are details that should be solved, and not be allowed obscure the basic principle, which is really valuable.

  • 83.
  • At 01:04 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • K.C wrote:

I like the theory, good arguement!

What absolute tosh. People with money will pay provided most other people cannot or will not pay but they will not benefit other than getting what they want when they want it and people who cannot afford to pay will see money collected going to kill and destroy the homes of poor people in foreign lands.
People will find away around congestion charging just as they have done in London and poor honest people will not see any improvement in their journeys.

  • 85.
  • At 02:53 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Penny Morris wrote:

The argument that charging to use the fountain increases some 'benefit' is odd. What is this benefit? It isn't a benefit to the people in the park who don't use the fountain, only to those who are prepared to pay. So you are benefiting a small minority (since you have cut a large queue to no queue at all in your example).

This is the problem with road pricing. What is it trying to acheive? If it is trying to reduce CO2 emissions, then it may work or it may transfer queues to minor roads, if it trying to reduce congestion, it may work but why bother, since those benefitting from reduced congestion is a very small, wealthy elite? The idea that reducing congestion in itself provides a benefit is wrong. People will still have to travel and will be more inconvenienced by travelling at times or in ways that they dislike.

Of course, with no water fountain charge, the members of the queue start a group moan about the amount of council tax they pay and the lack of water fountains. Similarly, since we pay national and regional taxes, fuel duty etc. why should we have to pay yet again to use OUR roads?

  • 86.
  • At 03:07 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • David Richardson wrote:

It's not a good analogy. I've not paid for the product that quenches my thirst, but I have already paid for the use of the road through : Income tax, Road Tax, Fuel Tax, VAT on Fuel and the car purchase. To ask me to pay again is just plain wrong.

For new roads (giving alternative routes to the destinaion) funded entirely without central taxation is different (eg M6 Toll). For use of those road, tolls are the logical source of funding.

Also, if the Q is too long at that drink shop, I can take my business elsewhere, infortunately, there are no "parallel roads" to give the consumer choice. Or will I be able to choose the company I pay the tax to maintain my roads?

Road tolls : It's a moneymaking monopoly which must not be permitted to happen.

  • 87.
  • At 04:11 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

It's a bit unfair when those who pay still have to queue, as will most likely happen.

  • 88.
  • At 04:12 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Daniel Brown wrote:

Really, I would never bother trying to explain economics to the layman.

As one of my lecturers used to say 'only an economist would tell you its not possible to affect an economy, everyone else will tell you exactly how they could do it'

  • 89.
  • At 04:15 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • carlos wigderowitz wrote:

This model does not take into account that we are already paying by council tax etc for the fountain.
There is no garanty that the extra money will be used to relief the situation rather than disappear into some obscure/controversial government plan with more bureaucrats to manage it (let alone the more outrageous ones such as wars and tridents)

If the fountain is small the only real solution is to build another one so that more people can drink. Anything else is an anti-solution and will not resolve inequalities, but rather enhance them

  • 90.
  • At 04:20 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Thirsty Kirsty wrote:

Very logical, but I don't think the the drinking fountain analogy is all that straightforward.

"They enjoy the drink, but for them, it is only just worth the wait...."

For whom is it worth the wait? For some it is, for others it isn't.

"...It’s a close run thing between bothering to drink or not."

" can enjoy it without paying a time penalty that more or less wipes out the benefit."

Some people actually do enjoy the drink even more having paid the price of waiting. And it tastes good because it's free.

The main difference between your fountain analogy and the traffic system is that the fountain offers CHOICE - you choose to pay, or not. You may wish to pay on a hot day rather than to queue, but I doubt you'd be charged the same on a cooler day. As far as the traffic situation is concerned, they're asking us to pay whether or not we "mind" queuing - and on cold days as well as hot. It's one fixed price whatever the season. Nor do we have the option to walk away and not pay after we've queued for some time.

  • 91.
  • At 04:23 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • David wrote:

On a hot day you can go to the park, already prepared with cool drinks. The complete mis-management of our roads over the past ten years means if you have to travel around rush hour then you will sit in a queue. The only people that benefit probably travel by helicopter anyway (Mr Blair).

  • 92.
  • At 04:23 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Solutions are to increase the number of fountains or reduce the demand. Since there will come a time when we can not increase the number of roads (there will be no land left to farm) we will need to look at our population growth.

  • 93.
  • At 04:24 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Jan wrote:

No 11, Dave Jones has put the argument against road taxing elegantly, clearly and correctly. Could he perhaps be co-opted into government?

  • 94.
  • At 04:25 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Gareth wrote:

You can only refrain from drinking for so long before you die. The absence of public transport (as is the case for much of the UK) is the same as saying that for many the water fountain is the only source from which to drink. While people are required to go to work to earn money (much of which they will never see) they have no choice other than to queue. Refraining from queueing is therefore the same as quitting work and claiming benefit. For the working class, by which I mean anyone who WORKS for a living, transportation is a need, not a luxury. As joining the queue is unavoidable, the proposed tax is simply another unavoidable cash-grab at those who work. "Let them use public transport" is the 21st Century equivalent of "Let them eat cake"

  • 95.
  • At 04:27 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Wendy wrote:

If there is no control of the numbers of people entering the park, it will get crowded queues are bound to form if there is only one place to get a drink.

So if you take congestion as a sign of overcrowding or overpopulation, is it not time to control the numbers of people coming to live on these islands, who will then need homes, transport and services?

  • 96.
  • At 04:28 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Please forgive my ignorance, but I was under the impression that I already payed to use the roads through my car tax and the punitive tax on petrol.

  • 97.
  • At 04:30 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Dick wrote:

It's a terrible argument...

I don't drive a lot now because I work mainly from home. So I don't contribute to congestion or pollute the environment. But, I do pay road tax to keep my car available and duty on petrol when I buy it.

If road charging come in, road tax dissapears and duty on petrol goes down I'll do very nicely thankyou but the Treasury will loose out.

Anyone who thinks that's going to be allowed to happen is living in cloud cuckoo land.

  • 98.
  • At 04:31 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Roger Bennett wrote:

Road pricing!! Good in theory but that is all.
Strange to have a Labour Goverment trying to create a two class society, those that can afford to travel when they want and those that cany. The motorways were built to ease congestion on minor roads now they want tolls to ease the congestion on major roads and push people to minor ones?????
I'd support anything that affects everyone equaly not to create an eletist society!!!!!!!

  • 99.
  • At 04:33 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • kevin wrote:

Surely this is needless bueracracy? It's sole purpose is to hide the increase in road tax. If there is already one tax system that caters for the cost/limits of the road network and its usage why invent another level? They want more money and they want to curb road usage but to square the circle they want to win elections. This impossible situation is remedied by inventing further layers of red tape and new systems that do nothing but mask the truth. They are communists.

  • 100.
  • At 04:33 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Mike Hart wrote:

It's a failed analogy.

1. People in the queue are already being charged a princes ransom to drink.

2. People in the queue are wondering why the money they are paying doesn't produce a second, third, an fourth fountain. i.e. where is their value for money?

  • 101.
  • At 04:35 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Javier wrote:

All of this made sense if we had the supplier of the road selling the space for road. This would provide the incentives for the supplier to provide a good service, maintain the roads, build more roads if needed. In here, we have the government, commissioning a company to build a road, then owning this good for the public and charging people for it...twice (taxes and road congestion) and using the money to pay for another product (buses) This wouldn't be a market, but coercion.

  • 102.
  • At 04:35 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • gordon wrote:

the simple truth is that there are too many people in this country

  • 103.
  • At 04:37 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Simon S wrote:

The problem is that the money collected would be unlikely to be used to pay for another drinking fountain (which should also be free once the initial cost has been paid for) - so the queue would be only slightly shorter, and the park keeper would be left with a massive profit and overall there is no real benefit (or at best very little) to those needing a drink.

  • 104.
  • At 04:37 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Kelly, Oxford wrote:

It all depends on what people value more - their time or their money, and increasingly, people value their time more - it's always possible to make more money, but you cannot gain back the time you lost. But if everyone is willing to pay to drink from the fountain then the queue will be exactly the same length as it would have been anyway, and they are paying double. If it is an exceptionally hot day and everyone desperately needs a drink then they will pay if they ahve no other option. Similarly, road pricing is only going to work if it will actually have an effect on reducing congestion - if everyone is eventually (grudgingly) willing to pay because they using the roads is still the easiest option, then congestion hasn't been cut down, and all you have is a load of drivers who are angry because they have paid and so therefore think it should have been!

  • 105.
  • At 04:37 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

The queue might work quite well while arrivals are random and moderate. However, more and more of the queuers are heavy drinkers and take much longer than others, thus the queue stalls. I am referring to freight traffic on the roads. This traffic effectively starves the queue of service. Put the freight back on bulk transport, i.e. rail, where it belongs.

  • 106.
  • At 04:38 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • John Lenton wrote:

You have missed the point.

The money collected from the payers could pay for an additional drinking fountain (or more than one depending on the demand).

The eventual price would be determined by competion.

The problem with road pricing as offerde by the Government is that the money is not be to used for additional road capacity but for some thing else the road users do want to use i.e public transport (or worse still Olympic Games cost overruns. This is rather like using the fountain money to pay not for another fountain in the same place but for a fountain somewhere else or for Olympic Games cost overruns!

  • 107.
  • At 04:39 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Phil N wrote:

The worst congestion in the UK occurs in the centre of cities, correct? This is why London has a congestion charge, Bristol wants one, etc. etc.. The reason for the majority of people travelling at peak times is to go to work or take the kids to school or both. It could be argued that there are better ways to manage the latter problem, but for the vast majority of people going to work, they have to be there at 9am because the business relies on communicating with other businesses and if they're not all open at the same time, how will they speak? Assume also that most people are unable to work at home, rather than unwilling. Therefore there exists a situation where a certain number of people need to move all at the same time. The only way to make this pain lessen is to increase our capacity to move people - ie. the government needs to buy more fountains. All else is fantasy and shameless and cynical tax and spend.

  • 108.
  • At 04:40 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • SJ wrote:

The economics may or may not work (surely a persistent queue means a new fountain is put in place - which is not always possible or desirable with roads). But consider if, in order to drink from the water fountain ,one had to swipe a card which contained some sort of unique identifier. The time, date and amount of water they drink (and the amount wasted down the drain) was recorded along with their unique identifer. A bill for the amoount is automatically deducted from their pre-paid water account. The unique identifer once swiped would be compared with a list of people who had previously failed to pay their water drinking bill and an on-the-spot fine could be levied by the water marshall. Crimes committed in the local area could be cross referenced against poeple who had visited the fountain. One's annual drinking habits could be monitored and compared to a National Minimum Beverage Consumtion index - those failing to drink enough could have their access to healthcare reduced on the basis that they were insufficiently hydrated.

  • 109.
  • At 04:41 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Miand Joshi wrote:

I'd never thought of it that way, but it does make sense. By the same token, if charging people part of the cost of their health care (by all means subsidised for poorer people) reduces the queues for treatment that might not be so bad.

  • 110.
  • At 04:43 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Steve Kirkham wrote:

The water in teh park scenario bears no relation to road pricing. With this scenario, a facility has been provided at which you have a choice, use it or ignore it.

With road pricing, we are already paying, through road tax and petrol tax.

One argument against road pricing so far hasn't been raised. Why is there more congestion at certain times of the day? Because that is when people are going to or leaving work.

Stagger working hours and reduce the congestion. Simple when you think about it.

With regard to public transport, provide a bus service that gets me to work on time, instead of 1 hour early or 40 minutes late, and returns after I've finished work, not 20 minutes before hand or 90 minutes afterwards I'll use it. Until then, I'm sticking to the car.

  • 111.
  • At 04:43 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Zax wrote:

This demonstrates that economics is actually a pseudo-science! Given that the logical economic solution is to have no drinking fountain, then a better solution would be to have no park and no people either. All economic 'equations' result in entropy if produced to their logical limits, which makes sense, as the most stable economic system of all is a void!

  • 112.
  • At 04:44 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Katie wrote:

There are several problems.

Firstly; the public has a trust issue with the current government. We, at large, simply don't believe them when they say that the charges will be used for useful things. Every year, rail fares rise above inflation to pay for improvements which... never come. Council tax rises above inflation to pay for services which... never come. So, in the public's mind, the charges are not a more useful use than the time spent queuing.

Secondly; most people don't have a choice. It's like a water fountain when you're literally dying of thirst. You don't have an option. You must queue for it or pay for it.

Or, combining the issues; since the taxes raise won't be used to alleviate the transport shortage, you'll pay to go to work and STILL have to queue to go to work but the government will have lots more money to pay for social engineering programmes.

  • 113.
  • At 04:49 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Javier wrote:

After reading all the comments (most of them), I am glad I am not the only one that what passes for economic analysis here dangerously borders in propaganda. Yes, prices matter and are a good way of coordinating millions of transactions. But road taxes are not road prices.

  • 114.
  • At 04:52 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

The ultimate solution is for people not to need to do all this driving and hence cause congestion so while I, like everyone, abhor the idea of the govt. squeezing money out of people simply for living, maybe road pricing could be one part of a much wider plan to get people to live close to where they work - maybe involving:

- Remote Working
- Decentralisation
- Better Public Transport
- Road Pricing
- Population control
- Tax Incentives

  • 115.
  • At 04:57 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Steve wrote:

Evan gives a great explanation of why pricing is a good rationing system, but the necessary simplification - one resource, used by everyone in the same way - means it is very different from road pricing - a complex resource, used for many purposes. In spite of this, I might accept road pricing if it was presented as tax neutral, but there's never a squeak from government suggesting there is a limit to the level of tax take, so it a roundabout way, I'm with comment 57!

  • 116.
  • At 05:03 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Will Griffith wrote:

We already have road pricing in the form of fuel tax! Anyway, if they charge 10p per mile for road pricing then for a 40 mpg car, the cost of fuel per gallon will go up by 4 pounds!

  • 117.
  • At 05:04 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Jon wrote:

For economics to come into this, you need the law of supply & demand, i.e. the point at which people decide when the pricing of something is not worth having, thereby reducing demand.

This would be fair enough if the something was a luxury of choice (perhaps like air travel) where price reflects economic damage and is subsequently reflect in demand (due to price).

Because road pricing (and fountain drinking) is a mixture of both luxury and necessity, the 'supply & demand' economic argument fails because it ignores 'need', regardless of one's ability to pay.

As with all these things, it's a case of those who can afford to pay will either pay or go without.

For those who can't afford to pay but need it, it will be a case of 'tough luck' and typical of our post-Thatcher "I'm all right Jack" society that we seem to live in today.

Because of this, it looks more like a political argument than an economic argument and is simply a quick fix that won't work solution that is nothing more than back door taxation!

  • 118.
  • At 05:10 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Shash wrote:

How about rationing on the basis of most need or most effect? How about rationing that is income related, to balance out the effects of an unequal income distribution? Lets face it - road charge won't stop Beckham from driving around in a 4 x 4 because the money to him is insginificant, but it would stop an old low-income pensioner who really can't use public transport conveniently. Does Beckham really deserve the use of transport so much more than a retired teacher or nurse?
This would all be ok (on an admittedly ruthless level) if for some reason retired footballers were more valuable to society than retired nurses, and we are trying to use market forces to encourage people to choose certain careers. But lets face it, market failures (e.g. the overvaluing of footballers relative to nurses) become exacerbated by charging that is not means tested. In an ideal world market forces and capitalism would be fine without means testing, but in the real world they explode the errors introduced by market failure. I'm all for limiting fossil fuel consumption, but maybe its better to do it in a means tested way, especially if we regard transport as a fundamental need.

  • 119.
  • At 05:14 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Ian White wrote:

What about if the people queing up have already paid the park-keeper for the use of the park. Why should they have to pay extra for the water?

  • 120.
  • At 05:15 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

Alternatively, put 2 fountains in the park thereby reducing the wait time. Or put 2 fountains, one fountain of which is charged, and the other isn't - thus making the choice available to those willing to pay the time or financial penalty.

Think M6 toll. If I'm at a congested time of day I'll use the toll road, if I'm late at night I'll use the normal M6. I choose.

Don't be fooled by this article - it is not OK to pay driving so everyone can enjoy it.

  • 121.
  • At 05:15 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Mark Adams wrote:

I don't mind paying to use a fountain in a park, but in Britain, I have probably already paid my council tax to erect the fountain in the first place and have paid an enormous entrance fee into the park. I am also paying the Park Keepers salary who is busy fining people who have thrown away their paper cups because there aren't any recycling bins. Meanwhile the money is being used to increase global warming making people more thirsty. Why not just build another fountain? Ken Livingstone would close the fountain and force people to use a refreshment stall which is only open for 2 hours a day.

  • 122.
  • At 05:18 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Arjun Sen wrote:

There is a problem with the 'pricing at least gives us something back for the pain of paying' argument. It is scepticism that the government will use the money well.

Most of us agree that the government is much better than wasting our money than using it well.

This broad and highly damaging (but not necessarily untrue) perception has helped to increase displeasure at direct taxation and partly covers up the fact that generally speaking direct taxation hits the wealthy while indirect taxation penalises the less well off.

It has led to a cheap-skate public spending policy in all aspects of social spending for a quarter century and more.

The increased congestion charge will annoy everyone since the less well off within the charge area will have to pay more if they run a car. Unlike income tax, they can´t apply a sliding scale.

Business transport of all sorts won´t be affected. They´ll just pass the charge on to customers. So people resident in the charge area on moderate incomes running cars will be the only ones seriously affected. However, prices of goods and services will rise.

Most people who are passing north or south of London (or east and west) probably use the M25 rather than face the shorter but annoying and time-consuming battle with through-London traffic.

Therefore in the end it will still amount to an increased tax on the less well off residents and on social visitors from out of London rather than commercial users who contribute to the bulk of the congestion problem in London.

  • 123.
  • At 05:20 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Ian White wrote:

What about the fact that the people queing have already paid to walk through the park? Why should they pay extra for the water.

  • 124.
  • At 05:20 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • David Carpenter wrote:

Surely also an argument for increasing fuel duty, something the Chancellor & Prime Minister in waiting has singularly failed to do. This would also be much cheaper than a brand new road pricing scheme and be able to be implemented quickly and easily.

  • 125.
  • At 05:20 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Anonymous wrote:

Loved the the simple explanation, and helped me to understand basic economics.m

  • 126.
  • At 05:21 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Simon Spoerer wrote:

I've no doubt that price mechanisms tend to work, but are they always fair? The ability to get about seems to me to be close to a basic human right, but pricing to avoid congestion inevitably means an inequitable approach because it's likley to be regressive.

The rich will hardly notice, but the poor will have to think hard about whether they can afford to travel. At least queues are equitable!

Just a thought.

Simon Spoerer

  • 127.
  • At 05:21 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • simon walker wrote:

Good try. Perhaps another way of looking at it would be to suggest that a) Some people went to the park at a different time, b) Some people stayed at home as they didn't need to go to the park, c) some people brought their water with them or d) build another fountain. But wait, that would prevent the park authorities charging extortionate fees for a limited resource which the general public had already paid for in, say, council tax or other. This latter is what drives the road pricing argument.

  • 128.
  • At 05:22 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Ken Russell wrote:

The main point is that the park used to have 10 fountains, but the government purposely cut it down to one to create congestion. This then allowed them to tax the remaining fountain to reduce congestion.

  • 129.
  • At 05:23 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • RTysoe wrote:

There seem to be lots of people moaning, but few suggesting a solution to the problem.

There are a lot of short memories too - the Conservatives introduced the Fuel Price Escalator in 1993 to gradually raise the duty on fuel, but Labour had to all but scrap it because a few militant motorists blockaded the fuel depots and held the country to ransom.

  • 130.
  • At 05:24 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Donkeyboy wrote:

The more we use of something, the more we pay. Think of water meters, gas, electricity, petrol, train travel etc.

A similar thing should be applied to the road network. As with the above, if we pay based on how much we use, we're more likely to consider our usage and try and cutback if necessary.

If this new road usage fee replaces current charging, then I think its spot on.

People will argue that this unfairly penalises the poor, disadvantaged etc - yet they can still afford to smoke, drink etc? People will find a way....

Also, why should someone who drives say 9,000 miles per year pay the same amount for the upkeep of roads as someone who drives 25,000 miles?

  • 131.
  • At 05:25 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • John Harris wrote:

Mr. Davies' theory is fine, but would he apply that to thirsty people in Dafur?

My objection to the concept of road pricing is that it isn't fair as it prices less well off folks off the road.

I'd prefer a 'carbon travel allowance' rather like a tax allowance, you get to pollute a set amount, above that you pay.
However, it should include all types of travel, so I would have a choice of driving 5,000 miles a year or a couple of return flights to the US (for example). People who don't travel much could sell their allowance.


  • 132.
  • At 05:29 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Alan wrote:

I was going to post a comment, but i think Will Thorman has said everything i would have said anyway. Nice to see we still have someone intelligent left in the country. Nice lateral thinking Will :)

  • 133.
  • At 05:29 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • David Owen wrote:

All very well to gain some benefit by payting for a service (assuming you can afford to pay for it in the first instance), but I don't believe for one minute that by paying for road use will reduce queuing. The government will simply pocket our cash!
I don't know what the solution is, but taxing hard working people who need their wheels daily to do their job is not the way to put the "Great" back into Britain!

  • 134.
  • At 05:31 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Heather wrote:

There is a big difference between wanting a drink on a hot day and traffic congestion. For starters, most people in the queue would have an alternative to the water fountain. Drivers rarely have alternate routes to work. The fountain is a desire, not a necessity. The water is pleasant, but you would not be punished for not drinking. If drivers did not go to work they would be fired and that is usually the reason for cars clogging up the roads during rush hour. There are alternatives to driving, such as public transport, but that is like saying the fountain is there, but if you can't afford it, there is always this muddy puddle for your use. The only similarity is that if you start charging for either, only the people with money to spare get what they want. The rest of us just miss out or suffer.

  • 135.
  • At 05:32 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • John wrote:

What appears to be forgotten in this distractive chat is that it is we taxpayers who have paid local tax to meet the cost of providing water fountains. If there are not enough - provide more.

Where road pricing is concerned, motorists already pay car tax, fuel tax and MOT tax [plus other taxes for commercial vehicles].

Is the chat about road pricing just a pretext to further raise taxes, enhance Britain's surveillance state - or both?

  • 136.
  • At 05:33 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Jamie Lee wrote:'s a really hot day, everyone wants to use the fountain and they are all burdened to pay to use it.

Still a massive queue but the Park has made a lot of money in the process.

Such a good idea lets expand it to other parks in other towns..

  • 137.
  • At 05:34 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Robert Euston wrote:

This is a poor, and self serving argument. The reality is that people have ALREADY paid for the water via council tax, and to charge them for drinking is making them pay twice. Its lazy, and unfair on those who cant get a drink. In reality, it means that the owners of the park need to spend some of the money for maintaining the park on more water fountains, so people dont have to queue, and everyone can get a drink on a hot day.

Now THATS just like road pricing. Everyone already pays for roads via the fuel we buy, but road tax is actually more fair than the park example, where everyone pays the same no matter how much they drink - the more we use the roads, the more we pay, because we pay more in petrol - this is the case already. To add a road charge on top of this is blatently unfair. Its a stealth tax plain and simple, but this time we (the tax payers) saw it coming and the government is crying foul...

  • 138.
  • At 05:37 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Max Johnson wrote:

I suppose poor people are irrelevant to your example because they have no money with which to benefit you when they drink.
Oh, wait - silly me. They don't get to drink!

  • 139.
  • At 05:38 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Andrew Benbow wrote:

"Now, those who do pay, have the benefit of drinking without queuing, but they have the cost of paying"

So if I pay to use the road there will be no congestion? Come on, there will be no perceptible difference.

People have to drive, to work to schools, to the shops etc. There is NO viable alternative, especially outside of London.

It is about raising money NOT reducing traffic. Has the congestion charge made any long term differnce in London? I'm not talking about government figures I'm talking about real people who have to make real journeys in London on a day to day basis.

  • 140.
  • At 05:38 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Edwin Jeffersoon wrote:

Many comments seem to say about the pricing out of poor people. At least one said "It may force some poorer people onto already over crowded trains."

This is untrue.

The trains work in the same way. More people, let's raise prices!

The only way to solve this problem would be to nationalise the railways and bus companies, and use the money made from this scheme to provide a better service.

This however, will also not work, since trains and buses still provide a service at other less busy times of day, which with trains is already funded by those peak service fees (supposedly).

This means the poor will be forced off every form of transport, and have to walk or cycle to work, or possibly stay at home and claim benefits (paid for by road pricing).

  • 141.
  • At 05:41 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Jenny Partridge wrote:

No one has pointed out that every one is going to have to pay for the little black box in every vehical they own . Wonder how much this is going to cost

  • 142.
  • At 05:41 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Neil Small wrote:

Sorry, but it is a flawed argument. We already pay for water.

And you cannot compare it to road pricing. All the Government is after is additional general revenue, nothing more.

  • 143.
  • At 05:42 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • pete wrote:

1) I HAVE to use the fountain as it is the only source of water (There is no viable public transport for my job)
2) I am already taxed per mile (my car does x MILES PER GALLON - petrol is taxed exorbitantly PER Gallon ie I pay tax PER MILE)
3) I already pay MORE to use congested roads (my Miles per Gallon goes DOWN in congestion so the tax i pay goes UP)
4) The park keeper has put heat lamps up to ensure I get thirsty (the government refuses to apply basic engineering to provide a solution - on the contrary they currently seem determined to cripple traffic flow by stupid road markings)
5) The park keeper appears to be smoking stuff he's growing - all his comments regarding the problem appear to be based in never never land where everyone has an option over WHEN they travel, WHERE they travel and WHETHER they travel at all.

Whilst bean counters seem to be in control we will have to put up with stupid solutions - accounts are supposed to ADVISE; get them out of decision making process; and don't let lawyers any where near the law !

  • 144.
  • At 05:44 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Matt Jeffery wrote:

The government seems to be argueing that what we need is a new charging model in which you pay more tax proportionally for travelling further, more often, or on a less efficient (ie congested) route. The thing is that we already have this. If a route is congested your car has to accelerate/decelerate more often and the journey takes longer. This burns more fuel and so you pay proportionatly more fuel tax. If you travel further you burn more fuel and so pay proportionally more fuel tax. If you travel more often you burn more fuel and so pay proportionally more fuel tax.

The thing is that the government arn't stupid and presumably understand thier existing taxation systems and must realise that we already have almost exactly the system which they're proposing, administered in a much simpler way. It seems to me that this is merely a machiavellian, not to mention costly, way of raising fuel tax, presumably because they can't get us to accept it when it's done transparently.

Now personally, I'm for a serious raise in fuel tax, but that's neither here nor there. I can't support this scheme purely because it's a sneaky and inefficient (if only in setup costs) way of doing it.

  • 145.
  • At 05:45 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • J Jones wrote:

The point to be considered before pure Economics is political philosophy. What sort of Park (country) do we want?

Do we care about equality of opportunity? Are we prepared to allow the poor to die of thirst? If the answer to those is "no" then let's simply shoot the people with latter-alphabet surnames and save us the trouble of having them randomly die around the place, riot and so on.

Put another way, if we are going to say the roads are too crowded and adopt a road-pricing model, then we are saying the 20thC freedom of motoring for all is now over. Let's be honest about it. After all, UK drivers already pay far more than most simply to drive. Let's be honest and tell all but richer drivers that, sorry, your driving days - at least for the most part - are over. See how that goes down at the ballot box.

I would far prefer HMG to enable and partly-fund more UK research into "greener" cars - and cars which can travel much closer together safely and intelligent roads which manager traffic peaking much better. This is, of course, in addition to enhanced public transport intra and inter-city.

The problem with taking from the poor and giving to the Consolidated Fund is that the poor may not receive it back - and, in any case, their total utility may diminish. This assumes that big, paternalistic government is good - No10 /No11 know what is best for us, especially if we're too poor to drive in the UK.

Apropos the water fountain, your argument focussed solely on personal utility - total and marginal. But there are public welfare considerations to be taken account of (which, crossing back, might mean fewer cars on the roads). Then again, if we take Paraeto optimality as our guideline we'll never change anything!

  • 146.
  • At 05:49 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Ian Rose wrote:

A much better and simpler solution.

You put a sign next to the water fountain reminding people that they have water at home, and suggesting next time they might want to plan ahead and bring a bottle from home (the obvious alternative with slightly less convenience). Charging for water would encourage this practice.

The travel equivalent is obvious. Encourage the use of public transport not by charging every road user, just the ones who cause congestion by driving to work, school etc when a viable public transport alternative exists. This is easy to do these days with various public online sites. Watch the roads empty and the buses and trains fill.

The reason this won't happen without 'incentives' is because let's face it, people think they're entitled to what they already have, and won't give it up. This is especially true if the people who gain from them giving it up is someone else, ie. not them.

Selfish lot aren't we? And as my parents always say, selfish people get what they deserve.

Sign a petition, join a queue.

  • 147.
  • At 05:50 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • William Billingsley wrote:

Unfortunately Evan makes the common mistake of assuming money has the same value for all people. The £5 the drinker has to pay is 'worth' considerably more to a poor person than it is to a rich person because for the poor person money is a scarce resource while for the rich person it is a plentiful resource.

This is why the charging economists are so tempted by ulways (but "unintentionally") ends up discriminating against the poor.

  • 148.
  • At 05:50 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Alan Challoner wrote:

Colin Lea wrote:
"I thought the whole point about road pricing was that road tax would be abolished alongside it."

No Colin, nothing like that from Gordon Brown. He will continue to find new ways to tax you in order to make up for some of the tax income that is diminishing (e.g. tobacco), as well as having to find money to pay for his fellow ministers' follies.

  • 149.
  • At 05:51 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Di wrote:

Forget it. It's a done deal. I've written loads of the software several years ago. Your Engine Control Unit already controls some of your driving, though I bet you don't know it. Your speed is recorded now, and eventually your position will control your speed. For this purpose alone your position will have to be monitored. The ECU will even be able to shut down your engine by remote signal. And of course, a tax/fine on speed. Get used to the idea now - say ten to fifteen years.
Not on my car, of course.

  • 150.
  • At 05:52 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Robert Lee wrote:

Water Fountains in Parks. I don't think I'd ever use one ! I'm not sure about the cleanliness.

Road pricing ? Why should I pay again for something I have already paid for, and continue to do so ?

  • 151.
  • At 05:52 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Julian West wrote:

You wrote:"I hope I’ve explained this properly." I think you explained it brilliantly. Although I've frequently faced situations where I hesitate over whether or not to join a queue, I've never heard this argument laid out before, and I can't think why not. It was simple, clear, and, as you said, devastating. Thanks for broadening my knowledge.

  • 152.
  • At 05:52 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • David Bannen wrote:

Firstly, we are already paying for the fountain, through road tax
Secondly, those most thirstly are already paying a higher price, through massive taxes on petrol.
Thirdly, the money raised doesn't go towards another fountain, we still have broadly the same number of road miles we had twenty years ago, but more people getting thirsty. I haven't yet seen a single good excuse for road pricing, or conjestion charging come to that.

  • 153.
  • At 05:56 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Zoe Farr wrote:

Reminds me of something you could use as a similar analogy: that play where "you have to pay to pee".

I can also think of one of these 'paying' toilets in my closest town: the facilities are excellent, the appliances space-age, they are scrupulously clean/well maintained.
Cost: 20'pee'...

As before, it depends on how big an effort you want to 'spend' in there, soft (or any) toilet paper is worth its weight in gold sometimes.

  • 154.
  • At 06:01 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

The analogy does not work.

No-one is forced to queue for the fountain at peak times. However, plenty of people have to get to work at times decreed by their employers (doctors, nurses, teachers etc).

The people who could choose to queue at less busy times will do so. Those of us who currently have to queue at certain times will continue to have to do so. We will also pay for it, which means the only people paying will be those who cannot alter their plans.

How is that fair?

  • 155.
  • At 06:03 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Robert N wrote:

And there was me thinking that we already had a form of road pricing...

i.e. the tax duty paid on petrol.

You pay for a tank a petrol = you pay for 400 miles of road use.

If we end up paying for the right to use the road as well, will the duty be removed from petrol? Of course not.

  • 156.
  • At 06:03 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Robert Gerrard wrote:

Come on Evan, you can think better than this. The whole problem with the so-called "green tax" system is that taking money off people is a less effective way of persuading them to change their habits than rewarding them for changing.

Dog trainers have known about positive re-enforcement for years. Why do politicians fail to grasp that it works on people too? They insist on beating us with sticks or stealing our hard earned cash to make us change. It doesn't work.

If your dog doesn't walk to heel, you don't beat it until it does. You reward it when it remembers to do so... and it learns that walking to heel is a good thing to do.

The solution with people is not to charge for the use of a park fountain, but to offer a benefit for those who prepare properly for their trip to the park on a hot day by bringing their own drinks with them and avoid using the fountain. Give them a free entry ticket to the bird sanctuary or a discount off the bus fare home.

The roads analogy is simple. You don't add an additional charge per mile (after all, the tax on fuel already achieves that quite nicely thank you), and anyway that only unfairly penalises those who have no choice. Instead you offer benefits for enabling shorter journeys. Companies should get tax incentives to allow working from home or buying local goods. Local job swaps should be sponsored by a government scheme - i.e. why does one person drive from A to B to work in a Supermarket, while another drives from B to A to do the same job? Help them find each other and swap.

There are many other positive methods - too many to list - that WOULD work. The trouble is, they have one failing in common - they raise no money for government. Or is that too cynical a viewpoint?

  • 157.
  • At 06:03 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • David B. Wildgoose wrote:

Nobody chooses to be stuck in queueing traffic - they do it because there is no alternative, typically because those are the times they have to go to work.

So the only effect road taxes will have will be to drive the poor off the road, and possibly out of work.

And let's not pretend. Road taxes will only work if they stop people using the road to get to work. The greatest effect will be on those for whom the taxes will form a sizeable percentage of their wages. This is the lower-paid.

This is another attack on lower-paid and voluntary workers by the Labour Party.

  • 158.
  • At 06:05 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Spencer Allen wrote:

If there were three water fountains, there wouldn't be a queue at all!

  • 159.
  • At 06:05 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • FG wrote:

I don't waste my precious time queuing, or pay over my hard earned money if I can help it.
I carry a bottle of water and a snack for when I need it. I can't really roll my own tarmac out wherever go.
The answer is cheap, safe and frequent public transport.

  • 160.
  • At 06:06 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Shirley wrote:

There are already two taxes on road use. Endless tinkering about with complex economic models in order to try and make yet another tax provide an equitable outcome to congestion is doomed to failure, as are most of governments' other initiatives. The costs involved in administration and collection generally turn out to be 'bottomless pits' where only a relatively few already 'fat cats' benefit.

We need simplification of systems, in particular taxes and benefits,and transparent management by government and their contractors. And we need the taxes that we pay to be applied for the communities benefit not squandered on projects and initiatives that do not have the backing of the electorate.

The resources and infrastructure of our small island just cannot survive the ever escalating numbers of population. The government claims that we need immigration, but I very much doubt that all the costs (direct, indirect as well as future implications) have been properly and thoroughly quantified in relation not only to the roads but all the other resources of this country.

The current debate on the effect of carbon emmisions is a convenient way of trying to distract us from our crumbling infrastructure and public services. Rather like giving us the scenario of the drinking fountain to conjure with.

  • 161.
  • At 06:08 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • chris pryor wrote:

What if some people think that they have already paid to have a drink.

They are not happy to queue and they are even less happy about paying again and still having to queue, albeit in a possibly shorter queue.

Some might be able to prepare themselves for their forthcoming thirst by filling up a bottle at a convenient time or changing their activities so that they are not thirsty when others are.

Others have no choice about when their thirst and so need for a drink comes.

To save confusion about payment the park keepers require everybody who has a mouth (and so an ability to drink) to be tagged.

They can then be billed at a later date for drinks they have had. This would use a complex and as yet unbuilt IT set up.

This would be sold to the ever-believing park keepers by large companies who promise everything and charge even more.

However park keepers are notoriously inefficient at IT solutions. Drinkers fear they will be charged for drinks they have not had, charged for drinks at times when they were not drinking. Drinkers fear their drinking details will be accessible and sold on to any Tom Dick or Harry.

So the solution - provide taps at different locations, provide the means so that people do not all feel the need to drink at the same tap at the same time.

Its not rocket science, its not a complex and costly IT solution - its plumbing.


  • 162.
  • At 06:14 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • BTM_Glasgow wrote:

Very simplistic structure. You fail to consider those who skip the queue (or try to), those whose turn it is refusing to take it but preventing those further back in the queue from progressing. Also, if there is more than one queue but only one drinking point, how is permission to drink obtained? In other words, anarchy seems to rule the roads. Much of the difficulty lies in the simple fact that road users regularly block the yellow boxes. Traffic lights are incorrectly timed and sequenced. Signs on road maintenance are placed at the site causing congestion - avoidance of congestion requires strategic placement of signs so that appropriate diversionary action can be taken by the driver. Charging is not a cure-all. Ordinary road users will have to pay twice - once directly and again because of the increased costs of products as a result of increased business expenditure. We need Traffic Police to regulate road users behaviour.

  • 163.
  • At 06:15 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Luke wrote:


Why in your hypothetical example of queuing is it "a little more equitable" to charge people for drinking from the fountain (rather than selecting them randomly or making them queue)? As wealth is non-randomly and unevenly distributed, then surely a crude pricing mechanism is less fair, for the cost of paying is proportionately less for those who have more money?

This doesn't mean that I'm against road pricing, but I am against road pricing discriminating against people who are less wealthy. Presumably, in an egalitarian and democratic society, everyone should have an equal right to use, and ability to access, roads regardless of their wealth? A fair pricing mechanism should take into account differences in wealth.

  • 164.
  • At 06:16 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • grahame whitfield wrote:

Trouble is Euan, that in this glorious land we all now seem to want the best of everything and for others to pay for it.

And with cars it gets worse on 2 counts:

(i) even if we paid to use the roads, very soon the roads will clog up again because people have forgotten how to walk anywhere and think they are so terribly important
(ii) as the Onion showed wonderfully a few years ago "80% of motorists believe other motorists should use their cars less".

Less Speed, more haste - the sale at the pie shop will be on tomorrow too!

  • 165.
  • At 06:18 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Robin Davies wrote:

Alex asked earlier if Evan Davis is an economist. He certainly was, but now he's a BBC journalist. Hopefully that means he's just tossed a pebble in the pond to see what the ripples do.

Where I live, in West Wales, people could not get to work by public transport or get to the hospital or the local library, etc., etc., without the use of a car.

People rightly view the govenment's position cynically and I guess most of us see the whole idea as a tax-raising activity.

We know that there are some 2 million untaxed/uninsured cars on the road. Removing those would have a noticeable impact on urban congestion.

What few seem to be talking about is the poor traffic management in London, for example. Easy traffic flow - instead of hinderences as at the moment - would have a big impact.

Numbers using the urban railways have increased a great deal in the past 10 years, but there isn't the capacity to triple numbers of passengers.

  • 166.
  • At 06:19 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • dave jackson wrote:

i can see the idea behind the argument, but how transparent will the distirbution of the wealth be?

where will the money really go

  • 167.
  • At 06:19 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Ali Khaki wrote:

Wow! I am in my final year at LSE studying Economics, and I have to thank you Mr. Davis for summing up the whole price mechanism and dimishing marginal utility story in such an easy way! That would have been handy in my first year!

  • 168.
  • At 06:20 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • John Rollason wrote:

OK I'm not sure if this point has been made yet, but I don't want to queue by reading all 56 replies....

The point is that queuing is fair to all as we all only have 24 hours available to us each day.

Money is not fair unless the cost is proportional to the marginal benefit available to the individual, that is, it would have to be the same proportion of every individuals disposable income.

Now we have a problem: the city banker who would have had to pay £100 for his water, instead pays someone else £10 for thiers. Now the banker has benefited from water and a £90 saving; the other goes thirsty for £10.

Instead of water on a hot day, try air; how much would you be willing to pay to breath? How much would you want to be paid to stop breathing for just 10 minutes?

Money is used by economists because there is little else that can be used to decide who gets what but it gives no indication of the quality of life. How much do you enjoy the theatre, cinema, football? £10 each? or £50 for one and nothing for the others?? No, you value something in your own terms, no one elses.

If I choose to drive the 100 miles to my parents, its because I value them. I will queue if necessary, and pay any tolls as well. We are not driving around aimlessly, our journeys have value to us; if road pricing forces poorer people off the road then they will either not be able to enjoy time with family and friends or will have to spend much more time travelling by public transport.

If you want fair bring in a carbon allowance; same amount for everyone, save some here and you can use it elsewhere.

  • 169.
  • At 06:20 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Barry Dixon wrote:


I've already bought my (water/transport) voucher and the cost of the voucher is already very high. However, I need to drink (drive) because if I don't drink (drive) then I will not be able to do my job. If I can't do my job I won't be able to feed my family and pay my taxes.

The real problem is that government takes 45 billion in taxes from transport but only spends 15 billion on all forms of transport. The government has formed queues of traffic and these cause pollution, therefore invest more in transport and keep the country moving or suffer the consequence of recession and increased pollution.

  • 170.
  • At 06:24 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Nick Diable wrote:

I don't think the water fountain works as an analogy for road pricing, although I do like the reasoning.

It doesn't work for me because a thirsty person has dozens of other options. For example, if they know the day will be hot they can take a drink with them. They can buy a drink from a shop, queue for the fountain, search for another fountain with a shorter queue or even ask somebody who has brought a drink out with them for a share of that person's drink.

Road pricing will only reduce car usage where there are viable alternatives or where the road charges are so high that people are forced to accept inadequate alternatives.

For example, if I want to travel from London to Newcastle and then return via Lancaster (a trip I have made). The cost of this by car was about £40, the cost by train (I have just calculated it this minute using the CHEAPEST prices available from is £185!

Therefore, road pricing would need to be very high to make it worthwhile for me to take the train rather than drive! It would also need to be much more expensive than the train, because of the inflexibility of the train service.

Also, it seems to have escaped the Government's attention that I, like all other motorists, are already charged per mile and I don't have any high-tech equipment installed in my car. I use a certain amount of petrol for each mile I travel. Therefore, the further I drive the more it costs. It even works in congestion, because going slowly in a low gear causes me to spend more money on petrol than when I'm moving freely in a high gear! If I speed the car uses more petrol, so it even works in that respect!!

  • 171.
  • At 06:28 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Graham Scrimgeour wrote:

I think there are some big concerns with road pricing:

There will not be a "market" in road access. Prices will be set (presumably by Government at some level). How will they set the right rate? Currently we have very limited road charging, which is aimed at restricting small areas, how would rates for adjacent areas and routes be set? How about at different times? How will the driver know the charges that they are incurring? What if someone started early to avoid peak charges but is held up by traffic - should they pay more?

We (media, government etc) are concerned about congestion. Currently people will travel in peak periods because they have to get to work. If this costs more money, most will still have to get to work. Railways are at capacity and in cities there are already dedicated bus routes. How are car users to travel instead?

There is an argument that congestion is costing the country £millions. I would like to see a good economic model built to look at the impact of pricing. If the number of journeys is reduced by pricing, would this mean that some people decide that working is no longer viable and give up their jobs? Presumably the road charges would be added to the cost of goods and services, would these (and other) effects outweigh the costs of congestion that are currently cited?

The road pricing idea is being used by different groups for different purposes:

* environmental campaigners - on this front the criteria should be about pollution per journey, not simply biased against cars.

* then there are frustrated socialists who see an opportunity to restrict and tax "the rich(er)". They see state controlled transport as a good in itself and see road pricing as a means of change. This group should be challenged. The only criteria should be pollution - bearing in mind that buses sometimes run nearly empty and that all "systems" of organised transport have an overhead of additional staff, construction, energy needs etc (and of indirect routes that increase the total distance travelled) which should be considered in a comparison of environmental impact.

  • 172.
  • At 06:31 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Se5aScott wrote:

The fountain has been paid for many times over by everybody who uses the park (and still is). Now you suggest that only people who can afford to pay twice are allowed to use the fountain, so they get to carry on as usual. Meanwhile the poorer people in the park will have to find another water source, seeing as the only other services provided in the park will be public toilets.. Yes you guessed it, Recycling! And while all this is occurring, the water companies lose millions of gallons of water a day, yet make record profits.

So it seems that instead of selling us a new exciting model, we get the same tired old story. This isn't economics, it's a history lesson.

  • 173.
  • At 06:31 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • FarTooSensible wrote:

In the real world someone would open up a drinks stall allowing greater choice, thus diminishing the queue at the water fountain. Or, one would hope, get a professional in to run the solitary fountain with ideas like pre filled cups, perhaps, to speed up the supply during peak times.
Therein lies the whole crux of the transport system problem. That is not an option for the supply of transport infrastructure, simply because the private firms would be stepping on the Governments (and their consultant friends') cash cow. Queues are not formed by people who want to sit in them. They are formed by people who have little choice but to. After all, anybody here have a job that they have to get to every morning? Thought so.

  • 174.
  • At 06:36 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • David Salmon wrote:

You can put any argument forward you like, but it's still a tax and you just know before it starts that the cost of running it will be greater than the income it generates. Surely the penny must drop soon, that people in Government have no special skills and are incapable of running anything efficiently.

  • 175.
  • At 06:38 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • ben booker wrote:

Build more fountains, obvious really.

  • 176.
  • At 06:40 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Malcolm Evans wrote:

This model explaims how pricing may be a better rationing tool but it cannot explain how it helps those who must be in the park to get to where they need to be (work etc)but cannot afford to pay the fee on top of the already difficult costs. There are many who are on low wages but have to travel to work. The alternative if they are priced off the road is state benefits! I prefer, and have replied to the PM, that it would be preferable to use fuel duty rather than add an administrative function which adds cost but no benefit. I know we have to deal with the issue but I am not convinced that road pricing per se is the way.

  • 177.
  • At 06:41 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • John wrote:

Unfortunately Evan it is not just a case of boiling it down to economics.

There are other questions of insufficient Public Transport alternative, freedom of movement, personal privacy from Government intrustion, the inequity of taxing the poor off the roads, and not finally the small issue of whether it is just "the right thing to do"

Rod Eddington's report was fundamentally flawed in that it solely concentrated on the narrow economic interests of business. It made no attempt to quantify the economic, employment or social impacts of such a policy.

Our politicians are like 15th Century leech-doctors in thier belief that even problem can be solved simply by taxing it into submission. The Parliamentary Transport Committee takes endless representation from business, civil servants and lobby groups, but Britain's 23 million motorists are never represented - it's no wonder they think road pricing is a good idea with such skewed representation.

The public understand these wider issues even if the politicians and economists cannot, and that is why there was so much support for the anti tracking/pricing petition.

  • 178.
  • At 06:42 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Vernon Stradling wrote:

Seems very green and politically correct when you apply it to road pricing. I notice you haven't attempted to argue that rationing by price should be applied to the NHS. Why not?

Road pricing is not a free market response to congestion because it is not a free market. The government has a monopoly of the supply side. The motorist has already paid many times over for the road space he is occupying so road pricing will just be another regressive tax that impacts most on the poor.

I don't see why the problem needs recasting in terms of fountains and a park

lets charge for roads and decrease the number of cars in this country

  • 180.
  • At 06:50 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Joseph Fitzpatrick wrote:

Not sure if this has been mentioned, but as the issue is over the pain, either of queuing or paying, perhaps no one joins in for the benefits of the fountain. This has no impact in theory, but over the issue of driving, perhaps less people go out driving? No that would be a blow to the gov purse strings, but a benefit to the environment.
Every cloud...

  • 181.
  • At 06:52 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Brian wrote:

And how are we going to pay for this fountain?

A simple toll booth?

probably not.

You see if the police and MI5 could track every person in the queue for the fountain, see which fountains they'd used, work out which fountains they were likely to use on any particular day, track them even when they're not using the fountains, all by the pay as you go GPS fountain meter they had been enforced to install then I think I'd be pretty annoyed whatever the cost was.

Petrol taxation and congestion charging zones ARE pay-as-you-go and though unpalatable for most of us are already inplace and perfectly scalable through further tax increases to any future need.

The current proposals reak of further government surveillance to me, another civil liberty issue.

Why else add another method of driving taxation that is less efficient than existing ones if there's not other cross departmental benefits?

  • 182.
  • At 06:53 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • GrumpyEsq wrote:

It's a false analogy.

I would always have an alternative to using the park water fountain: I could carry a bottle of water in my bag.

However, I have no alternative to driving: I live in one congested area and work in another congested area, and they are connected by one of the most congested motorways with no viable transport alternative (except a chartered helicopter.)

The problem is not congestion or pollution. The problem is that we have a Prime Minister who thinks that he was elected to ignore what other people say when they disagree with him. The office of Prime Minister has too much power - it needs to be reduced.

  • 183.
  • At 06:53 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • James MacDonald wrote:

Am I missing something here? The comparison with the drinking fountain is not valid because the motorist has already paid (via road tax, petrol duty, VAT on petrol and the purchase price of his vehicle, and insurance tax). Why should he pay again? It's one or another - either fixed costs as at present or usage charges - but not both.

  • 184.
  • At 06:55 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Bob wrote:

Your arguement completely ignores the fact that the people in the queue have already paid for the water! It's their tax payments which put the fountain there and keep it serviced.
Likewise we motorists are already paying for the road network. We pay a high rate of fuel duty, we pay Road Fund Licence and we even have to pay a tax when we insure our cars.
Road pricing asks us to pay again for something we've already paid for and can never be fair

  • 185.
  • At 06:59 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Martyn Pitman wrote:

The crucial difference is that we motorists have already paid for the "drink" two or three times over. Would the people in the park be happy to pay to use the fountain if they had already paid road tax, fuel tax and VAT equivalent to more than twice the cost of running the fountain and it was in a poor state of repair as well?

  • 186.
  • At 07:04 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Fong wrote:

The ONLY reason this works, is because there is an alternative.

If this drinking fountain was the ONLY place to get a drink, then people will queue, they would have no choice, whether they 'enjoy' their drink of water at the end is irrelevent, as we need water to survive.

The fact is, that a park fountain is not the only place to get a drink, you can walk 50 yards to another fountain, or to a shop that sells a selection of drinks.

Therefore, waiting in a long queue makes little sense when there are other options.

Now take this idea and put it into road charges.....well where is our alternative? Public transport, which is incredibly overcrowded today, what happens when more people are forced into it, walking, jogging, cycling, this is all well and good for people who only need to travel a few miles for anyone that needs to travel long distances these are not options.

To conclude with your own rather silly fountain analogy, until the park adds more drinking fountains or other options to get a drink, people will queue.

  • 187.
  • At 07:04 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Colin wrote:

That's all well & good Evan but where there was once only the one queue to the drinking fountain the fountain owner, spotting a tremendous revenue earning opportunity, has set-up several sequential queues all of which have to be paid for!
So, I’ve paid to join the 1st queue (car insurance tax), the 2nd queue (road tax)and the 3rd queue(fuel duty). Now you think we should be pleased to form a fourth queue and pay for road charging as well? Give me a break!
Fuel duty provides a ready made method of charging by the mile of road use where gas guzzlers pay more per mile than fuel-frugal cars and high mileage drivers pay more than those who only drive to the corner shop and back twice a month. So why do we need an almost certainly very, very expensive spy in the car system... because this government thinks that all technology is to be embraced even if the cost far outweighs the benefit? Madness!
Look. Drop road tax discs completely, which incidentally erases the problems with tax disc dodgers, and install toll-booths on selected high traffic volume major roads & motorways (M6,M1,M25,etc) with variable toll prices dependent upon the time of day (peak v off-peak) and type of vehicle (big CO2 emitter v low).
And, while we're about it, make it compulsory to show a car insurance disc (printed to a dept of transport specification and provided by the insurance company along with the policy document) in the front windscreen.... so then we & (hopefully) the Police can clearly see those who drive whilst uninsured!
Oh, I almost forgot... AND plough the motorist's hard earned cash back into improving the existing road network rather than diverting it to pay for politicians incredible bomb-proof & ill deserved pensions!
Sorry this is so long, I didn't have time to write a shorter message.

Evan, this makes sense on paper. In fact I am researching aspects of climate change for a PhD and am a strong proponent of a carbon market, because I don't see why space in which to emit carbon should be a free resource if it is overrused.

Despite this I signed the petition on road pricing, although I am not against it in principle. First, I am appalled at the idea of a GPS transponder compiling records of where I've been. There are other ways, such as prepaid smart cards that operate the barriers to "pay-lanes"; the Washington Beltway has something similar. Second, traffic might be priced off the M25 and through someone's High Street instead (as in your example; the non-queuers will get their water elsewhere). This needs a lot more thought.

  • 189.
  • At 07:09 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Yee Chow wrote:

Surely a better way to go after the road pricing problem is to describe the externalities.

When you or I decide to use the motorways, we are only thinking of the costs and benefits of road use to us. However, since road space is limited, if we put our vehicle on the road it inevitably contributes to congestion, if only a little bit.

The problem is, congestion slows everyone down, not just ourselves. However, when we go on the roads, we only think about the effect that congestion has on ourselves (how much it will slow us down) and not on others (how much it will slow other people down).

In effect, congestion reduces the average traffic speed, or basically the speed that everyone travels at.

Note, everyone who gets slowed down - this is the externality. At the same time, some road users may value higher traffic speed more than others.

Say you're a delivery worker who is paid by the number of deliveries completed and compare that to someone who just wants to their Auntie Petunia.

Assuming the charge is 'reasonable', the delivery worker would be willing to pay the road tax as long as he or she can make it back from greater number of deliveries completed. You can go visit Petunia via the train or via a less direct route to avoid the road tax, if seeing her isn't that valuable to you.

By putting a price for something that used to be 'free' (roads, once built, have basically been paid for by you though taxes) you try to account for the externalities (or the congestion effects) you have placed on others when you put your car on the road.

The pricing mechanism forces/allows people to make their own decision as to whether to use the roads depending on how much value the journey is to them, after taking into account the congestion they cause to others, or the actual or total cost.

There are also externalities in terms of pollution but this is another matter for another issue.

Tell me where I've gone wrong.

  • 190.
  • At 07:11 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • halvor wrote:

The problem is of course that drivers are already paying billions that disappear straight into the exchequer.
If the money was spent on transport (in any particular form) then we wouldn't be in the mess we are in now. Until the money already generated is spent on the transport system it is not reasonable to expect travellers to incur further taxes.
If congestion charging is about limiting use and the argument made that it costs billions of lost productivity when people are stuck in queues then all the money already raised should be used to increase capacity.
The truth is the government does not have the will to increase capacity or the legislative power as it would put them at the mercy of the nimbys and tree huggers and would cost green belt.

  • 191.
  • At 07:11 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • David Jackson wrote:

What does not seem to have been taken into account is the dead weight of the cost of installing and running the road charging system, however much it might seem like a good idea in theory.

The huge cost of administering and maintaining the system would be a permanent dead weight on the UK economy that must be offset against the theoretical cost of NOT introducing the system.

The UK used to be famous for finding simple, elegant solutions to problems. No longer, it seems. Today's answers seem always to add great complexity and cutting edge IT rather than looking at more cost-effective and simple systems as a prime objective.

For a cost-based to work at all, there must be a very low rate of failure/avoidance and a rational and fair way to deal with cases of error - none of which seems to apply to London's congestion charge.

I think road pricing is a solution looking for a problem, not the other way round.

  • 192.
  • At 07:13 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Michael wrote:

4 Points:
Is it fair that those who can afford to pay will get a drink and those who can't will go thirsty?
If there is such great demand for water then the charges could pay for a second water fountain rather going to the park authority to spend on something else that people have not demonstarted they want by being willing to pay.
Those paying for a drink need not worry that there whereabouts are being tracked and that any offence they happen to be commiting at the same time (standing on the grass?) will be be picked up by the fact of having to pay for the water.
The cost of collecting the water charge component of this charge will make all those queing worse off without adding anything to the societies wellbeing.

  • 193.
  • At 07:13 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

As a model of road pricing it needs just a few tweaks. First the fountain is in a dessert. The only other water is a dirty puddle. The people have already paid for the fountain to be built. They are already charged for every mountfull of water. They must pay a lot to even join the queue. Poor people who cannot afford pay to join the queue have to drink from the puddle, if they can get near it for the deperate crowds trying to drink from it. They also have to pay to drink and it costs them more for each mouthfull than from the fountain. The people who control the fountain are greedy to keep the money so they tell the peopel they "cannot build more fountains otherwise the dessert will sink", or they "could never build enough fountains for everyone so they are not going to try". They do promise to spend more on making more dirty puddles though! So the question is how does charging people for the time they queue make everyone less thirsty?

  • 194.
  • At 07:17 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Koukos wrote:

The water fountain model is completely wrong and this has been shown above (not effective, it prices something already paid for etc.)

In fact there is already a pay-as-you-go fee on the fountain (fuel tax).


I am not a conspiracy lover but I have honestly not been offered any explanation so far! Anybody with a suggestion that can make sense?

  • 195.
  • At 07:17 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Baz Badrock wrote:

In order to introduce a road pricing scheme that is fair, the government will need to cut back the taxation the motorist already pays.

Will they knock the duty off fuel, remove the road tax and take VAT off MOT charges?

IF they do, then we'll be paying about 30p a litre for fuel and a set cost per mile and running costs will be comparable.

If, as I suspect, the plan is to just snow the public by getting rid of road tax, we will end up paying an swful lot more in the long run.

As a poster above pointed out, congestion occurs because Britian still lives in a 9-5 culture, and people HAVE to be on the road at roughly the same time. We don't all pile into our cars for the sake of it in the mornings and evenings.

Heres a more interesting question though - the NHS has no money. The armed forces are underfunded. The transport network is inadequate.

Just where is all the tax money going?

  • 196.
  • At 07:17 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Anita wrote:

Very well then, let the poor people die of thirst and the rich people drink to their hearts content without having to bother to mingle with the riff raff by queuing! Good one!

  • 197.
  • At 07:20 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Steve Fleming wrote:

You conundrum is a good one but suppose those people don't just want to drink water but need to. There is no choice, they have to queue because they need the water. They can't afford to pay for the water so their health will deteriorate if this is their only option. There is an alternative source of water, and I'm referring to public transport here, but if the large number of people who could change to this source do then it will be crimple under the pressure as it does not have the resource to cope. They are being forced to pay for something they can't afford on the pretense there is an alternative that will serve them successfully when the truth is it has never received the funding or focus to do this. This is short sighted with a lack of real desire and motivation to solve a serious problem

  • 198.
  • At 07:27 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Anonymous wrote:

And what about the people who are dying of thirst and cant get a drink because they havent got the money needed?

  • 199.
  • At 07:27 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Martin Davenport wrote:

Rationing? Rationing use of the roads? I thought we left the age
of rationing way back in the early fifties!

Let's get this clear once and for all. Before these 'economists' or any of those other bright sparks who work for government 'think tanks' start to even consider ideas such as road pricing, they ought to consider what we, the taxpayers, are paying a 'Road Fund Licence' for.

Old fashioned as it may seem, I thought the whole idea of paying
for this licence to use the roads was that the money would be
used to maintain and improve the existing road infrastructure and
thereby ease congestion.

Since this government came to power nearly 10 years ago, I estimate, conservatively, that 'laughing boy' Brown has collected £30bn in road fund licence fees - no small sum! If, as Tony Bliar's personal e-mail sent to me a couple of days ago points out, it costs £30m (today's prices) to build 1 mile of brand new motorway, then for £30bn we could have had a 1000 miles of new motorway in this country!

Now, I'm not suggesting that the government should have built
1000 miles of new motorway since 1997. However, it does provide
us with an idea of how our roads could have been significantly
improved to cope with the expected congestion of the future if a
healthy proportion of this £30bn had been used.

When I came back to UK (late 2003) from Germany after 8 years, I had an opportunity to compare the state of UK roads to theirs. contest really! I wasn't surprised either that clutch slave cylinder on my car packed in after about a year of being in this country. This was arguably caused by me having to incessantly 'ride' the clutch on slow moving, congested roads.

All this therefore begs the fundamental question: what exactly
are we paying a Road Fund Licence for? Moreover, what has this
government done with the estimated £30bn revenue it has so far collected from us?

Getting back to our analogy, it seems to me that our 'wise' economists are asking us not only to pay for the water - and not much of it we will see either - but also to pay for standing in
the queue as well!

  • 200.
  • At 07:29 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Phil Borland wrote:

Bring on road pricing, arrogant, well off fast car drivers like me will be able to zip through to our destinations whilst the working classes will be stuck on public transport. Even with bus lanes etc. the intrinsic batch and queue nature of public transport will slow the proles down and I will win. Don'cha love this labour government.

  • 201.
  • At 07:30 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • J. Kerwood wrote:

All that is quite logical:
"All chicks are toothless, My nan is toothless, therefore, my nan is a chick..."
Come on Evans, the point is that we all know well that the scheme will not suppress congestion and, as a result:
We will pay AND queue.

  • 202.
  • At 07:31 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Brian Ballantine wrote:

But the people quing at the fountain have already paid tax allowing them to drink from the fountain and the government are spending (wasting) that money other things instead of building more fountains!

  • 203.
  • At 07:33 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • S Williams wrote:

Perhaps the comparison should be made with the parks toilet facilities rather than the fountain!

  • 204.
  • At 07:35 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Stefan Paetow wrote:

While I can understand the analogy of the park keeper, who will plough the profits made of the fountain's water back into either maintaining the fountain and/or paying himself to continue to provide the service, such a guarantee does not exist in the real world where road taxing per mile is concerned.

Unless every penny spent by consumers on road (mile) tax is accounted for and ploughed back into the road or public transport system, the point is irrelevant and this just another cash cow for government.

I hate coming across as someone who doesn't like government, but this government in its 15 years has made too many screw-ups for me to still believe in it.

  • 205.
  • At 07:36 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • mjp wrote:

We already have adequate road capacity - the problem is we are all on the road together, because we all work 9am-5pm (or 9pm to 3.30pm for schools). Existing capacity could be far better used by staggering employment times, so that there were fewer peaks and troughs in demand.

  • 206.
  • At 07:37 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Jim wrote:

If money were distributed equally amongst the people in the park, and everyone had an equal desire to drink from the fountain, there would still be queues.

They would simply be queuing to pay for their drink instead of queuing to drink for free ( have you never seen a queue at an ice cream van in a park? )

The toll charge, makes a difference - if at all - only because not everyone has the same amount of money. Those with less, are less likely to be willing to pay to drink.

That leaves the fountain free for those who have more money, and the riff raff can go thirsty. Maybe that's the point of the scheme.

Same with road tolls.

  • 207.
  • At 07:42 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Lucinda wrote:

I think I'm going to buy a horse for my days in the park. I'll feed it for free on the decorative borders & the park keepers can clean up after it!

  • 208.
  • At 07:44 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

What worries me about road pricing s not the principal if the vehicle excise duty and petrol tax are to be replaced then fine. What I do not want is David Blunket, John Read or any chief constable (or constable for that matter) knowing what I am doing every minute of the day and that is what I am sure would come on the back of it unless we have a purely passive inductive loop system and not a satellite tracking its not that I am doing anything wrong its just I don’t want them looking over my shoulder!

  • 209.
  • At 07:47 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Lee wrote:

Ok, so here we have a BBC representative who is saying that paying £1 to £2 per mile is a good thing, this on top of paying road tax and petrol tax ...... then we get home after paying all these taxes and have to pay TV tax because the BBC says so too the liscence fee definately is not going into producing worthwhile programmes.

See we can all make comparisons but the fact that there are people out there who make a living on the roads will be out of work because others will not pay that extra per mile, the BBC uses couriers (i have done deliveries for them in the past) they complained about £20 for a 20 mile delivery, but with these charges, they would have to now pay £40 to £50.

Congestion charges have no reason behind them other than the fact the government is running out of ways to get money

  • 210.
  • At 07:48 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Jason Jones wrote:

The problem I see with your supposal is that the fountain has already been paid for by the people in the queue. To pay an additional fee to use it is akin to someone slipping the park attendant a fiver to jump the queue altogether. The issue is not whether we should pay again for something we have already invested in the right to use, but how the Government who manage the service can provide better access to more fountains or alternatives such as bottled water or better incentives to stay at home and drink your domestic supply. Answers on a postcard to T. Blair, 10 Downing Street

  • 211.
  • At 07:52 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • L Weaver wrote:

The point is, we already pay a LOT for the 'pleasure' of driving, and/or a LOT for the 'pleasure' of public transport (the price of it is personally my main objection to public transport).
If the government were talking about redistributing the burden of the road taxes we ALREADY pay so that those who contribute to congestion pay more, and those who don't pay less, fair enough. But as far as I can tell, road pricing is going to be in addition to what we all already pay. Which I think is most people's objection to it.
To properly tackle congestion and persuade people to use public transport, the goverment need to start providing us with incentives, not just punishments.

  • 212.
  • At 07:52 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • John wrote:

Could you talk down to us any more?!

It would be really nice and a better use of our licence fee if the BBC could employ a conventional economist and not another tired out old Marxist too askew even to get a post at some regional university.

  • 214.
  • At 07:57 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Keith wrote:

This all seems a bit like Economics-101. You've just illustrated that supply and demand works even when we don't use money as the medium of payment. Then added money as a substitute for time with the flourish of a conjurer pulling a rabbit from a hat! Where is Benjamin Franklin when we need him??

However, your argument about value does bring out one interesting facet of the road pricing debate.

Politicians are eager to state, "Congestion is costing business £xxx million every year". The equivalent for the road pricing lobby is, "Congestion is costing business £xxx million a year and WE WANT IT".

To use your ideal market again, the price of road use should increase until the taxes paid equal the value of the time saved. Thus, the millions saved by industry would be neatly syphoned into the chancellors coffers without making business any better off.

Furthermore, the chancellor would benefit from the inelastic element of private travel demand too. People who have no choice but to drive at the busiest times would contribute most. Typically, I would suggest, people in less well paid jobs who can least afford additional taxes. Own goal, Gordon!!

  • 215.
  • At 08:01 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Sarah Scott wrote:

I would be interested to find out if those in favour of road pricing would still like it so much if, instead of a fixed fee, they were required to pay a percentage of their annual income.
If this were the case, nobody would be priced off the road. But then, without the poor being stopped from their audacious ideas of (gasp!) having their own transport, this jolly scheme would fail!

  • 216.
  • At 08:05 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Dave wrote:

Or, you could expand the facility and add another drinking fountain to cut the queues.

  • 217.
  • At 08:07 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Paul Barnard wrote:

Maybe. But what you need are more fountains, then you don't have queues or charges.

You need more fountains because there are more people in existence and they will all want to drink. Restricting drinking by charging favours only the wealthy and eventually the bullies will push to the front of the queue.

The weak and poor will suffer, and the difference between them and the powerful is relative.

More fountains is more equitable and doesn't encourage baser human instincts.

  • 218.
  • At 08:07 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Rob wrote:

Hi Evan,

of course, you are right, but only as far as your model goes. You haven't explored how concentrated or dispersed the benefits are (only the costs).

For the person who chooses never to drive because of the cost how will they benefit?
1. Reduced congestion and journey times, that's not interesting.
2. Tax breaks, well they are already NOT driving because of the cost, this implies that those who are driving will tend ot gain more if the money reduces the overall tax burden.

There are 2 clear ways - reduced pollution and imporved public transport. The first is a positive side effect, the second an essential element if the plan is to succeed.

Back to the economics - some of the people paying to drink at right at the margin, their percieved benefit is very small. Offer them an alternative, and they too will stop drinking. There is a loss of revenue associated with this so the price must rise again....

  • 219.
  • At 08:12 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Adrian Martin wrote:

The point is that motorists have paid, and paid, and paid again and again but only about a quarter of their petrol tax and vehicle excise duty payments have actually been spent on the transport infrastructure. The rest of the money has been squandered.

Or, to use your analogy, there should be four times as many water fountains for people to use when they want a drink on a hot day!

It irritates me exceedingly that journalists never put the hard questions to Ministers and MPs. Take the recent hike in air passenger transport tax, it was said it would be used for "green" purposes but now it transpires that the extra money will just go into "general taxation"! Why don't you journos ask some blunt and specific questions, or are you just queuing politely for your OBEs?

  • 220.
  • At 08:12 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

We are already paying for the road use that we have today, it’s the same as with the water fountain, would you be happy to know that you paid for the privilege of using the fountain but then cant. Giving the privileged few a fast access to the water would simply make other people not wishing to pay for the water (tax) in the first place. NOW, having a car tax system that you cant get out from is the ideal scenario to enforce more taxation onto everyone as its hard to give up your car privileges, this is not a public park and the water is not the road usage!

A really simple argument; a government needs more taxes for a failing system to which it had adhered to for far to long, collect the taxes and then spend it not on the road system but on other projects. Take the water fountain, charge everyone to be able to have the fountain there, then charge even more for its usage and instead of building another one, which would be the obvious answer to this question, use the money on other frivolous projects, like paying £9,000,000,000 for the Olympics.

This is a just a simple way of getting more money into a useless system.


  • 221.
  • At 08:20 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Lauren Stevens wrote:

If cost put people off then why haven't the numbers applying to universities dramatically fallen? If someone is a social necessity then people will continue to do it.

The problem with road pricing is that if there aren't alternative forms of transport available then people will pay and the queues will remain.

  • 222.
  • At 08:23 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Andy Tait wrote:

How about a totally radical approach, and put freight on to the railways, this way money is generated for the railway network to be improved, and the roads a then not clogged up by wagons travelling the length and breadth of the country.

Additionally, make all railway and bus services a national service, and not in it to make a profit.

  • 223.
  • At 08:25 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Stefan Inglin wrote:

Does the government tax our income in the hope that it will encourage us to earn less? Do they tax alcohol for the good of our health? No, and no. All governments tax those things which will not be reduced by the imposition of the tax. They tax the price inelastic.
If they wanted to reduce congestion they would provide an alternative. But they will tax road usage because, knowing that we have no alternative, it will be an effective tax raising ploy.

  • 224.
  • At 08:26 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • gavin wrote:

I'll pay for a cold drink on a hot day, but not twice. We already pay through the nose for our awful roads.

I would support new, high quality toll roads such as France, Spain, Italy or even a Carnet system such as Switzerland uses for a new motorway network. But paying again for what we already have? No thanks.

  • 225.
  • At 08:27 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Adam wrote:

If comparing a water fountain to road pricing, the government's aim is to tax people off the that means pricing people out of a drink at the water fountain, and that means death. Yes, that sounds like the current government, tax people to death.
Very interesting article, you've got to love the economists, but in terms of road pricing it doesn't quite work. Firstly as already mentioned, there could be more than 1 fountain and secondly, most people don't drive because they fancy a lazy rush hour drive...they do it to get to work, pay the bills and hopefully enjoy a relatively pleasant life.
Warning: Stealth tax ahead!

  • 226.
  • At 08:28 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • jason collins wrote:

Whilst the theory of charging for use of the roads to ease congestion sounds like a reasonable solution the reality is that at this point in time almost nothing can be done to change the habits people have become accustomed to over the decades.

Like smoking it has been seen you can tax people relentlessly but it will not encourage the majority to kick the habit... and I can't see the government banning the use of cars in public places.

People say that if public transport was better they'd use it, rubbish. The only way people would consistantly use public transport is if it provided a door to door service which it does not do, that is what people are used to and what they expect.

The time has passed but the mistake was taking freight from the rails and putting it onto the roads. The government if it decides to go ahead with road pricing should use it in a revenue neutral fashion to encourage ALL business to put the movement of goods onto the rail system. I don't believe it's possible to change the public but if a monetry incentive was there business would be more likely to use a more cost effective rail service than a costly road service.

Then everyone could have a drink!

  • 227.
  • At 08:28 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Alan wrote:

OK - go with road pricing.
But not fuel tax + road tax + car tax + road pricing.

  • 228.
  • At 08:32 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Ralph wrote:

Road pricing is shutting the door too late. We are only in this mess because successive governments have put Public Sector Borrowing Requirement above necessary expenditure. The railway (back to BR) should have been allowed to issue bonds to pay for 4-tracking the major routes. Cities & regional authorities should be able to issue bonds to build Metro newtworks.
Stansted should never have been allowed to happen as a totally South facing airport. A British Schiphol should have been built in South Yorks/Lincolnshire, with N/S & E/W links.

  • 229.
  • At 08:32 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • andy wrote:

It's not about road pricing for me, it's about VEHICLE TRACKING - for many this is the biggest issue since the Poll Tax.

Where I go and when I go should not concern people we elect.

And no, I'm not going to 'trust' politicians who should be facing the international Criminal Court at The Hauge for their warmongering

  • 230.
  • At 08:38 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • james ward wrote:

we all pay to drink at the fountain through our council tax. however,if your poor and thirsty you dont get a drink no matter how much you need one, if your rich, well, you can put the price up till the poor die of thirst. end of problem i guess!

  • 231.
  • At 08:41 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Chris Manvell wrote:

I live in a relatively remote area; others in very remote areas (and on lower than average wages). No concession is made by my employer for the fact that if I want more than the very basic services I have to drive about 200 miles to get to the nearest shopping centre and back. I could, of course, take the (for me, free) bus or the train, but having a lot of shopping to do, that is not practical (and the timetables are a disaster). I already pay higher than average fuel prices (though lower insurance) to get about. If the government proposals go through I, and others like me, will be forced to pay even more to get to basic amenities. (I also am very suspicious of the fact that the government will be able to track my movements whenever I go anywhere.)

  • 232.
  • At 08:41 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Mikael Armstrong wrote:

I think the example of the water fountain scenario is a bit silly. At the end of the day everyone who needs to drink, will have to drink somewhere. If people do not have the time to wait at the water fountain they may go elsewhere. To charge to use the fountain will encourage more to go elsewhere. However, this process will probably not reduce the total amount of water that needs to be drunk.

If the only way you could get a drink, was to pay at the water fountain, people will still wait for it or die of thirst!

Road pricing could reduce congestion on certain roads if only a few roads were chargable by making people use others. However, if you had to pay for all roads, it is unlikely to make much difference to overall traffic, just as the amount of water needed to be drunk overall would not change much either. It is likely that most people who travel during peak times do so because of a job, not because they enjoy it, so the charge is not going to discourage many users.

  • 233.
  • At 08:48 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Alan wrote:

The flaw in the argument is that we will pay, but STILL queue.

The M6 Toll only works because lorries are priced off it, and so still travel on the M6 motorway through Birmingham. i.e. there is a free alternative.

Charge us all, and what's the alternative?

There isn't one. So we'll queue just the same.

  • 234.
  • At 08:56 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Mark Bell wrote:

One of the worst and most blatant examples of faulty reasoning I've seen for ages. Charging people for access to the water fountain won't remove the queue as people NEED water. It may reduce the queue as those that can't pay quietly die of thirst but that's of no concern of yours is it? The correct solution is to provide more water fountains so that the supply meets the need.

Damn capitalists, can't see past the opportunity to generate a revenue stream.

  • 235.
  • At 08:56 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Darren wrote:

I too don't agree with the comparison. You could easily supply more water fountains for example.
But, Road Pricing is an unfair tax on the poor. I can't see how anyone could argue otherwise.

  • 236.
  • At 08:57 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • JH wrote:

One problem: in real life what happens is that one pays for permission to join a queue. For the owner to optimize the price with return on investment, there must be a queue of sufficient so ensure near capacity usage. Hence Toll Roads are more congested as much or more than non-toll roads. When satisfaction of demand not elastic (100% must drink, trip is obligatory) the benefit is speed/urgency; that is in not dying. Competition of supply, if permitted, creates a potental the benefit of rational distribution. Competition, however, may not benefit the government - but that is another story.

  • 237.
  • At 09:02 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • richard watson wrote:

Evan, your comparison of paying with time versus paying with money makes the economic case for road pricing elegantly. But we trust our increase tax revenues, rather than distribute the existing burden more equitably. If only political logic didn't trump economic logic.

  • 238.
  • At 09:04 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Ian Smith wrote:

"You pay for a drink on a hot day .." as a comparison is only valid if the government had already taxed you to drink, it didn't then buy you a drink but charged you for using your glass and then proposed an additional tax related to the temperature but with no promise this tax would be used to alleviate your thirst.

The problem is not whether the mechanics are valid or not but the belief that yet again it is a tax that will not be used for the purpose it is being taken for.

  • 239.
  • At 09:05 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Ryan Notz wrote:

Yes, but the charging system just re-distributes wealth (rather than creating it) and not necessarily from the rich to poor. Road pricing is a good idea because less people should be driving less often for a whole host of reasons. People only change their driving habits when there is financial pain, but that's not a comfortable argument to make to the public. Fuel tax works well but since cars are getting more fuel efficient, that doesn't help much with congestion. Ride a bicycle to work, that's what I do (and yes, I do have a car)! Believe me, you'll have a new appreciation for how offensive cars can be when you're getting knocked down by them and coughing up diesel pollution every day.

  • 240.
  • At 09:11 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Jake Long wrote:

You don't have to be really bright to realise that the solution is to upgrade the road network and increase its capacity.

You see road use is not like a free fountain but more like a TV licence. You pay a 12 month subscription and then you watch use it as much or as little as you like. If there was a shortage of power in the transmitters then you would simply build more of them. The same goes for roads.

Get used to it. We are going to have to build more road whether you like it or not.

  • 241.
  • At 09:13 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • gary s wrote:

you forgot that most of the walkers in the park are there to get to work for 9am and are walking back from the work through the park at 5pm. so if you want to solve the orderly queue, then you would have to change the park opening times and the school opening times etc, to say 8am for 33%, 9am for 33% & 10am for 33%.
But of course the owners of the shops around the park would say they would lose money doing this.

  • 242.
  • At 09:18 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Tim Hothersall wrote:

Ok, This is the BBC's first attempt at acting on behalf of the government to try and get people to support road pricing.

You might as well forget it and tell your masters to forget it aswell.

I remember when you pushed the Euro, and that failed. This is even less popular.

  • 243.
  • At 09:20 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Alethea wrote:

...and what of those people who need the water but cannot afford it?

The problem with the increasing number of road users is simply down to the ineffectiveness of the public transport network... perhaps additional fountains would have been a better method.

  • 244.
  • At 09:21 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Mike wrote:

Ok, so we've established that the government is going to tax road use, even though a large number of people outright object to it.

Why waste money implementing a spying system (which is essentially what this will be) rather than just doing the simple thing and putting petrol duty up?

From my point of view, there's only one drawback here. The populace will revolt if the petrol price goes up, this has been proven. But are they likely to revolt over these new black boxes? I guess Tony is willing to try it out and see!

If you want to tax road usage, put fuel duty up. If you want to implement a vehicle tracking system, put this to a referendum. Stop trying to disguise it as something else.

  • 245.
  • At 09:21 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Rich wrote:

The article forgets that the fountain has already been paid for by the users of the park. Because there is only one fountain, people will have to queue to use it. Sort of like only one ATM machine at a bank - people have to queue to use it because number of people > number of cash machines but who honestly thinks that by adding an additional 'pay per use' ATM machine the queue would suddenly disappear and the users suddenly be over the moon about being charged for accessing their money?

In the same way, car users have already paid to use the roads through road tax and fuel tax. Why should they have to pay to use alternative roads (or to buy alternative drinks in this instance) if they've already paid for the facility? Why be charged twice for the item you have already paid for?
I've never witnessed anyone who has been happy about being short-changed in a shop, so why would anyone logically think that it is a good idea to pay to use a road that they paid to have built and maintained?

Oh, and I agree with the comment that the public transport network would suddenly be overloaded if everyone actually used it. Until recently (passing my test), the 9 mile journey to work used to range from 1 hour to 1.5 hours, so 3 hours a day travelling on over-crowded buses that also happened to get stuck in traffic jams. The buses themselves were the most dangerous things on the road and had ancient diesel engines. Hardly going to save the environment.

Having travelled on trains for 23 years also, over-crowding on these frequently happened too. Perhaps they should try travelling on public transport before encouraging everyone to use it?

  • 246.
  • At 09:21 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • malky x wrote:

Who owns the fountain?
Who controls the water supply?
Who benefits financially from the sales?

If the answer to these questions is something like "everybody in equal measure" you have a just society.

If the answer is not something like that, you have an unequal society, one in which the balance of power is skewed over the issue or ownership and control.

In that situation you can expect trouble at 't well.

At least until the injustice is corrected.

  • 247.
  • At 09:23 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

So how about if you paid to drink the water but were then told that you couldn`t actually have any unless you forked over some more money? And after you drink you get another bill. Calculated on a big IT abacus the price of which figures into a complicated formula also taking into account the time of day, the temperature and whatever other expensive projects at which the treasury has been chucking money. The Olympics is looking good for an extra quid a sip. And your DNA is taken off the drinking cup so the government can keep tabs on you as well.

If this sounds silly, remember that you started it.

  • 248.
  • At 09:25 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Roger Turner wrote:

That original article was utter rubbish. All you have to do is create more fountains out of general taxation. Then everyone has water. Everyone is happy. No queueing, no thirst.

We need more roads, paid for out of general taxation. Fair, simple. There is no problem.

We also need strategic logistical national planning, which this government has not been capable of. It's always reactive, rarely proactive. There is no national road plan at the moment - Prescott scrapped it - remember? We also need a national plan for the location of industry and housing.

In Germany they do things better.

  • 249.
  • At 09:26 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Chris Turtle wrote:

A Very, Very bad ecconomic argument.

The people in the park have already paid lots of money into the drinking fountain fund over many years - enough for 20 or 30 fountains. They feel that they have already paid enough.
1.8 Million of them have told the park keepers this but will probably be ignored.

The park keepers unfortunately used the money to bomb drinking fountains in other countries and say that this is a much better use of the money !!!

  • 250.
  • At 09:27 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • alex wrote:

Assume that the people have paid 38 billion pounds a year for using the water fountain, but the owners have only invested 8 billion a year in it and squandered the rest on Millenium Domes, the failed NHS, and parliamentary perks.

At that stage, shouldn't the consumers be right in thinking that going back to good, old fashioned libaterianism values and stringing the people responsible up by the neck from the nearest lamppost is the best idea?

  • 251.
  • At 09:27 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Jon Camp wrote:

Mm, but in this case we're already paying for the fountain with petrol duty, which is a very equable system of charging for use as those who travel most pay most, and far cheaper to collect. The trouble is petrol duty is already as high as the public will stand. So the only reason for road pricing is to add more taxes on road travel in the hope that if it comes in different lumps we'll notice it less.

  • 252.
  • At 09:28 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Jon Camp wrote:

Mm, but in this case we're already paying for the fountain with petrol duty, which is a very equable system of charging for use as those who travel most pay most, and far cheaper to collect. The trouble is petrol duty is already as high as the public will stand. So the only reason for road pricing is to add more taxes on road travel in the hope that if it comes in different lumps we'll notice it less.

  • 253.
  • At 09:29 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • David wrote:

We already have a system in place of road pricing. It's called fuel duty. It is paid in direct proportion to use of the car. Fuel duty adjusts itself so that the town and city drivers who are the greates polluters pay more per mile than motorway drivers. But we've had no suggestion to abolish that prior to a road pricing scheme.

Your equation makes no allowance for the loss of liberty in being monitored every time you get into your car. If road use must be priced differently, then tolls could be introduced on the fastest routes. This is less intrusive and gives payers the choice of using A or B roads (ie. queuing in your equation) or paying and arriving faster.

  • 254.
  • At 09:32 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Stuart Cormie wrote:

The analogy falls down in a number of ways:

1) The drinkers have legitimate alternatives to taking water at the fountain

2) It's not essential that they drink at that particular moment

3) The drinkers haven't already paid for the water through other charges

And it still doesn't address how the low-waged are going to have their needs met.

  • 255.
  • At 09:36 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Mike Hanlon wrote:

Why doesn't the park keeper stop being so greedy and spend some of the profit from the difference between the taxes he already charges us and what he spends maintaining the fountain to build some more fountains. Rather than bolstering his gold=plated pension.

How many times must we pay for the fountain?

  • 256.
  • At 09:37 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Ade wrote:

I say we should just go back to queing, with growing populations we are just paying extra so we can jump the queue now, what we are missing is that while many of us can still afford to pay to jump the queue now, this is just the "thin end of the wedge".

The congestion, sorry, queue will return as the number of people driving, sorry, enjoying the park rises leaving us back where we started.

The only thing that has changed is the fact that ordinary people trying to get on with their lives, going to work, running a business, bringing up a family, taking the kids to the park will be charged again for each and every thing that they do. Worse still...

...they will have the same sanctimonious argument used against them, usually by politicians and acedemics while they are busy at work and bringing up their families so they miss out on the facility to disagree and end up paying.

The question becomes "or what?" you need to drink, you pay. You need to give your kids a drink, you pay. You need to take your family to classes, clubs, groups, other family, you drive...

spare me the help (charges) give me back the traffic...

...sorry it never went!

When it gets so hot that everybody really wants a drink only to find you at the water fountain charging money for water you'll find yourself at the end of a riot not a queue. Yet again the politicians propose to treat the symptoms at our expense rather than find a cure. It's no wonder so few people vote for them.

There is an alternative... Ditch the fountain completely.

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the park!

  • 259.
  • At 09:42 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • SJ wrote:

The argument is also flawed because people will end up queuing to pay for the water. For slightly different reasons road pricing will also have us queuing and paying!

  • 260.
  • At 09:43 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

Some interesting thoughts there from Evan.
It's a shame that they are built on a faulty comparison.

Let's throw some real numbers at the underlying debate:

I would love to use public transport to go to work.
I tried it for several months, and worked out the following:

I currently live 40 miles from my place of work.

My weekly season ticket costs £66.20
Weekly tube fare a further £10.00

= £76.20 per week.

My car fuel bill for the same journey:
80 x 5 = 400 miles
10p/mile (actual, measured) = £40 per week.

This is a saving of £36.20 each week, if I travel by car.

Per annum - £1882.40 cheaper by car (fuel only)

Assume that maintenance is roughly the same as it cost me last year: £450
Road Tax: £110
Insurance: £450 (Many people pay less)

Which leaves an annual saving of £872.40 if I travel by car.

I can buy a good second-hand car for roughly £2000, and my car is currently worth ~£600, requiring £1400 to replace the vehicle.

So I can buy a replacement car every two years, and save roughly £172.40 each year
If I keep the car for three years, I save an average of £405.73 a year.

How can the train companies be so utterly useless that they require massive subsidies, use red diesel that is barely taxed, and yet still charge their most regular and loyal customers more than it would cost them to buy, insure, maintain and run a private motor vehicle?

You may argue "The trains are faster"
For the sake of argument, let's assume that trains always run to time.

There is a train I could use to get to work on time:
07:10 - 08:01 (51 minutes)

Add about 15 minutes for the tube ride, and 15 minutes walk to the train station.
A total journey time of 80 minutes, starting at 06:55

If I drive:
Most of the time, if I leave at 7:10, I will arrive around 8:30
A total journey time of 80 minutes, starting at 07:10

This is the problem:
It costs me less time and less money to drive than to take a train.

The Goverment are ignoring the real solution(s), and focusing on the idea of throwing people off the roads.

There is a solution:
Provide financially and temporally viable alternatives to private road transport.

Without that vital link, road pricing can NEVER achieve its objectives.
- Those who can afford to pay would pay, and many of those who are poor would give up their jobs due to being unable to afford transport.

The cost of goods and services would also skyrocket, as all transport companies would be forced to pass on their additional costs to their customers.

In short - not only is road pricing a bad idea, very difficult and expensive to implement, requiring a large number of checks and balances to ensure privacy, but it won't work anyway.

  • 261.
  • At 09:51 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • John Walker wrote:

At first glance cleverly put but you forget that we have no choice about the variety of non choice taxes we already pay before we even get to the point of so called choice at the water fountain. There is a much bigger debate to be had about why so many journeys are necessary in the first place. With Internet technology, video conferencing and home working opportunities why on earth are so many journeys necessary. Also why are so many roads clogged up with slow moving articulated lorries, wouldn't investment in ports and rail infrastructure bring longer term reductions in traffic congestion rather than the simplistic 'tax them more option'? As usual economists who have never done a proper days work in their lives are given air time and presumably paid no matter what their opinon may be. Perhaps we could make a few more 'economists' redundant and use their slaries to off set travel costs!

  • 262.
  • At 09:52 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • john wrote:

One wonders why anybody would want to drive anywhere anyway and if they do,if drivers have ever heard of watt tyler (clue- a character from history) and im sure i read recently that the british public parks arent worth saving anyway.( mostly victorian mediocrity)

And the tap water???? perhaps its marginaly greener / safer than bottled water, perhaps we should here an economists view on this?

  • 263.
  • At 09:57 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Ian Williams wrote:

The mistake is to have such an old-fashioned thing as a park warden organise things - just as ridiculous, say, as having a toll-station take money for road usage. Be bold: personal radio implants would help the authorities keep track of individual water fountain usage, so we can bill for it at the end of the month.

  • 264.
  • At 09:59 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Sandra Halliday wrote:

It's great that the queue for drinking fountain has been made so much more bearable by the simple introduction of payment. But oh dear, what about those poor people who don't have any money? I suppose they could go thirsty, or in terms of what we're really talking about here, they could take dirty, unreliable, unsafe, crowded public transport. But then that's so expensive that they might not be able to afford that either. Still, I suppose in the egalitarian world we live in doesn't really matter if the poor are less mobile does it?

  • 265.
  • At 10:02 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Toby Anderson wrote:

The problem in the park and on the road is the same in that too many people want to use the facility. A start could be made by charging to use the roads and use the money raised to bribe people to stop driving cars. E.G. a free electric bicycle in exchange for your driving license. Then only issue licenses at the same rate as old ones are given up.

  • 266.
  • At 10:02 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Peter, Cambridge wrote:

I told my employer that I objected to using the roads at busy times and that I would work hours of my choice, but he wouldn't buy it, nor would he buy my request for a very significant pay rise to cover the additional costs of commuting if road pricing became a reality. Job security is not what it was and many of us are on short-term contracts; we feel it inconvenient to sell our house and shift our children out of school every time I have a new contract. My wife works as a nurse in a busy hospital - she said that she would do her bit by working at home, but that didn't seem to work either. Something about patients best having their operations in hospital rather than in our kitchen. My brother, a waiter in a restaurant explained that IT advances meant he should be able to work at home, but sending diners to our house to collect each course was not popular. I am very confused about road pricing and not sure how we can do things differently. If they hadn't built science and business parks, and factories, and power stations, and garages, etc., etc., etc., away from our houses, and if employers gave jobs to the people who lived nearest and not to those who had the right experience, wouldn't it all be easier.

  • 267.
  • At 10:04 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Dr Jeremy Robson wrote:

I'm sorry, but this really is complete drivel. It's about time that Evan got himself a proper job and stopped tinkering about with Rawlsian philosophy. The road system in case he has forgotten is paid for by excessive duty and fuel and road tax. We have no need whatsoever for another levy. Maybe this is a rekindlement of Tony Blair's Third Way? Scandalous, disgraceful and unfair.

  • 268.
  • At 10:05 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Patricia Ogunfeibo wrote:

From a very simple view, the analogy works, but society seems to be a little bit more complex than that. Being charged for the use of the fountain might actually create other 'bigger' problems - resentment, for one. Another possibility might be the loss to secondary beneficiaries of the queues - buskers perhaps, or even street vendors. Also, there is the trade on the way to the park where the water fountain is located.

Using the same water fountain analogy, what if everyone had been taxed/levied in order to provide the fountain in the first place? Would an attempt to then charge for its use in order to reduce queing be a worthwhile/fair/honest choice or decision to make in the circumstances?

Congestion does need to be curbed, but doing so honestly and fairly is more likely to gain widespread acceptance than any attempt to do otherwise. If the current charges/levies on cars/users are not working to protect the environment etc. etc., and road levies are really the way forward, then the unworkable taxes/levies should be abandoned first, as surely, if they are not working, there is no justification for them.

Politics normally bore me, and I rarely get involved in political discussions. This issue does infuriate me however, and I could not help but leave my comments.

  • 269.
  • At 10:08 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Ian Bennett wrote:

Many commenters are conflating road pricing and congestion charging. The former is a toll for a resource (a means of making those who use that resource pay for it, the revenue gained being used to fund the resource), whereas the latter is a Pigovian tax (it tries to persuade you not to behave in a certain way, and if it succeeds, it raises no revenue). Those arguing against the former are Marxist - they want to use a resource, but want it to be paid for by others; those arguing against the latter hold that the activity is not inherently bad, so should not be discouraged. Most arguments for or against either do not apply to the other.

Note that road pricing already exists, in the form of fuel duty; essentially, the more one travels, the more one pays. The variable factor (mpg) is largely in our own control; we can reduce our liability to fuel duty by using a more economical vehicle. A congestion charge which varies according to vehicle type betrays itself as a Pigovian tax on car choice, not as the Pigovian tax on congestion which it claims to be - congestion is congestion, regardless of whether it's caused by an electric car or a 4x4 - and is thus more concerned with ideological decisions than congestion per se.

  • 270.
  • At 10:09 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

I cannot see how one can make a case for road pricing and assume that because road users pay, all would benefit since this assumes fair-minded, efficient workings with no hidden agenda in a government and its' various agencies.

And one other thing, I thought our taxes go to pay for roads. Oh sorry, I meant actual taxes, not stealth taxes which appear to be something that has been fostered on us ever since the turn of the century.

  • 271.
  • At 10:09 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Wayne Copeland wrote:

The theory makes sense.

However the one i prefer is that when you charge me for using the drinking fountain, you will use the money to make the fountain more efficient. Or build more fountains for the benfit of all.

You might even put the water in bottles further speeding up distribution and benefit for all.

Transport is no different, if you were to propose road pricing on the basis that all money raised would be invested in getting us all around more efficiently with an improved properly integrated public transport system, not preventing us from moving by tax (or dying of thirst) it might just get a vote of approval.

As it is this government is proposing a desert oasis with one water fountain with a taxman on the door preventing a large swathe of us from drinking at all. (i know its a poor analogy ..... but you started it)

  • 272.
  • At 10:10 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Herbert G. wrote:

You're not really an economist, are you? There's a difference between paying 50p for a can of drink and £8 or more for congestion charges and road taxes, especially since you probably don't need to do the former on a daily basis.

  • 273.
  • At 10:13 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Peter Hindle wrote:

The water fountain was a trite (poor, really) analogy, and the high quality of many of the responses show it to be so.

  • 274.
  • At 10:16 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Andy wrote:

Your argumant is flawed in that we have already paid to drive - the water is a straight forward commercial choice

  • 275.
  • At 10:23 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Dave wrote:

The fountain analogy breaks down because I can take my own bottle of water to the park and so not need the fountain. When travelling from A to B, I have no alternative, so whatever the cost, I either have to stay at home or pay up. I think there would be a lot more sympathy for road pricing if the government had managed to produce something from the billions they've already 'invested' in transport.

Another fault in the analogy is that unless you're restricting people in the amount they can drink, the chap who drinks a gallon pays the same as the chap who only takes a few sips (think 4x4 vs small efficient car).

  • 276.
  • At 10:28 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Colin Morgan wrote:

Let's keep the roads clear for the Rollers, Mercs, Porches, .....

  • 277.
  • At 10:34 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Andy Pritchard wrote:

Surely a key factor will be whether those in the queue - or those who might want to join it in the future - want the water supplier to know their location and consumption habits at any time?

  • 278.
  • At 10:37 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Sandy wrote:

The problem with this analogy is that I am already paying for the water fountain twice in fuel duty, and VED and I suppose you could also include insurance. Then economists and politicians are surprised when I object to being asked to pay again.

By forcing this third tax on me I'll stay away from that particular park whenever I can to the detriment of people hiring deck chairs and selling crips and ice-cream. Eventually the park will become unused and the haunt of the more unsavoury elements of the population. Still it'll give work to water wardens and then social workers!

  • 279.
  • At 10:38 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • andy wrote:

Absoulute nonsense.. this arguement just leads to those with the most money gaining the most benefit,, As if they need that !! already having the most benefit in society ... in fact what would happen in this analogy is the people who can afford the water will bring their own and everyone else will priced out of the market and no-one will actually buy the water...
Of course in road pricing the people who can't afford it will have to use the total joke of a public transport system which in fact (single journey in Z1 of the tube £4 outrageous) they probably can't afford either ...
so i guess people will just have to stay home which will mean the roads are nice and empty for for the people who can afford gas-guzzling,environment destroying chelsea tractors oh like th MP's proposing road charging surprise.surprise....

  • 280.
  • At 10:44 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • jim wrote:

So its quite simple, the well off can have access to the fountain and the roads while the less well off die of thirst or stay at home.

  • 281.
  • At 10:44 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • rob keen wrote:

The argument presented re queing has been suggested to be simplistic.
I actually found it quite complicated given the reason for charging to use our roads and the like for that matter .
It is all based on the ability to pay, nothing complicated about that.

The consequences of this type of charging might well be complicated though

  • 282.
  • At 10:52 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • jeremy wrote:

If the water fee is set too low then the queues may persist; if set too high, then the poor are priced out. If the money raised was used to provide additional fountains people might be happier; if, instead, the money raised was used to pay for more park wardens, or councillor's pay rises, then the park-using population might be unhappy.

If the water fountain was originally raised from money raised by charging all park users for the right to use that park then they might feel annoyed at being charged for what they have already paid.

  • 283.
  • At 10:53 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Angela wrote:

This reasoning is entirely specious:

"In the park, if you could get a warden to ban people from queuing, and who instead insisted that only random people could drink, (people whose surname begins with A to K for example), the fountain would give more benefit, (although that benefit would be distributed a little unfairly).

There is another alternative that’s a little more equitable. If it’s practical, you can charge people to use the fountain."

This is idiotic as it's no more equitable than randomly selecting people with surnames A-K. Instead it's randomly selecting people with a high enough income to pay for water.

It's the same policy for road pricing - another way needs to be found so that we aren't discriminating against the poorer who desperately need to travel for work.

Fine but I cannot go to work at 5am leaving at lunch time when I could take a drink earlier or later.

What about those that need the water but don't have the means to pay for it? What if they cannot afford to live?

What if the cost we paid for water just went to more wasteful projects and paying for bombs to start wars with? We are dead if we don't drinks and dead if we do.

  • 285.
  • At 10:58 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Cedric Woodhall wrote:

People already pay to use the fountain but the providers only spend 1/5th of the revenue collected on the fountain. If queues form because the providers don't spend the money collected from the fountain users on sufficient fountains - there should be a rebate to those forced to queue. This should apply to road charging. If you're stuck in queues because the government won't spend the money collected in road taxes - they should refund some road tax because the contract between state and subject over the reason for that tax has been broken. Presumably thats the reason Governments don't like hypothecation.
Fountain users should boycott the fountain if the providers don't provide whats been paid for.

  • 286.
  • At 11:01 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • John Palmer wrote:

Firstly, we are already being charged an annual fee for a disc which gives us the right to use the fountain. Secondly, we are already being charged so much per litre for the water which we drink when we go to the fountain. If all we are attempting to do is to avoid congestion at certain times at the fountain, then it seems sensible to charge a variable rate per minute for using the fountain, depending upon when we try to use it. BUT, that should REPLACE the annual fee and the charge per litre. Anything else shows the charge for what it is - yet another TAX. Road Pricing/Congestion charges must only be considered if we get a categorical assurance that the other charges will be removed.

  • 287.
  • At 11:08 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Peter Layton wrote:

I like the fountain analogy. Presumably other means of transport are other fountains. The queue at the road fountain is also congested because the water at the other fountains doesn't taste so great.

  • 288.
  • At 11:20 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • paul bailey wrote:

we have road pricing its called fuel tax - the more you use the moer you pay. All visitors, illegal drivers, everybody pays. It doesnt address congestion? well so what its the motorists problem to deal with we choose when we drive not the goverment and not a tax on the poorer drivers.

  • 289.
  • At 11:24 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Goyim Goldberg wrote:

You can be certain that as soon as the government tried to implement a 'fair' (i.e. contrived) solution to the queuing/water problem chaos would break out all over as it always does with everything else they attempt (but of course they themselves would get abundant free water without queuing)....DUMP LABOUR NOW!!

  • 290.
  • At 11:28 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • John Olsson wrote:

This is a facile analogy. It does not take into account the need to offer better transport systems or to have more drinking fountains in the park. It simply accepts the status quo, and - incidentally - shows how little we spend on infrastructure in this country, from fountains in parks, to public loos, to enough decent roads, to enough trains. Evan Davis is of the 17th century puritannical school of economics, which basically states that there's only so much to go around, so those of us who can't have must just suffer. But then, it is said that some of the best seventeenth century minds are in charge of the UK today, so I guess that Davis is in good company.

The story confuses the moment of gratification with future release from discomfort. People understand that it will take say one hour to get home (where water is usually free and no queques), therefore it is worth waiting an extra 15 mins to get a drink now, to avoid an hour of escalating thirst discomfort, which at the end will be much worse than it currently is. It is like mathematical integration, the area under the curve. 10 mins boring queuque versus one hour multiplied by rising discomfort level. Release of thirst urge means your options for the rest of the day open up - not just struggle home for a drink of water. Apparently there are more exciting things to do in life than drink water or study economics... Please tell me if I am wrong.

  • 292.
  • At 11:40 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Danny wrote:

I am studying a PhD in economics at present. While the argument is a good reputation of how economists perceive these issues, I think the issue of road pricing overlooks a subtle point. Road pricing would entail measuring how far people drive and would entail costs in terms of technology and also loss of privacy. There is a much easier way to ensure people pay according to the cost of pollution without monitoring - increase petrol duty!

  • 293.
  • At 11:43 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Vai wrote:

ROAD TAX- is supposed to cover the cost of building new roads and reducing congestion.

The problem is that we are being taxed three times over for the same product

1) Road Tax
2) Ridiculous fuel tax
3) Roat toll (TBC)

Your drinking fountain analogy should read like this:

-there is a park, and inside the park there is a water fountain. In order to enter the park, people must buy a special water-tax sticker to place on their person. This ensures that everybody who is in the park, and attempting to access the water supply is registered to the DWLA (drinking water and licensing authority)

-in order to drink water from the fountain, you have to register to the drinking fountain congestion charging scheme. This is a painful operation, costing a lot of money and involving a lot of time on the phone to very unhelpful 'customer services' personnel. The running cost of this congestion charging scheme is likely to form a large proportion of the revenue generated by the scheme.

-when you arrive at the fountain, you have to buy the water rather than simply drinking, as suggested. The special tax per litre of water (fuel tax) which you pay is kept artificially high by a government which knows that you have no option but to accept.

-you find an alternative place to drink, 'the public transport' solution. You find that this is not necessarily overcrowded, as the only serious overcrowding problems happen in London. However, the standard of drink at this place is so poor, that you feel forced to return to the premium price fountain.

In your mind this doesn't represent any kind of a choice, the public transport solution simply doensn't suit your needs. The premium priced fountain is the only place you are happy to take yourself regularly, and now you have to pay three times over for this privilege.

As long as we can't live without our cars, this government will introduce tax after tax, knowing we are impotent to prevent their greed.

OK, so how about we charge people to use the water fountain at peak times ONLY?

This means only those who really NEED to go to the park during peak times go at this time. The number of people in the park is spread more evenly and we have a shorter average queue for the fountain.

It's changing habits, not total usage.

I think we have to remember that the road pricing system will be designed to limit usage *at certain times*. At peak times.

It's not equivalent to increasing fuel tax as this would be just discouraging road travel regardless of the time of travel.

A successful system will change our driving habits so that road usage doesn't include such drastic peaks, thereby increasing the average utilisation (and value) of our existing roads while decreasing queueing time.

Total number of journeys is the same, but these journeys are faster so we get the economic benefits, and I believe some environmental benefits as cars are more efficient at around 50mph.

  • 295.
  • At 11:51 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Ivan wrote:

It isn't very clear why giving water to people who can afford it is socially more just than choosing at random. Besides, if the economy is growing, making us richer and allowing more people to buy cars and petrol, that economic growth should allow the government to expand our transport infrastructure, if the government is unable to do that, it has failed and we should get a better one. Tony Blair took the time to send me an email recently, and he informed me that the cost of 1 mile of motorway is £30,000,000, but according to a recent BBC 5 live phone in, every year £30 billion are paid in road tax (when you take out the cost of collection), but only some £10 billion are actually spent on road maintenance. The rest goes to pay for other public services, but if the £30 million a mile figure is correct, that means 600 miles of new motorway could be built each year with that money. My point is when you have an expanding economy and population, you have to expand infrastructure too. You have to build more roads, railways and airports, they will bring more growth, increase GDP, the extra wealth will pay for the infrastructure you've built and probably leave you with a surplus (assuming you don't have a recession in the mean time), capping infrastructure is like capping economic growth which is against the fundamentals rules of our neoliberal economy.

  • 296.
  • At 12:25 AM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • John Moorcroft wrote:

There is only one problem to be solved here; reduce the number of people queuing at the fountain (cars on the road). Who wants to go to a park that's already full of people?

As for building more fountains (roads), what do you do once the park is full of fountains? Maybe everyone can now drink but where did the park go?

There are probably lots of ways to cut the number of cars. Here are a few I can think of:

- limit entry to the queue (restrict the number of car tax licences that can be issued in a year)

- make the water available only to those eligible (petrol pumps validate your car tax license and insurance before dispensing fuel)

- limit the park to local people only (stop commuting 100 miles up and down the country every day). This requires us all to change our way of life and the design of our cities.

- limit entry to the park (put an annual limit on the amount of fuel the UK can sell to drivers; increase the price of fuel; charge businesses for excessive company car mileage)

FACT: Fossil fuels WILL run out. When they do, all of this debate becomes pointless.

Like every simple game theory scenario, this one is fine until you actually take it out on the road (pardon the pun).

The scenario attempts to quantify desire, need, time waited and money, and it does it by the simple mechanism of 'what will people put up with'.


I drive up the M6 from junction 6 to junction 10 every day. I do it because I'm going to work. I really don't have an option on this, if I want to keep my job. But it's a good job, and it more than covers the petrol cost. It would more than cover a congestion charge.

There are also people travelling up the same road because they are going on holiday. And people travelling to hospital appointments. And people visiting relatives in hospital. And people travelling to jobs that barely cover the cost of the trip, even without congestion charging.

My ability to pay painlessly gives me an advantage, in addition to all the other advantages which I enjoy in life. Anything as simple as a congestion charge is actually a regressive means of taxation, when it is applied universally.

Applying congestion charging to London was a fairly simple (and highly rational) decision, because London's transport needs are effectively quite simple: central London represents a massive concentration of economic activity, by comparison with which even its most active neighbours are relatively inactive. What's more, extremely good public transport networks mean that driving is one choice among a number which balance cost against convenience.

The congested M6, on the other hand, has people travelling to work in both directions. There are concentrations of different kinds of economic activity in Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton and Walsall, as well as new areas of new prosperity in Warwick, Stratford and Telford. Distances are much greater, and public transport is far less developed. What's more, traffic criss-crosses the region on its way to other parts of the country, and the West Midlands' role as cross-roads of Britain helps to support its economy.

Nobody really understands the West Midlands traffic flows. This is clearly evidenced by the failure of the M6 toll to generate the kind of income that was promised for it. In this sense, it is further from the London model of congestion than London is from the water in the park scenario.

One thing, however, is certain: a simple congestion charge applied to the M6 would disproportionately disadvantage those least able to pay.

Clearly, something must be done about how and where we drive. For the West Midlands, at least, congestion charging is too simple an instrument to achieve the desired result.

  • 298.
  • At 02:38 AM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • Russ wrote:

Sound economics tells us that if supply does not equal demand then the price rises unless there are substitute options.

In the case of roads the substitute could be working from home. The risk, however, is that the substitute becomes the most attractive option thereby greatly reducing demand, and thus price.

In the scenario on taxation this could lead to a big net shortfall, along with the demise of many firms whose living depends on those traffic flows.

It also has a major knock on effect. Housing is most expensive where jobs and salaries are most prolific. If distance is no longer a significant barrier to entry then the supply / demand equation of these will also need re-writting.

Thus the question really becomes one of: at what price supply can we maximise super normal profits (taxation), without attracting new entrants (home working (see VDSL)), which would cause major oversupply
and could result in super normal losses (a major crash in taxation which the budget couldn't deal with).

Is this a risk that a sound economist would consider worthwhile? Remember it was not so long ago that the country ground to a halt over just a few extra pence on a litre of petrol. This suggests that demand is extremely sensitive to price.

But the risks here are not just confined to one micro economic area. They impact on a macro economic basis. Get the equation wrong and it also affects housing demand and house prices, salaries by region and by country, immigration (possible to work from Europe?), personal debt equity balances, demand for motor vehicles (inc bikes), social cohesion. Just to name a few.

Writing a model of this level of complexity would be a challenge, as even a 1% inaccuracy could cause major changes.

Remember "The law of unintended consequences".

  • 299.
  • At 07:35 AM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • Scott wrote:

One thing economists are forever forgetting is that all the assumptions they make don't always hold up in the real world, and so they attempt to come up with crazy analogies to attempt to excuse their thinking.

In this example, Mr Davis has decided to completely ignore the distribution with road pricing. For example, it is convenient to his argument to state that a randomised system of allowing people to drink from the fountain based on their surname as resulting in an unfair distribution, BUT yet as well is well aware any tax on road use will be a regressive tax. i.e. those who are less well off will be paying a higher percentage of income on road use than those who are well off. Perhaps not too 'fair' either.

Therefore, in Evan's example, as a method of distributing the 'scare resource' means those who value the water the most AND are able to pay will be able to drink ... but that doesn't take into account those who are simply unable to pay.

What Mr Davis also ignores is the fact that the fountain may have positive externalities - for example, workers may be more productive. With regards to the roads - the economy requires an infrastructure - everyone benefits from this directly or indirectly. Furthermore, the issue of cost push inflation is ignored conveniently too - when freight costs go up, it's the consumer that will ultimately take on the increase - i.e. we will end up paying not only our own road charges but also indirectly the ones resulting from all the goods and services we consume that have used the roads to get to us.

  • 300.
  • At 09:18 AM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • Simon Garrett wrote:

How economists love simple analogies like the drinking fountain! Back on planet earth, there are usually unquantifiable external influences (unknowns), and frequently Rumsfeld-style unknown unknowns, so the real life situation often doesn't work like the model. In this case, there are other reasons why people don't want road pricing, in particular, the insidious monitoring of our actions. Governments plead that they will not misuse the information, but always do. Note the use being made of passport data by the police. Having information is just too much of a temptation and previous promises get ignored.

  • 301.
  • At 09:58 AM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • Matt wrote:

I understand what Evan is saying about the benefits of the charge. But I do not understand where the benefits of charging will come when we will still have to que most of the time anyway. It is unlikely that the revenues from the charge will make a difference in relation to the increase of traffic on the roads over the coming years.

  • 302.
  • At 10:04 AM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • Neil wrote:

If there are a number of people for whom this fountain is their only source of drinking water, then they will be compelled, without a choice, to join the queue no matter how long it is. They are already being charged indirectly (income tax, road tax, fuel duty). Add another charge, and they still have to queue.
When the journey is unavoidable, as it is for many people driving to work where the alternative transport links are poor, more expensive, take longer, and have actually worsened over the last 1/2 years despite various promises a charge will do nothing to reduce the congestion.
What will the cost be of setting up the fountain? Why not just use the existing system (fuel duty)- it is in place just the flick of a switch will alter it, will discourage unecessary journeys, unecessary gas guzzling/eco unfriendly vehicle owners pay more, is difficult to evade payment and the more you use the roads the more you pay. But we must get a genuinely cheaper, as quick, and more suitable alternative choice in place before doing anything otherwise the numbers will remain the same but just poorer.

  • 303.
  • At 10:08 AM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • Colin Myles wrote:

Not really the point, you don't have to go the park in the first place, or you take a picnic. Most people have to get to work at a particular time so no option really!!!

  • 304.
  • At 10:43 AM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • Eren Hasan wrote:

I fully agree with Will Thorman on this. As the world gets increasingly consumed by globalisation, it is natural that we should use it to our advantage in as many ways as possible. The idea of no-one having to travel because everyone can work from home at a computer is not appealing to everyone, however if the option was there (even if only 10% of people deceided to do it) would reduce congestion.


Everyone is always complaining about how we are robbed by the Government for money in the form of tax. I am actually a firm believer of the taxation system. The crux behind its unpopularity is the fact that the perceived benefit of tax is very small, but the actual benefit of tax is very large. Whether the tax revenue is spent on a new "fountain" that will directly benefit you, or on a new missile system is completely inconsequential. Both of these create positive externalities. The only diference is that you dont see the benifit that a new missile system is giving you, but you will notice a new fountain. This is the difference between direct and indirect benifit.

At the end of the day, if a monetary cost is added to the fountain and the costs still outweight the benifit for some individuals (i.e. there is still excess demand) then another fountain can always be built with the tax revenue (to increase supply and reduce the demand surplus).

  • 305.
  • At 11:25 AM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • Chris Braisby wrote:

I have no problem with congestion charging, simple laws of supply and demand will sort out who is able to drive, but the money raised should be pumped into providing a public transport system that provided adequate provision for all, not only those in cities and towns.

However the provision needs to be in place before the charging comes in, and this may make the congestion charge redundant as people find that proper provision of public transport is a viable alternative to the car.

With no need for a charge the government will not get any extra revenue and so will not put in place proper provision until it can justify charging the heavily taxed car driver who drives through need rather than want.

  • 306.
  • At 11:49 AM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • Rex Hudson wrote:

Using payment as a control has similar limitations to the use of queues. Taxing cigarettes reduces consumption only slightly; the remainder continue to pay often even if they cannot afford it.
Using the analogy of the water fountain, charging for the use does not guarantee easy access to the water. There may be reduction of queues initially but, if the water fountain is the only one in the park, the demand for the water would depend more on the park population than the cost of water. What would be a deciding factor is when the other park facilities are insufficiently attractive for many people to visit given the high price of water. The trend would be to go to other parks where water was free and the high priced park would atrophy from low visitation.
A better solution would be to provide an appropriate number of water fountains based on the number of people visiting; perhaps some fountains could be kept in reserve for peak demand. Staggered lunch breaks in the surrounding area would smooth out the peaks. Introducing more, smaller parks with attractive facilities instead of one large, expensive park would have added benefits; people would grow to know each other and petty crime, vandalism etc. would reduce.

  • 307.
  • At 12:58 PM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • robert wrote:

Maybe I missed something in this whole discussion, cant read it all - but my point is:-

Road Pricing: why are we going to be asked to pay for something that we already pay for through extortionate fuel taxes AND road tax already. (Road fund licence - that fund no more roads!)

Its like already paying to drink the water or not as you will at some point be thirsty, but then pay again when you drink the water (ie: DRIVE on the road).

Any whilst I am at it - there is a (perverse) 'logic' that some people hold, that suggests ''if we build more road, people will use them'' - two points:-

1) In that case, why did we not stop building roads in 1932 - in which case, traffic would be still at 1932 levels.

2) If they built a new road in Penzance, 200 miles away from where I lived, do ''they'' really think I would say to myself ''Oh! They just built a new road in Penzance - I must go and have a drive on it''.

  • 308.
  • At 02:12 PM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • SteveB wrote:

The article points out that queuing is in fact a cost of sorts. This cost is already upon us and we are therefore already reacting to it.

i.e. Drivers already do what they can to avoid driving during congested periods and avoid queueing.

If road pricing were introduced It would only be those who can't avoid the busy periods who would queue. Same as now only with a monetary cost as well.

  • 309.
  • At 06:00 PM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • Fred Hay wrote:

Those who wait in queues (or their employers) bear the costs of doing so (time, money and giving up doing other things) but presumably overall it’s worthwhile waiting (slaking the thirst, getting to work or to market) – the benefit exceeds the costs, or there would be no queues. Demanding that those in queues pay will only shorten the queues if the charge is larger than (or at least cancels) this excess benefit, at which point the alternative previously rejected (thirsting or choosing a different mode of access to work or market) as being more costly becomes more attractive. So for those in queues, whether they leave or not, costs are increased. For those who did not queue, on the other hand, provided the queues vanish or at least are much shorter, an advantage arises if the queue-free access plus the charge means lower costs overall than the alternative to queuing presently used. But too high a charge would wipe out the advantage of changing and they would continue to do what they presently do – although this alternative will be less attractive the more queue-leavers join them. So everyone could end up worse off.

A charge on queues is simply an additional arbitrary rent extracted from the monopoly of location or access. It certainly does not add to efficiency overall, though the absence of queues may be prettier. The only question is who pays the rent – and who receives the funds disbursed from the revenue taken. Since that is a normative question most economists would say they can’t help. The ‘tool kit’ view of economics is inadequate since you get different results depending on your choice of ‘tool’ – inevitably as the economy is not a machine.

  • 310.
  • At 06:49 PM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • Jon Halden wrote:

Road space at certain times is a scarce resource and experience has shown us that the price mechanism is probably the most efficient way of allocating and rationing scarce resources. People don't object to paying for food or other essential goods so why should they object to paying for road space?

However I do believe that any money raised should go towards improving public transport to give people an alternative.

  • 311.
  • At 09:03 AM on 26 Feb 2007,
  • Nick Lowson wrote:

While admittedly a simplification of the issue, the simplification goes a too far. Too much relies on the assumption of equality of thirst. There will be many in the queue who are very thirsty and desperate for a drink and some who will not be so desperate. It means that "the people who do join the queue are probably barely getting any positive benefit out of their drinking fountain experience at all" is too extreme an assumption. Remove, or refine, that assumption and queuing does not do a bad job; those who are thirsty enough will join the queue, while those who are not will not. However, all those who are thirsty enough will get a drink. Using a random sort method based upon a criteria other than thirst must mean that some who are less thirsty than the marginal queue-joiner will get a drink and someone desperate for a drink will not. The new system will - indeed must - be inherently more flawed than the queue sort. Sort of blows out the pain in the purse method.

  • 312.
  • At 10:39 AM on 26 Feb 2007,
  • Nicholas Gilbert wrote:

I am totally opposed to the road pricing scheme. Not only is it a total invasion of my civil liberties, it is also hugely inflationary (in the short term at least), and will cost me, and every other road user a huge amount. All of this for not much of a tangible result. Afterall, people still have to be in work for 8.30-9.00am, the rush hour will never stop. I also think that it should be a persons right to use a car. If they don't want to be coughed on, or have to stand in the cold waiting for the bus, then I think that is fair enough. So road pricing is a good way of reducing a persons right to choose, especially if they can't afford the cost of the choice.

I sometimes wonder whether politicians actually live on this planet. You can see these levels of ludicracy all over the government. e.g. a £90bn NHS budget for healthcare (£3600 per household). I fail to see how you can spend £90bn on anything and not get a satisfactory result.

The problem is, the promises of cuts in spending and therefore cuts in public sector jobs don't get you elected, so the over spending problems will only increase until another revolutionary sticks their neck out.

  • 313.
  • At 12:38 PM on 26 Feb 2007,
  • Kevin Mark Robinson wrote:

Surely the big difference to the water fountain example is that I have already paid at least twice to use the road, once in road tax and the second in petrol tax which is just HUGE in the UK compared even to other European countries? Furthermore the solution in the water situation indicates that some people have alternatives to where they get their water, - I have no alternative as to how I get to work and I cannot change the times I need to travel. In the water fountain case surely the obvious solution would be add another fountain? I assume that in many situations (maybe not all) that this is also the case for the roads.
Finally I am afraid of "big brother" and I do not wish to have my movements tracked by anyone ESPECIALLY this Government. I do not trust them.

  • 314.
  • At 12:59 PM on 26 Feb 2007,
  • James wrote:

What the writer has failed to realise is that the people have already paid a large some of money to get into the park, then there is the park insurance and a park tax as well. So to then be asked to pay another tax day light robbery.

For those not chosing to water or the park will find that they only have access to the water at vcery limited times, in very limited place and at an every increasing price. Oh, and if they want to drink before 9.00am they have to pay double.

There is no easy answer to the problem but taxing many peoples only solution whilst forcing even greater ques on an already over crowded public transport system, is not one of them.

  • 315.
  • At 08:13 AM on 27 Feb 2007,
  • andy wrote:

Interesting debate here but most people seem to want to focus on a conception that if there is a form of road user charging that it will be unfair, benefit everyone else but themselves and have a negative impact on the economy (nevermind the fact that there is very little in the way of goods or services that you can get without any form of tax!).

but the point is - no one wants queuing traffic, we all want to get from a to b quickly and pricing is one practical measure that will achieve that, albeit at a cost to the motorist.

But this cost could be good, if its done along the lines of equality where those who drive more pay more, those who drive less pay less.

  • 316.
  • At 02:47 PM on 27 Feb 2007,
  • Stuart wrote:

The conundrum is simply stating that charging is a much more efficient method of rationing scarce resources (as less time is wasted waiting), and therefore results in a socially optimal outcome.

As for whether this is a fairer way to distribute the resources is a completely different question, but (in my experience), the meritocratic assumption that the more value you add to society, the more you are paid holds true in most cases. This isn't a popular assumption, but I find many people have built their opinion on the subject from sensationalist anecdotal evidence from the media (sorry BBC!) rather than devouring piles of social and economic research in peer reviewed journals...

The net result then of charging people to drink from the fountain/use the roads in rush hour would be to allow the people who were adding the greatest level of value to use these resources to continue to do so. This I would encourage, and I believe that this sort of approach should also be used to try and curtail pollution of our environment.

I have to say though, road charging doesn't bother me as I am a firm advocate of public transport.

p.s. I'm loving the way some people make the assumption that economist=fabulously wealthy! Likewise, that politicians and economists are in some murky league... Were it true our government's performance would be judged on changes in quality of life rather than who can start the biggest wars and look the most heroic!

  • 317.
  • At 03:31 PM on 27 Feb 2007,
  • ed b wrote:

A more accurate analogy for the road lobby would be a load of yobs who want the public at large to continue subsidising them for free champagne coming out of their fountain, for free, with no queues. they then try to bring the country to a halt when duty is increased towards morally acceptable levels, and then come up with any argument they can think of (civil liberties? what?) to put their own warped point of view.

in their little world, everything paid to the government is a waste of money, thrown away on other departments, while everything they get back for free, like roads, is a human right, and not good enough for them.

most of them move house to the opposite side of the park to their workplace so they can get drunk on the way there and back, and then complain that adding charging makes it impossible for them to get to and from work.

  • 318.
  • At 03:39 PM on 27 Feb 2007,
  • JohnTurner wrote:

It is true that queueing in itself controls the demand for use of the water fountain, but the time cost associated with queueing takes no account of the additional queuing time that someone imposes on others by joining the queue. Under a queuing system, someone who joins the queue believing that the satisfaction derived from drinking water from the fountain is marginally higher than the time they will spend queueing is likely to make fountain-users - as a group - worse off. Whilst the benefit that they receive from drinking at the fountain is slightly higher than their personal queueing 'disbenefit', they have made no account of the additional queuing time faced be those behind them.

If a price was set for using the water fountain that was equal to the amount of money required to compensate those queuing behind the queue-joiner, nobody would join the queue unless the benefit that they gained from using the fountain exceeded their personal queuing disbenefit PLUS the additional disbenefit they have caused to those behind them. On that basis alone, the introduction of the fountain price would make society better off - we would not have the slightly thirsty holding up the absolutely parched.

What's more, the revenues from running the fountain could be used to compensate some of those who concluded that they were not that thristy after all and would rather save their cash for something more important to them. Perhaps by buying them water bottles that would allow them to sip until their heart's content away from the very thirsty people at the fountain.

  • 319.
  • At 10:23 AM on 28 Feb 2007,
  • Marie Antoinette wrote:

Let them drink Coke.

  • 320.
  • At 04:08 PM on 28 Feb 2007,
  • Annoyed wrote:

Charge people for something they have already paid for? Why do that when there is a much simpler method. Stagger the arrival of people so the fountain queue system does not overload and provide alternatives to the fountain.
This would mean companies having staggered start-times (not all at 0900), allowing flexi-time and home working.
It would also mean the state providing functional public transport.

Of course, what will happen is that we have our privacy invaded by black-boxes and more money will be lost in PFIs, consultants, bribes, back-handers, golden-hellos, golden-goodbyes and other jolly-japes.

  • 321.
  • At 04:34 PM on 28 Feb 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

Why look further for examples than this very forum? Unrestricted access, Editor probably overwhelmed, and everyone's thirst for being heard is left unsatisfied, as no one in their right mind is likely to read through the entries (including this one).

Maybe if they charge per word we could restrict it to those who really had a new argument to come with? But wait, I pay license fees, so surely I have a right to contribute as I please? Charging would be just another double taxation!! :)

To test if anyone actually reads anything, I have included a few lines from Beethovens "Ode to Joy":

Ode to Joy

Oh friends, not these tones!
Let us raise our voices in more
pleasing and more joyful sounds!

Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter fire imbibed,
Heavenly, thy sanctuary.

Thy magic reunites those
Whom stern custom has parted;
All men will become brothers
Under thy gentle wing.

May he who has had the fortune
To gain a true friend
And he who has won a noble wife
Join in our jubilation!

[If the Editor fails to remove this entry, I rest my case!! ]

  • 322.
  • At 02:10 PM on 01 Mar 2007,
  • Richard Tobin wrote:

What is illiberal is variable charges, dependent on when and where the public enjoy their rights, favours those who can afford the luxury.

Road charges to ease congestion are much like charging more for drinking at a public water fountain dependent on the heat of the day. The rich will bathe themselves whilst to poor must stand aside.

  • 323.
  • At 02:26 PM on 01 Mar 2007,
  • Richard Tobin wrote:

Charging for water at a park's busy drinking-fountain will make no difference to the a queue at least till the sum charged is sufficient to make an impact on the numbers queuing. First just the very poor are dissuaded from drinking or simply cannot afford to. But their place in the queue will be quickly taken up by other better-off drinkers, so the queue will be just as long whilst the charge is an insignificant value to the majority of potential thirst quenchers.

It is only when the charge levied becomes of consequence to the majority, is sufficient to make them do without a drink despite their thirst, that a shorter queue then forms comprised of those who satisfy an equation between being sufficiently thirsty and wealthy enough to afford (or not be put off by) the charge.

A wealthy person with a moderate thirst will be more likely to take a drink than the poor with a stronger thirst.

This is an equation only for a private commercial enterprise that does not have a regulated monopoly on an essential public service. Tea at the Ritz for example.

Assuming that a park is a public space, and water is made available for the convenience of all of that public, it is illiberal to create a system that favours the thirst quenching convenience of the wealthy.

Equally the public highway should be accessible to all to enjoy - it is after all a 'public right of way'. Using a vehicle incurs cost and it is accepted that governments have a right to tax the sale of goods, including any fuel that powers vehicles. Where specific road tolls have historically been charged is when a new crossing or way has been funded on the premise that the cost of forming it will be recuperated by charging for it's use. And the existing, albeit less convenient, route remains open and free to enjoy.

It is also accepted that tax is reasonable to charge to offset the value of maintaining the highway. Indeed the Road Fund Tax was conceived to do this but made no account for frequent users though this is compensate by higher users paying more fuel tax.

In the event that vehicles became prevalent that, for example, used mains electricity it would be necessary for government to measure the amount of use these vehicles conducted and charge a tax based on the distances they cover. This would allow government to collect revenues in place of those not gathered had these new powered vehicles used conventional fuels taxed at the point of sale and would restrict the frivolous use of vehicles. This is the liberal argument for having a system of measuring road usage.

What is illiberal is variable charges, dependent on when and where the public enjoy their rights, favour those who can afford the luxury. Road charges to ease congestion are much like charging more for drinking at a public water fountain dependent on the heat of the day. The rich will bathe themselves whilst the poor must stand aside.

  • 324.
  • At 05:53 PM on 01 Mar 2007,
  • Bill wrote:

This theory can easily be proved by visiting a nightclub and talking to a bouncer.

As an ex-bouncer, we used to deliberately restrict entry early on in the evening to falsly start a queue, which in turn would generate interest from club goers thinking that it must be busy (& therefore worth the queue) so the queue would multiply, and we would always have a busy night. The club was up the stairs so our customers could never see if it was busy, which if it wasn't early on in the night used to frustrate some people for having to wait! I sympathise completely!

So how to beat the false queue set up by bouncers? If a bar or club is busy listen out for the bass that booms out from a club as the more bass you hear the fewer people are in the bar / club, as human bodies seem to absorb the bass.

  • 325.
  • At 09:38 PM on 02 Mar 2007,
  • Terry wrote:

This neatly pricks the bubble of the politically acceptable flavour of road pricing mostly proposed - the revenue neutral one.

It is quite obvious that pricing will only dent demand if it hurts - i.e. that the marginal benefit for the average person who chooses to pay will be very low (neglecting those rich enough for it not to matter). Sure they will get there faster, but they will have to sacrifice elsewhere to pay for it - perhaps by working longer to earn the money for the road charge.

So the benefit from road pricing as a mechanism comes from the fact that money raised from it can be used to benefit those who choose not to pay.

Which cannot happen if its revenue neutral.

  • 326.
  • At 01:31 AM on 03 Mar 2007,
  • allyn wrote:

People can choose to get water elsewhere. However, outside London there is little competition to the car for getting to work etc....

  • 327.
  • At 04:57 PM on 06 Mar 2007,
  • Sheila wrote:

Imagine a park with plenty of clean, reliable water fountains, enough for everyone, with a small price that is cheaper than going to the shop. I never understood why the government want to beat us with the stick instead of tempt us with the carrot. If there was plenty of clean, reliable, cheap public transport that took you where you needed to go, who would take a car?

  • 328.
  • At 04:26 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • David wrote:

The point is, the fountain was built when free(at point of delivery), clean water for consumption in public places was considered an essential service that the private sector would not supply. If this assumption still holds good, on what basis should the decision be made to spend ratepayers money on a second fountain ? When someone drops dead of thirst, when the queue reaches some arbitrary length, or when the projected forecasts (for year 15 ?) reach some arbitrary height ? Since the assumption doesn't hold good - if it ever did - then we shouldn't be cluttering up our open spaces with the unhygenic things. We drink too much anyway.

  • 329.
  • At 07:25 PM on 08 Mar 2007,
  • Steve wrote:

The drinking fountain in the park is only half the story - here it is in full

Once upon a time there was a drinking fountain on every street corner, no-one queued, indeed fetching water was a social occasion. Then some greedy business decided that a big fountain in the park would be more profitable. They asked the govenment for permission to build the fountain. The govenment looked at the increased tax revenues and saw that it was good and gave permission. The public deserted the local fountains and these eventually fell into disrepair so everyone had to use the fountain in the park. Now there was chaos as everyone from near and far tried to use the one fountain. getting water was no longer a pleasure, but a terrible chore. Business looked at the chaos it had helped create and wrung its hands and shed crocodile tears as it deposited its increased profits in the bank. The govenment looked at the chaos that it too had helped to create and, said "this must stop" and as usual lacking, original thought continued "we will charge people to use the fountain". The people complained "we have no where else to drink", but the govenment saw only the increased tax revenues and so it was that charging was implemented.

  • 330.
  • At 11:46 AM on 16 Mar 2007,
  • Russell Dickens wrote:

So if congestion charging tries to decrease the queues on our roads, and if the proposed environmental taxes aim to decrease the pollution of the environment.

I wonder if income tax aims to decrease the queues of people trying to get a job??

  • 331.
  • At 05:10 PM on 05 Jun 2007,
  • Andy S wrote:

Kid's, we're not going to the park today. Mr Davis, next door, says it's packed.

Have a run round the garden for a bit then we'll have a nice drink of squash and put Springwatch on.

Problem solved (with thanks to Oddie-omics).

I'm "working" from home today.

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