It seems that we’re getting used to reporting on councils looking to motorists to bridge the gap in their funding, but a new scheme, the first of its kind in the UK, is looking to pay motorists up to £3,000 to stop driving their cars.

A £20 million Department for Transport award for ‘future mobility’ schemes has allowed the West Midlands Combined Authority to be the first to introduce the radical concept; an incentive to give up the car, rather than punitive stealth taxation to force us off the road.

It’s set to launch in Coventry later this year, but if successful, it will be rolled out to other parts of the West Midlands, and then nationwide.

Future mobility scheme

Full details for the scheme haven’t yet been released, but it’s thought that Coventry City Council will pay ‘cash credit’ on to a Swift card, or smartphone app, which the participant can then use to pay for public transport, in the form of buses, electric vehicles or bike-share.

There will be an element of surrendering the car for a period of time (of which hasn’t yet been published), and the idea behind the scheme is to “stimulate a long-term sustainable shift in travel behaviour”, in a bid to reduce pollution and congestion, although some environmental groups doubt that it will have an influence on air quality.

Around 100 people will take part in the scheme initially, and although the pilot stages will be tax-payer funded, it’s thought that if the scheme’s successful, funding will come from private companies, including bus and train operators, and perhaps electric-car clubs.

The pitfalls

Of course, the scheme won’t work for everyone; it’s easy to find problems with it – the foremost being that public transport doesn’t work for the majority of drivers or commuters unless you’re in the heart of a city, but that would be missing the point.

Putting aside issues such as the length of time that you’ll need to surrender your car for, whether the vehicle will be removed from your possession, or how it will be stored if it is, we need to look at the bigger picture. This is the first scheme of its type where the motorist has been considered, where incentivisation has been used rather than underhand ‘green’ taxes.

John Seddon, head of transport & innovation at Coventry City Council views it as an update to the scrappage schemes that have been used in the past, but “rather than trading in an older car for a newer one, it is trading in the car for the ability to use other modes of transport”.

It should also be noted that it won’t cost you money (as it would to purchase a newer car), nor are you selling/scrapping or giving up your car permanently – you’ll still have an asset at the end of the period. Effectively what you’re getting is free public transport at the cost of giving up your car for some time.

Congestion & charging

Last year, congestion cost the British economy £7.9 billion, and there’s no doubting that it’s getting worse. When adjusted for population, London is the sixth most congested city in the world, on average, British motorists spend 178 hours per year in gridlocked traffic (227 hours in London).

There’s no denying that measures need to be put in place to ease the flow of traffic, and up until now, the responsibility (and therefore the costs) have been directed toward the individual motorist. The argument is that we should leave the cars at home, and use expensive & unreliable public transport – all while paying to park our cars at home.

If successful, the ‘paid to stop driving’ scheme is a complete about-turn in respect of giving up the car, it’s almost like we’re being asked nicely to stop, rather than being told that we will stop, and that’s a marked change in strategy from the government and local authorities and a much-needed one.

Of course, some details need to be clarified – does surrendering the car mean 24/7 car-free? Or just commuting into the city? Will the car remain in our care? What would happen in an emergency?

It’s been said that some anti-car campaigners may not like the idea of actually paying motorists not to use their car. Surely, if they’re as committed to being as green as they say, that’s a small price to pay for helping to reduce pollution, re-educate motorists and bring about a step-change in the reliance of individual transportation?

What do you think to the scheme? Can it work? Is it something that you’d consider? Or have we missed an angle of stealth revenue generation? Let us know in the comments.
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