February 18 2008.

Barely three weeks ago, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee claimed in a well-publicised report that nearly 40 per cent of motorcyclists were evading the payment of vehicle excise duty (VED).

Today, in a remarkable and embarrassing turnaround, the latest Department for Transport (DfT) report on VED in 2007 estimates that a more believable 6.5 per cent of motorcyclists evade VED.

David Taylor, chief executive of the Motor Cycle Industry Association (MCIA) said "The motorcycle industry has said for years that the methods of calculating VED evasion were deeply flawed, but we have been consistently ignored. In fact, we still say that the methodology is wrong. Although the latest figures are more believable, it's only the way data is collected that's changed.

"The DfT should be embarrassed and should apologise to the vast majority of powered two wheeler (PTW) riders who clearly do pay VED."

In recent years the DfT has claimed that anything up to half of all PTW users are evading road tax. Now PTW users have been largely vindicated by the release of findings from the latest 2007 DfT survey.

The results, based on detailed photographic (ANPR) analysis of the vehicles surveyed rather than the previous reliance on the jottings of people sat at the roadside, shows that only 6.5 per cent of PTWs seen on the road did not appear on the DVLA's record of taxed vehicles. The increased use of ANPR reveals that the number of motorcycles evading payment could be just one-third of the figure previously claimed by DfT whilst the revenue lost from non-payment has been just one-fifth of the amount DVLA have consequently been trying to chase.

An independent report commissioned by DfT in 2007 identified several problems with the estimate of evasion among PTWs, but the investigation was discontinued by DfT before concerns could be addressed. Whilst the 2007 figures more accurately reflect the level of VED evasion than previous surveys, there are still a number of flaws that are probably leading DfT to continue to over-state the true size of the problem. Consequently, DfT inflate the number of evaders seen in 2007 to claim that 9.8 per cent of PTWs in use did not have current VED paid. The basis of this guesstimate has never been scrutinised to see if it accurately reflects the behaviour of PTW users. Until 2004 DfT themselves published reports stating they did not consider it was safe to apply this logic to PTWs.

The MCIA and other motorcycle organisations have challenged the DfT figures for many years, yet both the National Audit Office and House of Commons Public Accounts Committee have recently accepted the results without giving adequate consideration to their accuracy and validity, finding it all too easy to publicly criticise PTW users as being likely to evade VED payment. As well as unfairly maligning PTW users, the pressure on DVLA to tackle a far higher level of evasion than actually exists means that large amounts of public money have been spent chasing revenue that was never being lost.

David Taylor added: "There will always be a small minority of PTW users evading road tax and, as with the far higher number of car tax evaders, this should not be tolerated by those who do pay. The latest findings should end suggestions that all motorcycles should be electronically tagged and we call on the DfT to refine its survey methods even further and put an end to the continuing overstatement of VED evasion among motorcyclists.