Blog Post

What people think of ‘pay as you drive’ taxes

Josh Cottell explores the evidence from a new report on what people think about road user charging schemes.

How should we be taxed for driving on roads? The alternatives have surprisingly far-reaching consequences not only for climate change but for financial fairness.

More than one in four tonnes of carbon emitted by human activity across London is due to transport. During the pandemic, when use of public transport plummeted, people continued to drive more or less as before, and high, health-damaging levels of air pollution continued.

Some drivers are switching to electric vehicles (EVs), which are better for the environment. But while drivers of cars with conventional engines are required to pay tax such as fuel duty and Vehicle Excise Duty, drivers of EVs are not.

This raises questions of how we will fund road maintenance and who should pay for it.

What is road user charging?

One solution to these challenges is to introduce a tax for using the road, sometimes called ‘road user charging’ or ‘pay-as-you-drive’.

This could apply to those driving EVs to replace tax revenues otherwise lost, or it could be expanded to all road users, with options to charge less to drivers of less polluting cars, or those driving in areas with fewer alternatives to driving.

In 2019 Centre for London published a report proposing such a tax, and earlier this year the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced plans for Transport for London to explore one. It would replace existing charges such as the Congestion Charge and ULEZ (Ultra-Low Emissions Zone), resulting in a simpler and fairer system for drivers in London.

What do people think about road user charging?

A new report from the Campaign for Better Transport asked people in the UK what they think about pay-as-you-drive.

The research found that most people (60 per cent) think there is a need to change the way we tax vehicles.

Two fifths of people (41 per cent) support replacing existing taxes with pay-as-you-drive, while one fifth (21 per cent) oppose doing so: a sizeable chunk of people either don’t have a preference or aren’t sure.

Once the researchers presented some arguments for and against the policy, overall support rose to 49 per cent, with opposition falling slightly to 18 per cent.

When asked about individual arguments for introducing pay-as-you-drive, the ones that people tended to find most convincing were those related to the fairness of the tax.

Two thirds agreed that electric vehicle drivers should pay tax like other drivers, and a similar proportion were convinced by pay-as-you-drive if it meant that those who drive less would pay less tax.

Tracking and implementing a road user charging scheme

The report’s authors suggest that a national pay-as-you-drive policy could start simple and become more complex. At first it might apply only to electric vehicles to replace lost tax revenue before expanding to all vehicles and charging more to vehicles which pollute more.

Additional pricing elements, such as for where people drive and the time of day that they do so, could be added but if we could track vehicles.

Would people support this? Doing so in some ways – such as via roadside cameras – is unpopular. Other methods, such as an in-vehicle GPS are about as popular as not tracking at all. Being able to opt out of vehicle tracking would make some people more supportive of the policy.


This report demonstrates support for pay-as-you-drive to tackle air pollution and raise tax revenue and investigates how this changes for a variety of competing versions of the policy.

For pay-as-you-drive to succeed in London and elsewhere, policymakers will need to build on this valuable research to further tease out how people want it to work and get the recipe right.

Read the full report from the Campaign for Better Transport and the full Centre for London report from 2019.