Sir Rod Eddington’s road pricing plans fall way short on Libertarian vision

The former British Airways supremo, Sir Rod Eddington, has been exploring future options for the UK’s transport network.

However, while pointing out that road pricing might benefit the economy by £28 billion a year and lead to a more rational usage of road space (not to mention the welcome abandonment of fuel duty and the car tax disc) his report falls way short when it comes to libertarian vision.  For no where does it highlight the benefits of private road ownership. No where does it recommend a supply side liberalisation on road building and the abandomement of various planning laws – including compulsory purchase orders. No where does it talk about allowing private law enforcement in public space or the need for complete privacy when in the future people pay their tolls and charges.  Commissioned by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, Sir Rod’s report instead talks in the usual bland and deeply corporatist language of politicised business-speak. Road pricing is purely couched in terms of cutting traffic, encouraging trains and buses and being generally good for the government. 

For a real vision for roads and our transport network forget Sir Rod and go to this excellent paper by Brian Micklethwait – The Private Ownership of Public Space: The New Age of Rationally Priced Road Use.

2 responses to “Sir Rod Eddington’s road pricing plans fall way short on Libertarian vision

  1. There is a problem with Brain Micklethwait’s paper however. He assumes that all roads are publicly owned, which is not strictly speaking the case. I have always understood that in the case of roads and streets with buildings or private land adjacent to them – ie not motorways or ‘modern’ roads built using compulsory powers – the road surface is publicly owned, the various utilities have rights to dig them up etc, but the subsurface is owned by the frontage owners. If that is true then the only way in which streets could be privatised would be either to steal them from the owners first, or give them to the frontage owners.

    Of course stealing isn’t out of the question – that is after all what happened with the enclosures and much more recently with the TSB where ownership was said to be unclear. (

    Does anyone have a definitive answer to this question?

  2. According to this site:

    Who owns the roads when highway rights are extinguished? Clearly it is unlikely that anyone could show title to the land which has been highway for longer than records exist. The legal assumption therefore is that in the absence of an owner, adjacent landowners can claim up to half the width of the highway. However if any land forming part of the highway has been acquired by the highway authority, both that and the half width of the original highway revert to the unencumbered freehold of the authority. In the case of former turnpikes, it is arguable that as they were vested in the County Council by the act of 1888, that the County Council owns the freehold of the road.