Thursday, May 24, 2007

Capital Punishment

New Lo-Waste Wheelie Bins
This morning I was punished for driving a car in the capital. I was forced to pay £8 and then made to spend an hour and a half driving five miles.

Don't misunderstand me. Like most economists, on some theoretical level I'm very much in favour of congestion charging. The charge ensures that the true cost of using limited roadspace is reflected in the money price of the journey, punters make their travel decisions based on full information, externalities are internalised, and all those marginal thingies line up nicely just like the textbook equations say they should.

Of course, charging schemes do need to be implemented by a benevolent and competent Omniscient Being (such as my good self), who uses the revenue raised to provide sensible travel alternatives, including, yes, more road space.

And there's the rub. In the real world, London doesn't have a benevolent competent Ominiscient Being at the controls but a Notorious Car Hating Humbug. So in reality, I'm paying my £8 to travel on roadspace that has diminished since the charge was introduced. Bus and cycle lanes have eaten into car space, roads have been blocked off and paved over, and whole new banks of traffic lights have been installed and permanently set to "delay".

In reality, London motorists are being subjected to a cruel and unusual double punishment. Not only are they having to pay an extra tax, they are getting a worse service at the same time.

Steaming with rage, I finally got home and took a look at the congestion charging accounts. Here's the key table:

What jumps out of course is that of the £254m raised in 2005-06, collection costs amounted to a staggering £143m, or 56%. So that's money that's been ripped out of motorists and isn't going anywhere other than the tax collectors themselves.

And just in case you've forgotten, the tax collectors here are Blairite Capita Plc, whose head resigned in those... er... inauspicious circs just last year (see this blog). Even worse, they're now widely tipped to run those nationwide road pricing schemes about to nuke motorists everywhere. Another 56% collection cost ratio, anyone?

Now, you might think that would be quite enough blood pressure raising for one day. But you'd be wrong. While sat fuming in the traffic, I listened to BBC R5 discussing the latest on those millions of spy Wheelie Bins.

It seems pretty clear that these sinister automatons will soon be activated, primed to administer the new Waste Tax. But judging from the double punishment of London motorists, they'll almost certainly go further than that. The Major reckons they'll administer electric shocks of increasing severity if you try to deposit unapproved rubbish.

Look, I know this is a naive question, but weren't local councils set up to serve their local communities? Do you want to be fined for putting out more rubbish than the Commissars decree? Do you want an electric shock bin chasing you down the street?

Yes, I know, it's not really down to the councils. They're only doing it because they're forced to meet EU directives and the government is bribing them with a couple of mill apiece.

It's just that.... uhhh... gahhh.

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