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Taxpayers are subsidising lorries on Britain’s roads, new research shows

1 May 2008
Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) on Britain’s roads are not paying anywhere near the full cost of the damage they cause to roads and communities, leaving taxpayers to pick up the bill, research published today by Campaign for Better Transport shows [1]. 

Campaign for Better Transport is calling on the Government to stop giving lorries a free ride. The group’s executive director, Stephen Joseph, says: 

“This research shows that lorries are paying for only between a third and two-thirds of the damage they inflict on society in terms of congestion, road damage, environmental pollution and impact on other road users, leaving taxpayers to pick up the rest of the bill. The Government must ensure that HGVs pay for the costs they impose on society and introduce lorry road user charging.”

The research used Government parameters for calculating income (using the Government’s Sensitive Lorry Miles method, and including fuel duty and vehicle excise duty) and used the cost figures from several studies into the environmental and social costs of HGVs, which include congestion, road casualties, noise, pollution and visual intrusion. The report notes, however, that some lorry impacts such as damage to underground gas and water mains are excluded from these costs.

The research shows that:  


  • Different studies have produced different estimates for how far heavy lorries cover their costs. On one estimate, HGVs in the UK meet only 36% of their costs – a shortfall of £6.7 billion (2006 prices) 
  • HGVs could be said to cover 41% of their costs if VAT on the fuel duty is counted as income - a £6.1 billion annual shortfall
  • Taking the lowest HGV costs and greatest income, calculations from various studies show that at best HGVs cover 61% of their costs -  a shortfall of up to £3.35 billion a year
  • Only by excluding congestion costs altogether can HGVs be said to just about meet their costs overall, and even then that is only on motorways
  • Some lorries are 171,000 times more damaging to roads than cars, according to the methods traditionally used by road engineers to calculate road damage
  • Lorry road user charging could help reduce this funding injustice. Charges on all HGVs over 3.5 tonnes of 10-23p a kilometre, in addition to current fuel duty and tax, would cover the full HGV costs, with the most damaging HGVs paying most. The charge could be applied to foreign as well as UK lorries, thus levelling the playing field for UK hauliers. To ensure efficient use of road space, a user charge should be related to vehicle size, weight, axle loads and engine standard, and to type of road and time of day. For example, it should be significantly higher off motorways for the heaviest vehicles, and much lower for lighter vehicles on motorways

Notes to editors

The research, Heavy Lorries: do they pay for the damage they cause? was produced by MTRU and peer-reviewed by Dr Tony Whiteing, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds. The research is being published by Campaign for Better Transport.