Last night in Dáil Éireann I voted against the increase in the carbon tax because it fails to differentiate between those who who can avoid the tax and those who have no choice but to pay it.
Carbon taxes are about driving change to a more sustainable country which is less dependent on imported fossil fuels; it is not supposed to be about increasing government income. It’s about getting people out of cars and onto buses & trains.
I strongly believe that those living in rural Ireland, which is 37% of our population, do not have the alternatives available to them – particularly in relation to public transport – to avoid paying this tax.
But it’s not just that. This tax is also regressive in that those living in rural communities will pay far more carbon tax than those living in urban areas, yet it is the people living in our cities who have the jobs locally and alternative transport solutions available to them.
A working family living in a rural area and commuting to work could be facing a €6/week increase in tax while those living in our cities could be looking at as low as a 30cent/week increase in their taxes.
This is despite the fact that a city-based couple has government subsidised transport services available to them, an option not available to those living in rural areas, and a 30cent/week tax increase will not push them out of their car and onto that public transport.
A congestion charge designed around motor tax would be a far more effective tool in moving those who can, from their cars and onto public transport.
The alternative that I have proposed to the Government is to use the current review of the National Car Test operator to revise the testing regime and provide an actual emissions profile for each individual vehicle. This would treat those in rural areas, driving longer distances more fairly as these vehicles would have a lower emissions profile than a vehicle used on congested city streets.
Such a measure would encourage the retrofitting of diesel vehicles, including to alternative fuels, and support the conversion of the fleet over time to petrol hybrids and electric vehicles as motorists would see a direct benefit in their rate of motor tax, based on the actual emission profile of the vehicle. On the other hand it would not disproportionately hit the haulage and agricultural sectors that are so reliant on diesel as a fuel.
This could act as a very effective congestion charge, as those vehicles driving on congested streets or during times of heavy traffic would have a higher emissions profile.
The approach has the added advantage of encouraging a voluntary transition over a short period, while ensuring that those who acted on Government policy in the past of purchasing a diesel car are now not seen to be penalised.
Environmental taxes must be fair and proportionate to be accepted and most importantly must be designed to drive the change needed in Ireland not simply copying and pasting European solutions to solve unique Irish challenges.
Having said that I believe that Budget 2020 can provide new opportunities for remote working not just in terms of plans to look at facilitating civil servants to work from regional offices rather than having to commute daily to Dublin but also the commitment and funding to develop 300 rural broadband hubs across Ireland next year. This will provide opportunities for people commuting from rural areas to work locally rather than drive long distances on a daily basis, just to sit at a desk in front of a computer.
This will be a practical measure to reduce carbon emissions as well as improving the quality of life for many families caught in traffic congestion today.