Case Studies - Motoring

I will write a brief study of motoring (in the UK). I may extend this later into a wider study of transport policy.

The UK is close to gridlock - I have done a quick estimated calculation of roads available if all vehicles were driven on the roads at once - see below.

Clash Of Discourses.

There are two main discourses operating around motoring.

Economics - The Law of Supply and Demand. This states that as demand rises, the price of a commodity will rise to a level where the supply equals the demand. This is thought of as one of the key (and inflexible) laws of modern economics, and it governs the supply of all commodities and their exchange, and it is unchallenged since the fall of Communism, where state planned production targets replaced supply and demand

Generally it is a large-scale phenomenom, a government discourse. They can see the overview and operate the law, while the general public can mostly ignore it - each person can make their own decisions as they see fit in their own circumstances, while the Government balances "the big picture".

Related to motoring, it operates in 2 ways in the UK

  1. Fuel Taxes - fuel is taxed quite heavily - more than 70% of the price at the pump is tax. This is a Governement measure to firstly pay for roads and their associated hospital costs, and secondly to try and decrease the number of cars on the road by pricing some drivers off the road
  2. Congestion Charges - London has introduced a charge (currently £8 / day) on all vehicles entering the central zone. This has lead to a 10% decrease in traffic in that zone, and traffic moves much more freely now.

The law of supply and demand also applies to the space available on the road, however, the room on the road is finite and limited, while the number of cars is continually increasing. If every car were driven onto the roads simultaneously, there would be gridlock in London, all other major cities, and many towns.

The law of supply and demand applies to both fule and space on the roads. The Government mediates the market for this.

Liberalism - Personal Freedom. We also have a philospophy of personal freedom - we have a right to do whatever we want to as long as it does not harm others. Many people apply this to their motoring - they have a right to go wherever they want, and drive at whatever speed they want.

This conflicts with the Government mediation of fuel, prices, roads, speeds, etc

Obviously, as this is a democracy, the politicians could be voted out of power if they upset any powerful interest group (such as the motorists) and cause them too much difficulty. The Government must mediate between these personal freedoms and the 'public interests' which may conflict with this, such as road safety, taxation, imports, the environment.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, cars are often advertised to appeal to personal freedom (!).


Vehicles. The UK has 25.34 million cars (2001) and
522,000 public transport and freight vehicles (2003)

If all vehicles were driven on the roads at the same time, say if 90% of these are on major roads, with 10% on country roads and urban side streets

Then there are 23.27 million vehicles on the main roads


Motor Cars Registered in UK

All vehicels registerd by class, 2003

Lengths of roads in the UK

Vehicle traffic by road length

I have calculated the available carriageway on the main motorway, A and B roads in the box to the right, making assumptions about the number of carriageways on each type of road (from personal experience)

Result. 232,247 kilometers of carriageway, shared between 23.27 million vehicles, give almost exactly 100 vehicles per kilometer of major road, or, 10 metres of main road per vehicle


length (km)
av. lanes
total (km)

rural A road
urban A road
rural B road
urban B road







232,247 km

Please contact me at if you are interested in the above

(0044)(0) 1372-749803

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