Congestion charges won't be needed in 2015—the oil will be running out. We must rationby David Fleming / July 23, 2005 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2005 issue of Prospect Magazine
So—we have been invited by the government to take part in a debate about whether it would be a good idea to set up a congestion charging scheme, monitored by satellite and covering the whole country.
Traffic congestion is a symptom of a much deeper sickness—relentless mobility, visible at any time in the day in every developed country in the rivers of steel pouring along motorways. Contrary to the claim by Rod Eddington—departing chief executive of British Airways and the government’s transport adviser—that “a more mobile world will also be a more stable world,” unlimited mobility has many perverse consequences. Local communities lose their networks of sociability, their social capital; local markets for small traders are crowded out, as is local production of daily essentials such as food. The sense of place is being wiped out of our lives; instead of staying put and solving local problems, those most able to do so simply move on. The constant churning of rootless people is deeply destabilising. And when serious energy shortages begin to cripple transport, the almost complete absence of local self-sufficiency will become abruptly apparent.
The government’s proposal for a country-wide congestion charge, with a completion date of around 2015, is entirely incoherent. Its main flaw is that, by 2015, the problem it is intended to solve will not exist. There will not be the oil to fuel large volumes of traffic in the future: there will not be a congestion problem, there will be an “empty roads” problem. Oil production is now close to its production peak, which will be passed before 2010. When that happens, production will start to fall; we will move into a sellers’ market, dominated by a small and turbulent clique of tough-minded producers. Prices will be very high; there will be shortages and interruptions in supply, and this will lead to transport systems all over the world breaking down with increasing frequency and for increasingly long periods. At the end of the next decade, the gas market will follow a similar path.