Friday 26 April 2013

Email to Peter Burkinshaw, UKIP candiate in Cambridge County elections

Dear Mr Burkinshaw

I thought I should just enlighten you a little about tax.  I am a senior tax adviser and have been for three decades, so I should know.

Firstly, there is only one “hypothecated” tax in the UK – that is to say, a tax whose revenues are dedicated to a specific expenditure.  That is the BBC TV Licence Fee.  Not even National Insurance Contributions are actually hypothecated.  Some people imagine that they go to make a “National Insurance Fund”, but that has not been the case for decades.  “Road Tax” was abolished by Winston Churchill in 1937, mainly because he could predict that it would lead motorists to gain a false sense of entitlement to roads which were built before the car was even invented.  (In fact, roads which were good enough to promote the rise of the motor car originate from the lobbying of cycling groups in the late 19th century, as Carlton Reid’s new book “Roads were not built for cars” explains).

All other expenditures are pooled, and are met from a general fund of all taxes.  So, when I pay income tax (and a lot of it too), I pay for roads as well as police, defence, health service, schools etc.  When I pay national insurance contributions I am actually paying another form of tax.  When I pay VAT on goods and services ditto.  Same for insurance premium tax, stamp duty etc.

As a homeowner, I pay council tax.  A chunk of that goes to pay for road building and maintenance.  Then of course there is the Police Authority precept, to pay for the local police force one of whose roles is to patrol our roads and deal with accidents etc as well as speeding and dangerous driving.  And cyclists running red lights, which I admit does – just occasionally – happen.

Oh, and before I forget, I pay motoring taxes, because – like about 85% of all cyclists – I also own and run a car.  Two, actually.  They cost me £405 in vehicle excise duty (a pollution-based tax) this year, plus about £50 in insurance premium tax on the motor policies, and of course fuel duty and the VAT on fuel.

Secondly, motoring taxes do not fully defray the cost of roads.  Motoring organisations would have you believe that motoring taxes massively overreach expenditure on roads.  If you only take account of new road building that is true, but what about maintenance and repair?  What about policing?  Ambulance and fire services attending road accidents?  Hospital costs for road users injured in accidents?  Costs associated with road deaths, including loss of economic capacity?  General health costs directly associated with traffic, such as asthma, bronchitis and conditions exacerbated by pollutants, and indirectly, such as diabetes and heart disease due to lack of exercise?  These “externalities” together with direct road building/maintenance costs add up to about €1500 per person per year, while motoring taxes work out at about €750 per year, according to new European Commission research (which I expect you don’t recognise, because it is European).

I do hope you find this information useful,

Kind regards

My travels on Ebay

I’ve just sold my trusty old Dawes CityVision7 utility bike through Ebay.  It was surplus to requirements, now I have my shiny new Fahrrad Manufaktur s300 “ladies” bicycle to replace it.

I chose the S300 because it was available in a large enough frame size for a taller-than-average (182cm) male, as a step-through frame version, and it is a modern design with a modern Shimano 8 speed transmission – essential on the not-so-gently undulating Surrey Hills.  I am not getting any younger, and while I can swing my leg around the back of a gent’s bike in normal circumstances, I was finding it a bit of a challenge when I had two large shopping baskets hung off the rack.

I have to say though that my experience of Ebay this time was disappointing.  My first foray into bike sales was two Islabikes which my kids had outgrown (my daughter now has a Pashley Penney, but to my shame and grief is much more interested in driving lessons now she has reached the age of 17).  Those, bought for £640 a few years ago and current RRP £740 (the pair), fetched £580 on Ebay!  I then got shot of a child’s 20” mountain bike for £16, and a budget child’s 24” suspension mountain bike for £35.  In both cases I was more than satisfied with the result.

So what happened this time?  A classic utility bike, not vintage, but a modernised version of the classic English Roadster, Shimano Nexus 7 hub with roller brake, mudguards, chainguard, rear rack, front basket.  Whole thing cost, many years ago, £450, equivalent new model £650 (admittedly with hub dynamo and lights which would add a good £100).  It may be 20 years old, but it is in excellent condition, hardly a scratch, little wear and tear, plenty of tread on the tyres etc.

I got £45.99.  Of course I don’t blame the buyer – he made the highest bid, and obviously I will honour it and deliver the bike as soon as the folding stuff is in my hand.  It is just that no-one bid it higher, so he didn’t need to pay any more.

But there is a distinct disconnect between its replacement cost and the realised price, compared with the other bikes I have sold which were much more in the sports/leisure mode rather than utility/transport.  I think that tells you something about the status of utility/transport cycling in this country, don’t you?

I also have a pair of vintage (1988) Bromptons – don’t ask -  which I have decided I am not going to sell, but instead keep as heirlooms for my children, for when they (quite soon) go off to university.  (I have a hankering for my daughter to study at one of those Dutch unis which teach many of their courses in English, like Amsterdam, Leiden, or Utrecht.  Apart from the continental style of multi-module degree courses, the cosmopolitan atmosphere, and the “travel broadens the mind” thing, I can get to sample Dutch cycle infrastructure.  Realistically, I guess it is more likely to be in the UK).  Certainly if I ended up with those reaching £45 on auction, I would cry for a week.

Cyclists to be permitted to jump red traffic lights

If you read this in a Department for Transport consultative document, what would your conclusions be?
"benefits include levelling the playing field between cyclists so that those who obey the law are not penalised. A significant proportion of cyclists currently disobey traffic signals and ride through red lights. DfT statistics on monitored free-flow roads estimate that around 70% of cyclists run red lights,  meaning that those that currently travel above the maximum speed limit have a competitive advantage”.
Would your answer be
a)      This is bullshit, someone is taking the mickey, or
b)      This is an extract from a document advocating the legalisation of cyclists ignoring red traffic signals?
Answer?  It’s (b), except that the real document read (Introducion, para 3) as follows:
"benefits include levelling the playing field between hauliers so that those who obey the law are not penalised. A significant proportion of larger HGVs currently disobey the current speed limit and drive faster than 40 mph on these roads. DfT statistics on monitored free-flow roads estimate that around 70% of HGVs travel over 40 mph, meaning that those that currently travel above the maximum speed limit have a competitive advantage”.
Or, to you and me, most of them are already breaking the law so why don’t we just change the law so they can break it without breaking it, so to speak?

Saturday 20 April 2013

An excursion to Milton Keynes

I took a trip to Milton Keynes during the week – well, in fact, to Horwood House, an hotel/conference facility a few miles to the south-west of MK proper.

As always with such trips, I scouted in advance to see if it would be feasible for me to get there by train and bike.  (In some cases it is, in others frankly it would be too hard, or too suicidal.)  I took a good look at Google Maps, with satellite view and with streetview, to work out and assess a route.  This time I was lucky – 5 ¾ miles most of which was on car-free cycle tracks or quiet lanes.  I then make a comparison with the OrdnanceSurvey “Getamap” tool as this adds an overlay of contours and total climb/descent.   I saved the route and you can see it below (Google).

View Bletchley - Horwood House in a larger map

In fact, as you can see, I opted to take the train to Bletchley and ride from there.  MK was a little further than I needed to go, and I remember it well enough to know that it is pretty confusing to find your way around, and that is in a car, let alone a bicycle.

The route I selected comes out of Bletchley town centre on a B road – shouldn’t be too bad, I thought, for a Borisonian “wits about you” kinda guy like me.  That takes you about 2 miles out of the centre, and about half of that, from the junction with the road to Newton Longville, has a serviceable (not fantastic) off-road cycle track.  Then you turn on to a byway, marked on Google as “51”.  What Google doesn’t tell you is that this is a Restricted Byway (ie it is an offence for motors to use it – so how did Google Streetview get to travel it, as you will see below) and that it is National Cycle Network Route 51.  This takes you almost all the way to Horwood House – just a short stretch of country lane and you are there.

You can get the measure of NCN 51 from the Streetview image below.

View Bletchley - Horwood House in a larger map

Most of the route is hard-packed earth, relatively smooth – my Brompton managed it without too much protest – and when I travelled it, totally dry, although you can see here that this is not always so.  In one or two places the route passes along a proper asphalt lane which connects a handful of houses and farms with the main roads.

Well, things didn’t go entirely according to plan.  When I arrived (by bike) at Euston for the start of my train journey, my heart sank – the entire concourse was packed with people staring at the departure boards.  The boards just showed a long line of “Cancelled” or “Departure Delayed”.  High winds apparently had brought down power lines near Watford Junction. I was beginning to doubt I would get there at all.

Then there was an announcement:  the Virgin service to Liverpool Lime Street was about to depart – nice of them to warn us – and as it was slated to first stop at MK, I decided that the bike route was toast, I should run for this train.  I made it with a minute to spare, and it left substantially empty.

Barely half an hour later I got off the train at MK and thought:  well, what do I do now?  I decided to go for it – no map, nor any real clue where to go – and off I set, only to decide quite quickly that the roads were among the nastiest I have ever experienced in my life.  I returned to the station with my tail between my legs, to get a taxi. 

Had I had enough cash for the trip without finding a cash machine, that would have been that, but I didn’t, so it wasn’t.   I had another try, this time finding a pedestrian/cycle bridge across the rail tracks, on the other side of which what should I see but “ á National Cycle Network – Route 51”.

The cycle paths around this side of MK – west of the railway line so not really MK proper – weren’t too bad.  They wiggled a bit, and they could have been better signposted, but the surfaces were good, and they were around 2.5 metres wide.  They weren’t exactly heavily used, in fact I only saw two other cyclists – a middle aged couple together on e-bikes – on my entire trip.  Plenty of bloggers have commented before on why MK's cycle paths are not well used - they could certainly take a great deal more traffic than they currently get - and I recall that the main reaosn is probably, as in Stevenage, because making cycling attractive was not married up to disincentives to using the car.  MK really is Motown, though not in the musical sense.

Then the signing ran out, and I was lost again.  I fumbled my way in a rough SW direction, briefly flirting with the A421 dual carriageway before terror got the better of me and I turned off it again, to encounter a street sign for “Whaddon Way” – a name I had seen on an information map at MK station as a street which would take me back to more or less the point where I had originally planned to join the byway.  (It runs SW through the "ch" of "Bletchley" on the Google map image above).
Whaddon Way was a residential street with a bus route, and every couple of hundred metres a pinch point – too narrow for more than one vehicle to pass, and with that arrangement of red arrow/white arrow telling you if you, or the other way, has priority.  Somewhat to my surprise, every motorist I encountered, including the bus driver who I continually leapfrogged as he moved from stop to stop, treated me with exaggerated courtesy, allowed me through the gates ahead of them, and left me buckets of room.  Had I teleported into the Netherlands without noticing?

Had I avoided the various false starts and zig-zagging the trip would have been a little over 9 miles, and this would have been about the same had I found signing for NCN 51 to keep me on it all the way, or a decent map of the cycle routes.  As it was, I must have added at least a mile, maybe two, and the trip took me an hour - plus time to shower and change before I started my presentation, which certainly wasn't in the script!

The trip back was much more straightforward.  I followed my original route back to Bletchley, knowing where I was going this time.  5 ¾ miles in about 35 minutes, on a Brompton on a dirt track most of the way, and without working up a sweat.  Result!  (the fact that, unlike the outbound trip, I wasn't riding head-on into a Force 7 probably helped)

What with the ride from the office in Fleet St to Euston, then the ride from Euston to Waterloo on Friday evening on the return journey, I covered probably 21-22 cycle miles “on business” in two days.  I could claim 14p a mile for that – about £3, but the main benefit, apart from the exercise, is the smug feeling it has left me with.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

I blame Margaret Thatcher for...

Today sees the longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century – actually outserved by Tony Blair but that was the 21st century – finally laid to rest.  I understand that there is to be a cremation and her ashes will be scattered in a favourite place so there will be no grave or headstone:  maybe we can truly move out of the long shadow she has cast.

There is no question that Margaret Thatcher was an iconic figure, and her achievements were in many ways remarkable.  First – and so far only – woman to be prime minister of the UK, a character who dominated the politics of her day in a way that hardly anyone before or since has.  Hard, and some would say cruel, to her political colleagues but, by many accounts including some people I knew personally, kind and considerate to her non-political staff. 

In her pre-political life, in many ways her background is similar to my own – coming from a family of small shopkeepers in the north of England, grammar school followed by a second in  Chemistry at Oxford, and then went on to be  a tax lawyer (passing, in her case, via research chemistry at Unilever where she apparently invited soft-whip ice-cream, although I suspect that story may be apocryphal) but I am glad to say the similarity really does end there.

I have never, in my life, had any sympathy for her political philosophy, although my own politics, such as they are, have ranged from soft left to the edges of (but not quite) the “One Nation” Toryism of her predecessors in office.  I blame her for many of the ills of our society today.  No doubt there have been, and will be, any number of biographies and documentaries on her life and work, so I’ll confine myself to a few simple observations.

I blame Margaret Thatcher for the road-building frenzy which we underwent 20 or more years ago and which her acolytes Cameron and Osborne are determined to inflict on us again.  It all started with “Roads to Nowhere Prosperity” a policy which mercifully did founder although not until a handful of the worst schemes such as Twyford Down and the Newbury Bypass were built, and provide the focus for the resistance movement which ultimately brought the plan down.  It seems however that the rust is being scraped off all those creaky old schemes and no doubt we will be compelled to watch some of the worst – Bexhill-Hastings Link for example – built before the resistance rallied around them calls a halt to the rest.

I blame Margaret Thatcher for her singularly crass remark to the effect that any man of a certain age who travelled by bus should count himself a failure.  The stupidity of this remark can be well illustrated by  the cases of individuals known to me personally through my work, senior executives in the City who, while coming from modestly comfortable middle class professional backgrounds, have amassed fortunes measuring eight or even nine digits who – yes – travel daily to work on a London Transport omnibus.  Failures?  Well, that remark has had a long overhang, through to Blair’s notion of a car-owning democracy and “Mondeo Man” and the twisted aspiration, addiction even, we (almost) all have to go everywhere, anytime, anyhow, in a private car.

Most of all I blame Margaret Thatcher for a host of policies and measures with many and widespread consequences but which in particular have done so much to make our roads dangerous no-go areas  for non-motorists.  Her assault on the labour unions (though notice that she never applied the same logic to professional associations such as the Law Society etc), however you feel about their one-time power and how they (mis)used it, did enormous damage to employment rights, especially for unskilled or semi-skilled workers.  Certainly since then we have seen many welcome changes such as action against discrimination on race, sex, age and sexual orientation (though had Thatcher deceased earlier, I am sure she would have been spinning in her grave about the last – she was after all the architect of Section 28) but  in many ways that simply means that all less skilled workers are oppressed equally into a form of quasi-bonded labour.  Combine this with her policies for privatisation and deregulation, and the result, in the transport field, has been a toxic working environment which in my view plays the principal part in many if not most of those incidents involving cyclists and HGVs, pedestrians and buses.

Why?  I don’t want to suggest that drivers of HGVs, courier vans, Addison Lee hire cars, buses etc should be relieved of all responsibility for their negligence or recklessness when this kills or seriously harms a vulnerable road user – far from it.  However, you do have to consider the conditions in which they work – highly pressurised to perform, paid on piece rates, lacking basic employment protections as many are technically “self-employed”, in many cases saddled with much of the risk inherent in slack trade (AdLee drivers “lease”  their cars, and then need to do enough trips to pay off the lease charge before they even start to earn a living for themselves) – creating what you might inaptly call “an accident waiting to happen”.
The obsequies will soon be over.  Margaret Thacther - and your legacy - R.I.P.


Sunday 7 April 2013

Sustainable development?

The image below is an aerial view of the former headquarters of the Syngenta agrochemicals multinational, originally part of ICI, south of Fernhurst, between Haslemere and Midhurst in West Sussex. 

I have marked the location with a pin on the map below.


A housebuilder, Comer Homes, wants to build 245 homes and some commercial property on this site.  Earlier attempts to gain planning permission to build about 400 homes were rejected.  I don’t know how big the site is, but from the scale rule on the image I would have to say that 245 homes sounds pretty tightly packed for open countryside.
And yes, this is open countryside.  It is, quite bluntly, the middle of nowhere.  It is 4½ miles by road to the north to Haslemere for shops, supermarkets and the mainline station to Waterloo.  It is 4 miles to the south to Midhurst, a rather more modest small town with no major supermarket and no railway station.  (Great of you are a polo fan – Cowdray Park is situated here).
A little nearer, there is a gastropub, the Duke of Cumberland, a mile or so to the south in the hamlet of Henley along a single track road, no motor vehicles except for access.  A mile or so to the north in Fernhurst, another pub, a primary school and an office supplies retailer.  Just outside the site itself, the Kings Arms, a Marco Pierre White restaurant.
A keen cyclist might scoff at the distances to shops and station.  4 miles?  Pah!  Easy-peasy!  4 miles of sheer terror on fast country A road with lots of bends and brows and – natch – not a footway to be seen most of the way.  Of course, you know better than to waste your breath asking whether there is any cycle infrastructure. Save it to cool your porridge, as my mum would have said. Some quite stiff climbs too.
I’m sure you get the message – to function here will unquestionably require a car, actually probably two per household if spouse at home is not to be totally isolated.  (Comment has been passed that the development will provide too few parking spaces, unfortunately probably a fair comment in this particular case).  This won’t greatly affect congestion or pollution in the immediate area, but it will add greatly to the congestion and parking capacity problems in Haslemere, around the station.  Of course, the principal attraction of this site, and of another even bigger site  a mile or so to the south at the old King Edward VII isolation hospital (how apposite!) as housing developments, is that rail connection.  It is a matter which greatly exercises the good burghers of Haslemere and, while I don’t share the views of some residents about what to do about this, I think we are all agreed that “something must be done”.
The local paper, the Haslemere Herald, carried a front-page article on the development this week, reflecting these concerns, and some adverse comment about the developer’s alleged attempt to sneak the project in under the radar of public notice.  (The Herald provided a link to Savills website where you can download a comment form, if you are so inclined, so that little trick perhaps didn’t work.) 
The housebuilder was asked for comment, and honestly, all you can say about their response is that you couldn’t make it up.
Is this site, already developed and so technically “brownfield”, really exactly the type of site the government wants developed?  Is a high-density housing estate which will be totally car-dependent really what the government has in mind as “sustainable development”?

Saturday 6 April 2013

A trip to the supermarket

This is my route to  “Hyper-U”, a typical French monster-market which sells everything from fresh (still alive) crabs to bicycles and ride-on lawnmowers via swimming-pool chemicals.  At circa 11km it is a shade outside the  sort of range envisaged by most cycle-friendly transport planners and theorists, but it is doable in about 35-40 minutes each way which is not really so much longer than the drive.  Which I confess is easy to give way to, especially this week, which has been fine and sunny here, but effing cold.  And of course most daily needs can be met in the village boulangerie, the "Huit à Huit" (Seven Eleven to you) with fresh fish sold direct from the "factory" gate of the Conchiliculteurs (mussel and oyster farmers) in the nearby Zone Artisanale.

View St Jacut - Plancoet in a larger map

Why so long?  Basically, because I follow the “Route Verte” which takes me as far as Crehen.  This is a combination of quiet road and off-road track but the off-road bits are unpaved and quite slow going on a roadster.

This is fairly typical of rural cycle provision in France.  This area is peppered with Routes Vertes which mainly attract visitors.  It is, frankly, better than most of what I see in the UK but it leaves a lot to be desired both in terms of quality and of addressing a need which is not purely recreational.

One aspect of a Route Verte - a quiet lane where motorists
are asked to share nicely.  Note the little green bike arrow.


Leaving the Route Partagé, an off-road path - firm and level,
not prone to mud in winter, but stony
Getting a bit more like an MTB trail here - still manageable on
my roadster, but slow going if you don't want a bruised bum!
Slightly better here, on the "Allee O'Murphy" - some Celtic
solidarity.  Note the no motors sign, "sauf riverains" (except residents)
Another Celtic connection.  This one-way street is not formally
a contraflow for bikes - but in true Gallic style no-one observes
the restriction.
Crehen, a typical Breton village - a church, a war memorial and a bar!
Cyclists on rural roads are not such a rare sight in France as they are in the UK.  By that I don’t mean simply sports cyclists – although in this land of the TdF it is also true that adult males puffing away on road bikes dressed in canary yellow Spandex, often in quite sizeable pelotons, is a routine sight and is simply accepted as part of the landscape.  You also see more people just riding a bike to go somewhere, like work, the cafe/bar, school, the boulangerie.
The French seem to have a healthier attitude to the car than the Brits.  It is not quite such a symbol of member-size what car you drive, or whether you change it every three years.  Cars seem to be kept longer – and certainly they retain their second hand value much better – and tend to be smaller on average.  It is far, far more common to see people on scooters and mopeds, especially the young and the late middle-aged.  This is even true in northern France where you can’t say the weather is much better than in the UK.
French drivers also seem to be more careful generally around cyclists, perhaps because they see so many more of them, perhaps because more of them are, or are related to, keen cyclists themselves.   Perhaps, even, because France has a Strict Liability rule for civil claims against motorists and a fairly unforgiving criminal justice system where dangerous driving is concerned. 
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they can’t be every bit as aggressive, in a small proportion of cases, as British drivers, indeed I think they can be worse.  Certainly France has overall quite a lot worse road crash record than the UK, even if they are less likely to involve cyclists or pedestrians.  In fact things have got so bad with speeding and drink driving that, despite the same sort of howls of protest that you would get in the UK, Nicolas Sarkozy no less (which shows this is not a political issue in France) moved to disguise most speed cameras so motorists couldn’t slam on the anchors the minute they saw warning signs or bright yellow splashes.  He also introduced an obligation for all motorists to carry a breathalyser of approved design in their car at all times.
And finally, of course, the sort of segregated provision common in Dutch or Danish cities, and hopefully soon in London, is a rarity in France outside a handful of big cities like Strasbourg and Nice.  I don’t know whether there is an “Ambassade cycliste de France”, but they could do with one!

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Is there any such thing these days as a "gents'" or "ladies'" bicycle?

Over in France for Easter, I have perforce had to revert to riding a “gents’ bike” – that is to say, one with a diamond frame instead of a step-thru.  Having recently traded in my Dawes CityVision7 gents bike at home for a Fahhrad Manufaktur “ladies’” bike with a  step-thru frame, because I could no longer swing my leg over the top tube when I had two large baskets hanging off the rear rack, here in Brittany  I’m having to cope again because this is what I have here.

Most of the time, it is not so hard – if the baskets aren't there to get in the way, you can swing your leg around from behind in a wide arc around the rear wheel, there is no need to lift it up over the top tube, but I am going to have problems when I next visit my local Hyper-U for shopping.

Either that, or I could dust off the load trailer I haven’t used for some years.  It’s a neat piece of kit, attaching to a special fixture which you bolt to the rear forks of the bike.  The trailer folds flat for storage  and can take a decent load.  There was an exchange of tweets about these last week, highlighting the fact that you can buy them new from some of the retailers on Ebay for about £60, or perhaps a little more via Amazon.   My only concern is that part of the route to Hyper-U from here is quite bumpy, and I wonder how my groceries will fare.
My British Eagle "Cambridge", in trailer mode

We bought two of these British Eagle “Cambridge” bikes, a gents’ and a ladies’, several years ago in a  clearance sale.  They are essentially modern renditions of the classic English Roadster – mudguards, chainguard, hub gears etc – but with an aluminium frame and a Shimano Nexus 7 speed hub.  They have served us well and are very versatile.  But, the so-called ladies’ version, like most bicycles in fact, only came in smaller frame sizes which were unsuitable for my 182cm of height.  
Certainly in the UK it is difficult to get step-thru versions in large enough frame sizes to accommodate taller men.  The Fahhrad Manufaktur s300 comes in three sizes up to 55cm, which was just large enough for me to have the seat adjusted low enough to benefit from the upright riding position I was seeking, but many of the models I have seen available in the UK stop at around 50 or 52.  Pashley ladies’ models come in up to 22.5” (57cm) but these are at the higher end of the price range and most of the less expensive makes only get to about 20” – the Raleigh Superbe and Real Classic models sold at Halfords, for example.

Why is it that we label step-thru frames as for the ladies?  Do the Dutch or the Danes have the same hang-ups about this?  I know that there are many excellent German and Dutch brands of utility bicycle, with more modern styling and components like a 7 or 8 speed hub, now available through specialists in the UK, but should you have to hunt them out this way?

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Le "cout externe" de l'automobile

Over in France for Easter, reading the print edition of “Ouest France”, I came across this: 

Les coûts cachés de l’automobile

“Les automobilistes sont-ils “les vaches à lait” de notre société?, interrogent trios chercheurs en “écologie des transports” de l’université allemande de Dresde.

I haven’t been able to find any reference to this story in the on-line editions of UK papers, but then I couldn’t find it on Ouest-France’s site either.  It is of course written in French, and what’s more in French journalese which has a tendency to be a bit overblown, so I may not have caught all the nuances, but in summary, the European Parliament commissioned Professor Udo Becker and his team at Dresden University to establish the “external costs” of the automobile, which is to say cost generated by use of the car but which are not paid for by the motorist.  Their research came up with a figure for the entire EU of €373 billion per annum, or 3% of GDP, or €750 per person pa, whether or not they are a motorist, or €1,600 per automobile pa.

It is not clear to me whether this represents costs other than the direct costs of roads - construction, maintenance and repair, signage and policing – or the excess overall cost above what motorists pay in taxes and tolls etc.  I think the former, given the description of external costs given in the article – road traffic casualties, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution.  It is also not necessarily a guide to the UK situation as it is a Europe-wide average.  The UK has one of the better records on road traffic casualties – taken overall, although not necessarily for cyclists and pedestrians – but then the cost of a casualty in the UK is probably somewhat higher than in, say, Estonia where the road safety record is substantially worse.

However you look at it though, it is clear that motorists in the UK do not pay anything like the full cost of their habit.  A typical modern family car is driven somewhere around 10-12,000 miles a year, and with modern fuel economy producing around 10 miles per litre, that translates into perhaps 1,200-1,300 litres of petrol or diesel per annum.  With fuel duty at 58p/litre, and VAT being 20/120ths of the current pump price of around £1.40, duty and tax make up 81p per litre, or in all about £1,000 pa.  Add a typical VED of around £150, and you are still below the external costs of motoring.  You haven’t even begun to pay for the construction, repairt maintenance, signage and policing of roads.

If the motorist is a bovine, I think it more likely a bull than a cow.