Yesterday, there seemed to be a little irony in the Observer. I have just been reading the magazine, which has sustainability as its main theme, and makes for very interesting reading. Ignore those hoary tabloid and Clarkson myths about how sustainability=hairshirt; more like better quality if life if done right. Small simple steps can also make the neighbourhood dynamic, good looking and resilient to economic and energy shocks.
Now onto the cost of driving bit. The Observer was not explicity calling for fuel duty to be lowered like the Mirror and others, but it did seem to be sympathetic to motorists. The thing is, people who can drive can choose to or not, whereas those who cannot can suffer due to isolation, congestion, pollution and unsafe conditions in certain localities. Why should they suffer to make it easier to congest and pollute? The answer to high cost of driving is to ensure that susbtantial sums be invested in walking, cycling and public transport facilities, and perhaps gently encourage behaviour change like combining trips, driving fewer miles as not all car trips are necessary (can you get groceries and other goods delivered, or walk, cycle or PT it to shops, or grow your own?).
That is where TEQs, better electric vehicle technology and higher efficiency standards would come in. We are now in peak oil, so cutting fuel duty would be nonsense as people would not have the incentive to be more efficient and consume less oil. Also, would it not be good to not have to give you kids or other family members lifts all the time, thus hitting your wallet, your time and environment?
Steven Glaister is also mistaken in saying it is bad if revenue from fuel tax falls because it is set too high. If it does, it means that people are driving less and/or using more efficient vehicles. There would be fewer costs due to congestion, illness, accidents and social exclusion. Streets would be safer for non-motorised travel and public transport more punctual and cheaper to operate. Energy costs could fall with demand, climate improved...
I believe TEQs are better than carbon taxes, but as a quick measure, they are a good second best at east on road fuels, and if poor persons are given rebates and better PT. So let's have an increase in fuel duty in April but invest it wisely in future proofing.