Nearly three years on from when it announced that motorway tolls were going to be introduced, the UK government has announced the eight consortia that will test free-flow, multi-lane road tolling technology. Although actual implementation is years away, the government appears keen for the UK to be the first to introduce such a system nationwide. […]
Nearly three years on from when it announced that motorway tolls were going to be introduced, the UK government has announced the eight consortia that will test free-flow, multi-lane road tolling technology. Although actual implementation is years away, the government appears keen for the UK to be the first to introduce such a system nationwide. The consortia are ANT-Bosch, whose members are Robert Bosch Ltd, Brown & Root Civil, Centre-File, Electronic Data Systems Ltd, the UK Post Office, Mondex and British Telecommunications Plc’s integration wing Syntegra – which has a system installed in Germany; Autolink, which is Minnesota Manufacturing & Mining Co, AT/Comm Inc, MVA Systematica and Syntegra – it’s technology is used in Illinois, Brisbane, Japan, Maine; Easytoll, comprising Centre-FIle, Green Flag Ltd, Mannesmann AG and Ram Mobile Data Ltd; Europassage, with Texas Instruments Inc, MFS Network Technologies, Gesellschaft fur Zahlungssysteme, Computer Recognition Systems; GEC-Marconi Ltd, which has broought on board Lockheed IMS and Syntegra, and has systems working in in Italy, Singapore and Germany; Siemens Traffic Controls, Siemens Group, Lockheed IMS and UK company Golden River Traffic; Tollstar, lead by Peek Plc with Swedish firm Combitech Traffic Systems AB, Racal Messenger Ltd, Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick & Partners and the University of Newcastle upon Tyne; Tollway, made up of Amtech World Corp, Golden River Traffic, and UK companies Serco Systems and W S Atkins.
Between them it’s been estimated that they will spend around ú20m testing the technology, with no promise that the government will even introduce road tolls. This will take primary legislation and knotty problems like who will pay for the hardware on the road and in the cars, the installation of the network, and who will enforce it and how, have yet to be debated. It’s likely that the companies that get the final contract will be expected to pay for much of the installation, costs they would recoup through the scheme. Or the government may treat it like radio frequency auctions, with consortia bidding for a licence that gives them the right to collect tolls on certain sections of motorway. Although there are different technologies being tested, the idea is essentially the same: each vehicle will have a transponder that communicates with a system that can assess what toll the vehicle is to pay, deducts from some kind of ‘on-board’ prepayment or sends information to a central unit that will then generate a bill. Linked to this will be an enforcement system, based on recording licence plates of those vehicles that violate the system. EasyToll is the only system based on Global Positioning Satellites, which it says makes it the easiest and most environmentally friendly to deploy – there will be no need for roadside furniture or overlane gantries for communications equipment. If tolling becomes a reality, installing the on-board units will, no doubt, be a short-term moneyspinner for some company, although it would seem likely that they would become a standard piece of car kit in the future. But who will pay for motorists to install them is not clear.
By Maya Anaokar
Autolink’s system can be mounted on the dashboard with a bit of Velcro. Europassage’s transponder is made by Texas and is about the size of a beer mat but there are versions that take a Smart Card or have a display screen for incoming information. Autolink has done away with Smart Cards; it says they are too fiddly when driving in the fast lane. Instead, an 8-bit microcontroller is programmed with information on the availability of funds and the two-way read-write communication antenna in the toll lane instructs the transponder to debit its internal account by the toll amount. When funds deplete to a pre-arranged level, the transponder will replenish itself via the communication system, which in turn will notify British Telecommunications Plc which will add a pre-set amount to the person’s telephone bill. Most of the consortia are offering pre
-payment and post payment systems, but what ever is introduced will probably be a mixture of both. For those using Smart Cards we’re likely to see a proliferation of machines at motorway service stations where they can be recharged before continuing a journey. It’s even likely that a small ‘overdraft’ facility will be built in just in case you travel that toll too far. However, Smart Cards are a more expensive system than billing after the event and in the US, where electronic tolling has been introduced and where motorists have been given a choice of system, billing has been more popular. For occassional users or overseas visitors, season tickets or some such system will be available. Easytoll has developed a tag that operates in the 5.8GHz band and could be monitored by spot checkers in toll areas. Another idea is the operation of black and white lists. The former will be for people who have not paid their bills or in some other way violated the system; the latter will be for foreign visitors who’ve bought a motorway season ticket or rare users who have no transponder in the car but have contacted the tolling authority to inform it of their travel. When their licence plate appears as a seeming violation to the enforcers, a check of either list would establish what the situation was.
Enforcement is, naturally enough, a thorny issue. Siemens reckons it needs to be strong and visible from day one if it is to get high compliance and avoid the ‘Poll Tax syndrome’, in which thousands of UK citizens simply refused to pay an unpopular local services tax intended to replace property taxes. But who ends up enforcing the tolls and how has yet to be debated. But the technology to spot violators is well developed: in all the systems being tested, the car’s on-board unit will send information to the receiver about the type of vehicle and whether there are funds to pay the toll. If anything is amiss, then in most cases the vehicle’s registration plate will be photographed and the violator tracked. In trying to build up enthusiasm for tolling the consortia point out that the on- board units can also receive information, so drivers could get details of traffic conditions up ahead, and weather and hotel availibility in the town they’re about to enter are just some of the suggestions. And they say that the money paid through tolls can be used for repairs and maintenance, although as the current road tax for private cars is ú145 at the moment, acceptance of the scheme may well depend on the level at which the tolls are set. The actual trials will start at the end of the year at the Transport Research Laboratory in Crowthorne, Berkshire. Road trials will start next summer on the M3, between junctions 6 and 7, south west of Basingstoke. A number of gantries will be erected but there will be no charges. The Department of Transport says Normal traffic will not be inconvenienced.