An industry body for the freight sector has rebuffed claims that the governmentâ€™s decision to keep fuel duty frozen since 2011 has contributed to increased congestion on UK roads, and harmed air pollution.
The Freight Transport Association (FTA), made the comments in response to a report issued on Friday (1 June) by the sustainable transport group Greener Journeys, which suggested that the policy decision had contributed to air pollution through increased volumes of traffic (see airqualitynews.com story).
Fuel duty has not increased since January 2011, when it was increased from 58.19p per litre to 58.95p per litre. It was cut by 1p per litre in the Budget two months later, and has since been frozen. The freeze in fuel duty has cost the Treasury approximately Â£7 billion in lost tax revenue.
According to Greener Journeys, prices at the petrol pump are 13% lower than they would otherwise have been if the government had opted not to freeze fuel duty, potentially resulting in up to a 4% increase in traffic since 2011 and a similar decrease in public transport use, equal to up to 60 million fewer rail journeys and 200 million fewer bus journeys.
However, FTA has strongly countered Greener Journeysâ€™ claims â€“ arguing that fuel prices have fluctuated significantly in recent years, whilst traffic increases have tracked economic growth â€“ with traffic increasing 7.4% to the economyâ€™s 9.3%.
Responding to the assertion FTAâ€™s head of UK policy, Christopher Snelling, argued that vehicle movements are largely dictated by business needs, rather than taxation levels.
He said: â€œTo suggest that a fuel duty level dictates how many vehicles on our roads is, quite frankly, ludicrous. It is the level of economic activity that drives traffic levels, not the level of tax paid on the fuel in their vehicleâ€™s tank.
â€œThis is because, for freight, as for most road users, travelling is not a choice you make dependent on how much it costs, but based on what you need to do.â€¯In the case of logistics, we have to supply the goods that Britain needs to run its shops, hospitals, factories and offices every day, and that doesnâ€™t change just because the price goes up. All that does change is more small hauliers and van users go out of business as their profit margins disappear.â€
Mr Snelling added that to help bring emissions from the freight sector down, rail freight would need to become a more attractive option for businesses.
He said: â€œThe way to improve emissions levels and manage congestion is to create an alternative method for freight to be moved quickly and efficiently across the country. This means making rail freight a more appealing option through increased services levels and improved accessibility to the network, and boost road freight through the use of more environmentally-efficient vehicles, minimising the number that need to be on Britainâ€™s roads.
â€œSimply charging more money to the users of our roads, most of whom who have alternative means of doing their daily work, achieves nothing other than placing a direct tax on Britainâ€™s businesses.â€