TRL's response to consultation on zero emission vehicles and road pricing

A summary of TRL’s written response to the Dept for Transport invitation to submit views on the acceleration of the ban of the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles to 2030, and on the possible introduction of road pricing.

Published on 23 March 2021

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The consultation invited comments about the implications of accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles by 2030.

TRL’s main point is to stress that zero-emission vehicles cannot be considered in isolation; the entire UK energy system needs to be included in thinking. The uptake of zero-emission vehicles will also depend on the right policies being in place to encourage adoption of new technologies and drive economies of scale, which will lead to affordability and an increase in demand. We are also concerned that the focus of attention on zero emissions is drawing attention away from UN targets to reduce road deaths to zero by 2030: the two ambitions should be mutually supportive.

The ban of the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 has created a challenge for which there is no single solution. Different solutions are feasible for different situations.

On the plus side, we believe the UK manufacturing base is well placed to take a lead on developing new battery chemistries, improving fuel cell efficiency and hydrogen production methods. There are also opportunities related to carbon capture, storage, and utilisation.

The main technical challenge is that all vehicle electrification technologies require batteries. Hence, focusing immediate innovation research and investment funding on resolving the challenges around batteries is a sensible approach (to reduce their production cost and make them cost-efficient to re-cycle).

On the downside, the “elephant in the room” is the question as to how the UK energy system in 2030 will provide enough power for a vehicle parc that will be transitioning towards 100% electricity, without impacting on other energy demands.

Incentivising uptake of privately owned electric vehicles and creation of the infrastructure required to support them is not straightforward either. In our view, although suitable technical approaches exist for different vehicle categories and duty cycles, they generally fail to satisfy a need to deliver a socially inclusive policy, and in some cases would render businesses with large HGV fleets as commercially unviable.

We know that battery powered buses present particular technical challenges which rack up the total cost of ownership and operation. We think that to avoid unpopular and unequitable rises in bus fares, subsidisation schemes will be needed to support the deployment of decarbonised buses.

We are sure that phasing out the sale of new diesel heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) will have a very positive impact, but the target to do so by 2030 is ambitious, considering the lack of cost-efficient alternatives. For it to have any chance of success, the UK Government needs to ensure that an adequate refuelling and recharging infrastructure is deployed. It is our belief that investment in hydrogen fuel cell HGVs and associated infrastructure could avoid the constraints of the whole energy system, as low carbon hydrogen can be imported from abroad (ideally from countries where low cost electrolytic hydrogen can be produced from renewable sources).

The consultation asked about the potential of road pricing, or pay-as-you-drive, schemes as a replacement means of taxing road use.

Road pricing has long been recognised as a technically viable mechanism for collecting vehicle taxes in a fairer way, and various experiments with all-roads road pricing (charging vehicle by the mile no matter where they drive) have been attempted. TRL has taken a leading role in many of these experiments, both in in the UK and internationally. Economically, fiscally, and environmentally, road pricing is logically the way forward.

Many countries have concluded that the ideal technical solution relies on secure, in-vehicle ‘black boxes’, allowing road pricing varied by time, distance and place, as well as by vehicle size/class, with the option for charges to be increased during peak hours and in areas of high congestion and/or emissions to help manage demand. This is all quite feasible, but meets with stern public opposition.

Research has shown that a significant number of people feel uncomfortable with the possibility that their personal journeys may be tracked by state actors, even though they are seemingly largely content when this is done by commercial companies (e.g. Google). In addition, surveys reveal that the public would perceive road pricing as a ‘new tax’, additional to current taxes, and do not believe it would be a replacement for them. Also to be considered are the well documented differences in the perceived and actual cost of a journey by private car in comparison to the cost of a journey by public transport, leading to public mistrust in the fairness of charging rates.

Tolling of specific roads, mainly motorways, has been a way of life in many western countries (France, Italy, USA etc.) and has not been controversial. What has prevented widespread road pricing being adopted anywhere in the western world is this public opposition, which leads to a lack of political support.

Feasibility studies suggest that a scheme of this sort will require years to design and implement. In our view this provides time for the management of public opposition and a campaign to convince the public that this is fair, proportionate, achievable, and necessary to meet fiscal and environmental targets. However, only a cross-party political consensus backing a public engagement campaign to regain trust in the system is likely to make it socially acceptable.




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