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England’s Private Road Rakes in the Money

  • I Heart Toll Collectors

A couple of months ago I wrote about Mike Watts, the businessman who built a private toll road to replace a public road destroyed by a landslide. Because local government couldn’t fix the damaged road for almost a year, drivers were obliged to take an extremely inefficient detour, greatly increasing commute times and other transportation costs. In response, Watts and his wife stepped in and risked their life savings to open a toll road alongside the closed public one.

The big question when it opened was whether Watts would be able to recover his expenses, and so far the answer seems to be, yes. Watts just served his 100,000th customer, earning him £200,000 in the process. His total expenses for the project will be about £250,000, so he’s well on his way to breaking even before the public road is scheduled to reopen some time in December. Naturally, Watts is having trouble with local government, which hates to look bad when entrepreneurial initiative accomplishes what it can’t, and at a fraction of the cost.

He’s had to retroactively apply for a planning permit for the road that has already cost £25,000 in surveyor’s fees and ecological assessments. The local council has even spent an additional £660,000 to speed up repairs to the old road, which will now cost £2.66 million to get running again. This kind of desperation only goes to show how threatening it is for public officials when entrepreneurs provide services usually protected by monopoly.


Matthew McCaffrey

Matt McCaffrey, former Mises Research Fellow, is assistant professor of enterprise at the University of Manchester.