The Severn tolls must remain — Ben Gwalchmai
If it isn’t clear yet, the world is burning. This year has seen the first records of fire-tornados committed to video. Firenadoes. On our planet, by our hand. On October 8th 2018, the IPCC released the most devastating research yet: we have to act radically before 2030 or there will be no going back, there will be a 2 or 3-degree Celsius rise in global temperature that will kill half the insect species of the known world and all the coral. The Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development has since said that the IPCC’s warnings don’t go far enough. Predictions of acidic seas aren’t inflammatory, they’re before I’ve retired.
In order to stop that global temperature rise, we have to change the very culture of our politics and our public discourse. We have to address this. Now. Not with vague promises, not even with a change of energy policy but with the huge projects that are often reserved for emergency or post-recession governments.
Decreasing road traffic is a huge part of this. In Wales, we love our cars. It’s understandable when it’s quicker to fly or drive from Cardiff to Bangor. On our busiest road, we currently have a de-facto congestion charge: the Severn Bridge Tolls. Whether or not you think the removal of the tolls is good for business, there is no business on a dead planet.
I put it to you, reader, that not only should the tolls remain but that there should be a congestion charge in every city in Wales.
Congestion charges are useful things: they act as a proven deterrent to driving — not simply driving on that particular road but driving itself; they help with traffic flow; and they cut carbon footprint. Wales needs more of them, not less. No-one has ever won a Nobel Prize for building a road but someone has for introducing a Congestion charge — William Vickery. Vickery worked on ‘congestion pricing’: services and utilities need to be priced to show users the costs and the value of the things they use. Roads are a utility. Decades of experience has shown economists & city planners that new roads don’t work, congestion charges do. Bridges are an even more fragile utility — they come at a cost. Removing the tolls removes the awareness that they have value and their upkeep has cost. Why should we remove the tolls, in order to make the bridge valueless? In order to undermine the tax take? Undermine the value of the roads either side? Not if we had sense.
Duranton & Turner’s Fundamental Law of Road Congestion shows that vehicle miles travelled increases one-to-one with the number of miles of new highway. Environmentally, if the M4 Relief Road gets built then we can say goodbye to the Gwent Levels. Oh, and the Welsh Government climate targets. And the agriculture we know now.
You, dear reader, may not give a flying faeces about the environment — what that says to me is you don’t care about the future. You don’t care about future generations. Nor the Welsh Government Future Generations Act.
If we are to truly follow the spirit of the Welsh Government Future Generations Act, we must keep the tolls and cancel the M4 Relief Road. We must keep tolls and introduce more.
Ben Gwalchmai is a Welsh Labour member and co-founder of Labour for Indy Wales.