New-car tax fails to solve old car problem

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 February, 2011, 12:00am

For a government with a reputation for tiptoeing around a problem rather than going straight for the jugular, the proposed increase in registration tax for new private cars does not come as a surprise. The aim is to reduce road congestion, which gets worse the more vehicles we allow on our narrow, overcrowded, streets. Some of the world's highest levies have not done that, so it is unrealistic to believe that marginally raising them will make a difference. Instead, the sensible solution is electronic road pricing.

Charging a fee to use roads in the busiest parts of our city has been an option since the mid-1980s, when Hong Kong pioneered the idea in trials. They proved the worth of such a system, but public opposition led to it being shelved. Instead, it has been taken up by a growing roster of cities elsewhere, starting with Singapore in 1998, and now including London, Milan and Stockholm. In a highly built-up and crowded place such as ours, where roadside air pollution is at unhealthy levels for the smallest particulates, and the number of visitors is ever rising, it is the best way to tackle traffic congestion.

The government is wary of criticism from vocal interest groups, so has given the idea a wide berth. The raising of first vehicle registration tax by up to 15 per cent means that depending on price, the fee will increase to between 40 and 115 per cent. It is hefty, but will have limited impact on people wanting to buy the least expensive vehicles and certainly will not deter those who can afford luxury models. The measure may even worsen congestion - cars are a status symbol due to their high cost, so a bigger tax could make them more desirable.

We already have a form of road pricing with fees to use tunnels. Charging to drive in our busiest districts therefore would not be a foreign concept. Instead, it sends a clear message about where vehicles are welcome. As importantly, harmful exhaust emissions from vehicles would be lowered in those areas. Small steps are not how the government should be taking on such concerns. It should be putting the general populace first by taking tough action.