Plan has been panned by the RAC, which says the move will damage the economy.
The government needs to increase fuel duty at the next Budget, according to a report from a sustainable travel campaign group.
Greener Journeys’ 18-page paper says the current freeze on fuel duty, which has been in place for seven years, means pump prices are 13 percent lower than they otherwise would be. While the group admits that this has ‘undoubtedly been of benefit’ to many motorists, it has also caused ‘unintended consequences’ in terms of pollution and government revenue.
According to the report, traffic has grown by four percent since the freeze began in 2011, producing an additional 4.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and 12,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxide emissions. The freeze has also cost the government around £7 billion in lost tax revenue, as well as reducing public transport use and therefore cutting rail revenue.
As a result, the report recommends ending the freeze and increasing fuel duty ‘at least’ in line with inflation. This, Greener Journeys says, would increase use of public transport, reduce congestion and cut emissions.
Claire Haigh, the chief executive of Greener Journeys, said: ‘The price of fuel is one of the most politically divisive issues in the country. However, we know that diesel cars and vans are the biggest contributors to harmful NOx emissions, which are creating a public health emergency in the UK.
‘If ever there was a moment for government to be honest with the public and show leadership it’s now. We urgently need a shift from car to bus and other forms of sustainable transport if we are to tackle the UK’s air pollution crisis and reduce congestion on our roads.’
However, the report has drawn criticism from motoring groups, having been published as the price of oil hits a three-and-a-half-year high.
RAC spokesman Nicholas Lyes said the government should be working to reduce fuel prices and protect the economy, rather than increasing tax.
‘Millions of motorists and businesses are going to baulk at the idea of fuel duty rising in the autumn,’ he said. ‘Petrol and diesel prices are currently at a three-and-a-half year high, and there is the prospect of them reaching record levels if the oil price continues to climb. In this scenario, we should be talking about the Government acting to help bring prices back into check by lowering fuel duty to protect the economy – not putting up tax on fuel.
‘The ultimate question is whether deliberately raising prices still further would actually stop people driving or simply make people poorer. The fact of the matter is that outside the capital and other major UK cities, provision for public transport continues to be exceptionally patchy. This means many people have no realistic alternative to using a car for getting to their places of work, to the shops or elsewhere.’