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At one time it was common for road users to pass turnpikes where they would have to pay a toll for using a section of roadway, with the monies raised being spent on highway maintenance. However over time these turnpikes were abolished as funding became available from local and central governments (who - in Britain - finance the roads via property taxes, motor fuel taxes and the annual vehicle licence discs) so that nowadays on British roads tolls are generally only charged to use specific bridges / tunnels which had been constructed at great expense. (OK, so a handful of toll roads still remain, such as College Road, Dulwich, London SE21, which dates from 1789 and is the last historic working tollgate in London but they are very much the exception).
|Paying the toll at the tollgate on College Road, Dulwich, London SE21 - a slice of medieval life still very much "alive and kicking" in south London.
(About a 10-15 minute walk north of Sydenham Hill railway station).
Click either image to see more and larger images - note the prices on the "Table Of Tolls" sign detailing the charges.
If the links did not work then clicking here will open the page in a new full-size window.
Now our politicians have decided that road tolling would be the best way to solve the conundrum of ever increasing traffic levels and urban congestion. Effectively this means that motorists are to be financially penalised for the privilege of driving on busy roads at certain times of the day. To try and sell the concept we are 'promised' that there will be a (small) reduction in other motoring taxes plus that all monies raised will be used to improve urban public transports. However, knowing that these charges will be very unpopular with the electorate (who for revenge may vote it out of office at the next general election) our national government initially planned to let local government make the decisions on which areas will be involved and how much the charges will be. But after experience in Edinburgh (see below in June 2005 the national government announced that it would be looking to a national pay as you drive system after all.
The pro-road lobbies are horrified at the proposals because motorists already pay £46 billion in taxes per year (out of which only £6 billion is actually spent on roads) with the rest being 'lost' in the general taxation fund and they suggest that if more of the remaining £40 billion was allocated to improving Britain's transport infrastructures it would help reduce congestion at (trunk road) congestion hot-spots and create fixed-infrastructure electric public transport systems in ALL our major towns & cities which would be seen as viable alternatives to driving and thereby help solve the many issues of urban traffic congestion & air pollution.
The pro-road lobbies - and indeed most of the road using British public - see tolling (or road pricing, congestion charging, or whatever other name is flavour of the month) as just another tax - albeit one that is being stealthily introduced through 'the back door'.
To validate this viewpoint the pro-road lobbies point to how the treasury has already stated that it does not like the dedication of funds raised to one specific cause, and that therefore after 10 years it will be wanting to get its hands on the money - something which it actually achieved almost immediately London's scheme started by reducing the grants it gives to 'Transport for London' - this being the organisation that 'pockets' the funds from the new revenue stream and is responsible for managing London's transport & road infrastructures - see below.
Meanwhile, the anti-car lobby suggests that motorists are not taxed enough claiming that what they pay is insufficient to cover the cost to society of the detrimental health effects caused by air pollution, traffic accidents, etc. and therefore (as a general theme) strongly supports a nationwide scheme
What no-one has realised is that if there was a massive shift away from fossil fuelled vehicles (towards electric traction or even not driving) then there would be such a significant shortfall in revenue that the government would have to 'plug the gap' somehow.
It is questionable whether vehicle owners (*sheeple) even understand that road tolling could - potentially - see the vehicle owners receiving telephone style monthly itemised invoices telling them where they (or at least their vehicles) have been.
Many of those people who do understand this would suggest that whatever system is used it must be one that respects an individual's right to privacy -- -- -- for instance just supposing you were arranging a special surprise for a loved one's birthday, and they saw a 'road user invoice' showing where you had been, and didn't believe your explanation of why you had been there... (or you didn't want to tell them the truth as it would spoil the surprise). The ensuing argument could wreck a marriage.
The advent of Electronic Your Every Move Is Being Recorded (by whom?) Road User Pricing Technologies mean that this is the way things are going... click link to go forward in time (go several sections further down this page) & learn about how "big brother" (aka 'the state') will soon be keeping records of millions of innocent people's daily travels - - and penalising those people who do not wish to succumb to being watched in this way.
In short, "yes", this is "very likely" for those vehicle drivers who use fossil fuel powered vehicles. To avoid double-taxation there would be a need whereby as road user tolling schemes are introduced the taxation on fossil fuels is reduced - and not by just a symbolic token amount.
(*"sheeple" = sheep people aka: the mass of humanity who simply follow the herd blindly trusting that everything they are told [about current affairs, global events, etc.,] in the media is so and who actually do believe that "the government" really is working for the betterment of our present-day society.)
On 1st October 2002 the historic city of Durham became the first British city to reintroduce road tolls - but this time as a congestion charge aimed at discouraging people from using (in this instance) one specific very busy narrow road which (because several other roads or sections of road were closed) is no longer a through route but goes from the Market Place up to the Cathedral. The charge is £2 and it applies to most vehicles using Saddler Street and Market Place between 1000 and 1600, Monday to Saturday. Payment is made at a ticket machine on leaving the tolled roadway; this is linked to a rising bollard in the carriageway which will lower on payment. The system is monitored by security cameras and there is a fine not exceeding £30 for drivers caught dodging the toll.
Within weeks of the scheme beginning traffic levels fell dramatically from about 2,000-a-day to around 300-400, this being about an 85% reduction and considerably fewer than the 1,000 vehicles a day it had been projected would use the tolled roadway. The local government officials behind the scheme have declared it to be a huge success, even though the considerably fewer vehicles paying the toll have resulted in a significant revenues shortfall compared to what it had been expecting. It had been hoped that the toll would help finance a shuttle bus service linking the castle and cathedral, main car parks, the bus and railway stations, and subsidise a shop mobility project for disabled people.
However a Freight Transport Association spokesperson was less enthusiastic, claiming that the charges were unfair. "By charging goods vehicles for entry they are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Some goods vehicles can deliver outside the charging period, but others will be forced to pay, pushing up the cost of delivering the goods which will eventually lead to higher prices in the shops. This charge will not change the need for goods to be delivered for shoppers to buy, so why charge it? There appears to be exemptions for the very people causing congestion but not for the goods vehicles that actually need to be there."
|General overview of the entry point to the road user tolled area.||The exit lane - note the rising bollard and, (on the top of a black pole) three CCTV cameras monitoring proceedings.|
The driver of a blue van pays the exit fee.
|Not photographed was a black saloon car which reversed away from this tolling point and exited via the entry route. This is possible because there was no form of physical
impediment (such as uni-directional flaps in the road) to prevent vehicles from exiting via the entry lane.
Perhaps the driver did this because (s)he was unable to pay the exit fee - the machine neither accepts paper money nor gives change. There is also no option to pay by plastic card.
For several years Durham was investigating expanding its charging zone to cover more of the city, as part of a range of measures which include building a relief road and introducing short term parking meters. Because of the charging zone Durham City Council became eligible to receive funding for this study from the national government's Transport Innovation Fund'.
To try and keep this page in some semblance of chronological order the results of this study can be found at this link below, although it might be better to read from the start of this chapter, which begins here - Anywhere Else? (In Britain).
|Advance warning signs have been erected on all major routes into London - this example is 8 miles away!
Subsequent to this photograph being taken the ending time has been changed (30 minutes earlier) and this sign has been replaced with one showing updated information.
Next in the pipeline was London, with a central area scheme starting in February 2003. In London the zone is active between 7am and 6.30pm with surveillance cameras watching over all the congestion charge zone entry points as well as monitoring the traffic within its boundary. Any vehicle owner who has not paid the charge by midnight (initially £5 before 10pm but in July 2005 raised to £8 - or £10 between 10pm and midnight) will receive a penalty charge notice of £80 (subsequently raised to £100) which like parking tickets if paid within 14 days will attract a 50% "prompt payment" discount but if still unpaid after 28 days increases by 50% and could result in legal action, bailiffs being sent in, etc. To make life easier it is possible to pay at certain shops, petrol stations, by telephone, over the Internet or even by text messaging on mobile phones, although for the latter you must first register your details & set up an account.
Vehicles with three or more outstanding congestion charge penalty charges become eligible for clamping or removing. TfL staff are permitted to do this anywhere within Greater London. These actions incur additional charges - £65 for clamping and £150 for removal. Vehicles which are removed also incur a storage charge of £25 per day. Releasing of clamped / stored vehicles will only be permitted once all outstanding charges and fees have been paid. After 56 days any vehicles which have not been released may be disposed of at auction or by scrapping. Even with these actions all outstanding charges and fees must still be paid, plus there is an additional disposal fee of £60!
Although not part of the original (2003) charging regime in an attempt to help encourage advance payment and generally make paying easier a 15% discount for monthly and annual payments has been introduced. Also, to try and appease the retail sector charges are not levied on the three charging days that fall between Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
London's pioneering electronic system was chosen because it avoids the need for toll booths as they would add to traffic congestion. It is of the "cordon" type where vehicles pay once to enter the zone and then can enter / leave as many times as they wish during the rest of the day. Except as detailed below all vehicles pay the same rate - cars, lorries, etc.
There are very few exceptions to the charge - as might be expected this includes fire / police / ambulance vehicles, buses and taxis; although there are a few other vehicle categories too. In a (token) effort to reduce urban air pollution (especially bearing in mind that there are 8000 diseasal buses on London's roads - for which "dirty diesel" is still the "fuel of choice" as defined by the decision makers) the owners of "alternatively fuelled" vehicles (LPG, electric, etc) are also eligible to register to be exempt from charging. This includes privately owned cars. As might be expected, registration is a process which also attracts a fee, this being £10, per year. Motorcycles are also not charged - but in early 2005 it was announced that because of the sharp rise in the number of motorcycles entering London and the significant increase in the number of road traffic accidents involving motorcycles, this might change. For security reasons (to avoid identification) police vehicles used by undercover officers must pay the charge. Drivers of foreign-registered vehicles are not exempt from the charge but as there is no international legal framework for the assessment and collection of traffic fines so enforcement (and recovery of fines) means that many will avoid paying it.
Residents living inside the zone who wish to use their vehicles during the charging period can register to receive a 90% discount on the fee (for one private vehicle only) although there is a minimum residents fee of £4 - this being equivalent to 5 consecutive charging days / one week's charge. As might be expected, registration is a process which also attracts a fee (£10). There is no need to pay anything for vehicles which are parked off-street or in local authority residents parking bays (displaying an appropriate valid parking permit) within the charging zone but not used / moved during the charging hours.
Fleet vehicle operators can pay the charge on a daily basis (as with privately-owned cars) but might find life easier if they join special a fleet scheme. To join such a scheme the fleet owner must register and agree to charges being taken via direct debit from their bank account. In addition to streamlining the payment process this will help ensure that they avoid the £2 surcharge for payment between 10pm & midnight and the £100 penalty charge for non-payment. In addition the actual daily charge is reduced to £7 per vehicle! As might be expected, registration is a process which also attracts a fee, this being £10, per year, per vehicle. More information can be found on the official London Congestion Charge website at http://www.cclondon.com/ (link to an external site which opens in a new window).
In an attempt to evade the charge some owners of luxury cars have been registering their vehicles as minicabs, as these have an exemption from the charge. For their part TfL have said that they will watch minicabs 'very carefully' to make sure that they really are being used as commercial vehicles.
According to the website "Watching Them, Watching Us UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign" at http://www.spy.org.uk/wtwu.htm (link to an external site which opens in a new window) London's congestion charging scheme relies on about 700 CCTV cameras covering around 203 entrances/exits to the 21 square kilometre central zone. Each lane of traffic either entering or leaving the boundary of the zone is covered by a monochrome camera linked to an Automatic Number Plate Recognition system. Each entry/exit road has at least one colour CCTV camera which streams real time pictures back to the central "Hubsite" with links to the Call Centres in Coventry and Glasgow. There are also about 10 white vans with mobile camera systems, and some 64 other cameras outside of the zone. (information from this page - http://www.spy.org.uk/cgi-bin/cclondon.pl (link to an external site which opens in a new window).
Despite the dire predictions that the technology was not proven the scheme has worked reasonably well, and indeed its architect has set himself up in a consultancy business to sell similar technologies to other cities too - and there are reported to be as many as 35 other towns and cities in Britain alone (plus many more and overseas) which are looking to introduce their own schemes. They were all happy to let London be the 'pioneer', just in case it all went horribly wrong.
Although it has been judged to be a success the London scheme has not been entirely trouble-free. Perhaps the most serious problem has been caused by vehicles bearing false number plates (see Numberplate thefts increase below). Some problems have been caused by the people who issue the fines misreading vehicle number plates, and other problems by members of the public who enter incorrect number plate details in error - for instance getting the number '0' (zero) mixed up with the letter 'O' (as in 'orange') or the number '1' (one) with the letter 'l' (as in 'light'). Another issue has been that the surveillance cameras which 'read' vehicle number plates have sometimes been blinded by strong summer sunlight.
|The threat of congestion charging was so unpopular that some people set up websites to oppose the scheme, encouraging visitors to share protest banners. Above and below are two examples.
Note that 'Red Ken' (Livingstone) is London's mayor who staked his reputation on getting the scheme introduced.
Clicking the lower banner will open one (or more) new windows taking you to the website. The upper image now points to a website which is not about the congestion charge so the link has been deactivated.
Before the scheme started there was much debate regarding its very existence, with many people claiming they would suffer financial hardship because they could not afford to pay the (then) £5 daily charge, which, on an annual basis equates to a whopping £1,200! (This figure assumes you use the car for 48 weeks a year and allows for Bank Holidays and the free period between Xmas and New Year). Sadly, some of these people "voted with their feet" and rather than pay they left their jobs. Meanwhile however transport experts were questioning whether the charge was too low, claiming that business people would just claim it an expense whilst the rich would willingly pay if it meant that the roads would be emptier for them. The experts wanted a far higher charge - perhaps as high as £20 per day. There was also much concern that traffic levels would rise considerably in areas bordering the charge zones (it did, by about 10%, much to the dismay of local people, although when the zone is extended some of them they will find themselves inside it and the problems pushed further out towards the suburbs).
|Road marking on a road leading to the congestion charge zone (CCZ).|
|Road marking at entry point to the CCZ (note the different colour compared to road marking seen above).|
|Road sign at entry point to the CCZ. Note how this is called the "central" zone - implying that they are ready for other zones too.
Subsequent to this photograph being taken the ending time has been changed (30 minutes earlier) and these signs have been replaced with versions showing updated information.
|Above and below.
The northern section of Gower Street where it leads towards the CCZ showing how some of the above road markings fit-in in a street scene and also how general road direction signs advise road users of which roads lead to the CCZ (ie: travelling ahead) - and which do not (ie: by turning right).
The larger clickable images are also full colour.
|Above and below.
These images also show one of the tall black painted poles with the enforcement cameras, although in the above picture it is partially obscured by a traffic signal. The series of buildings in the background are part of University College.
|A plethora of Orwellian 1984 "big brother" style cameras monitor vehicle movements with computers reading vehicle number plates to (try and) ensure that
no-one evades the charge. Also seen are some other CCZ road signs as used within the zone.
The cameras are supposed to be a short term measure - in 2009 vehicle detection will switch to a satellite tracking system with tagged vehicles being detected by roadside beacons. This will facilitate the introduction of a new charging system that will charge road users extra to use the more congested roads and / or travel at the busiest times. The "tag and beacon" system is looked at below.
|Road signs at a CCZ exit point - the parking zone restriction also ends here as the boundary road is one of London's red routes with much stiffer parking restrictions, different signage & very steep penalties for infringement. The building in the background is St Pancras station.|
Within months of the scheme beginning traders within the zone began complaining about sharp drops in business (as much as 20%) and although it could be due to many things (such as fewer tourists and general economic decline) they are blaming the congestion charge for encouraging people to shop elsewhere.
Will central London end up as an enclave city for office workers who travel by public transport, tourists and the very rich with 'ordinary' people voting with their accelerator pedals &
rearranging their lives to remain outside the charge areas at all times?
Will urban disinvestment be a price too high? (see "A Personal Observation" at foot of this page)
A survey by Transport for London (the local government organisation behind the scheme) six months after its introduction suggests that there has been a reduction of about 60,000 vehicles a day entering the charging zone. Of these they estimate that 20 to 30% have diverted around the zone; that 50% to 60% represent transfers to public transport; and that 15% to 25% represent switching to car share, motorcycle or pedal cycle, or other adaptations such as travelling outside charging hours or making fewer trips to the charging zone.
The survey also suggests that compared to spring 2002 when an estimated 1.6 million people made journeys into the charging zone spring 2003 saw 70,000 fewer people a day are entering the zone (by all forms of transport). They do not attribute this reduction to the introduction of the charge, because "since 85-90% of people coming into central London travel by public transport, the relative impact of reduced car users is minimal. It is estimated that the congestion charging scheme is only responsible for around 5-7% of the overall reduction in people coming into the charging zone"
They also say that:-
o Provisional data for reported accidents inside the charging zone during charging hours suggest an approximate 20% reduction compared to the same period in 2002.
o Cycling has increased by 30%, although the favourable spring and summer weather may also be a factor.
The primary "stated aim" of the congestion charge is to reduce the volume of traffic using central London's roads. But was it really necessary to introduce the charge in order to achieve this? Especially as for some years prior to the charge the number of people in private cars entering Central London in the morning peak (roughly 7am - 10am) was already in decline? - between 1981 and 2002 falling from 173,000 to 105,000. What is more, the daily road traffic movements into Central London was also in decline - falling from 1,078,000 to 895,000. There was also a substantial reduction in the number of medium and heavy goods vehicles. So, given that the "stated aim" was already being achieved, why was it necessary to introduce the charge?
If there is less traffic then why is it also travelling more slowly?
Since the charge was introduced the level of traffic entering the zone has fallen by about 20%, with about 110,000 vehicles paying daily. Logic would suggest that less traffic would flow more quickly. But in fact the opposite is true. Indeed in the same time period Central London traffic speeds fell from an average 12.1 mph to just 9.9mph.
Part of the explanation would be because of a significant rise in taxi journeys (up by more than 30%) and approximately 20% more bus movements too (to cope with displaced motorists bus services have been boosted to carry an extra 15,000 passengers in the morning peak). But, "something else" which has happened within the same time frame is the rise of "anti-trafficism"; this being reflected in official circles through a policy of what is called "traffic restraint" or "traffic management" (aka mis-management) but in plain English means closing roads, reducing road widths (and hence traffic capacity), introducing significantly more traffic signals (as these too slow traffic down) and a whole host of other measures designed to make driving a motor vehicle within Central London less pleasant. Note that the vast majority of these also adversely affect bus and taxi users too - presumably the anti-traffic mafia just don't care.
Financially things are not going at all well, indeed the phrase worst case scenario would be about the best way to describe the situation. When the charging was at the planning stage it was forecast to raise as much as £200 million - in the first year - which would be invested in London's transport systems. By the time the charging started in February 2003 this had fallen to £130 million and by June this fell even lower to £65 million. In July the Mayor gave the company running the scheme £30 million of Londoners' money because it was unable to make a profit on its operations. However in May 2003 it did manage to pay four executive directors bonus share options totalling £4.8million. Hey. its good to see all that money being used to improve London's transport system.
Meanwhile, the national govt. has decided that the scheme will be profitable so has reduced its projected grants to the Mayors' office (for investment in London's transports) by £125 million for tax year 2004-5 and £200 million for 2005-6. Not only does this mean that there is a potential shortfall looming but also that Londoners are going to lose out as the monies raised from the congestion charge should have been "extra" over and above what was being funded from the national government.
So, it seems that the pro-road lobbies are being proven correct; road tolling (or road pricing, congestion charging, or whatever other name is flavour of the month) is just another tax. Worse still it is pretty obvious that because of a double-whammy of the funding reduction by the national government (the treasury "Dark Controller" Lizards) plus the new tax not raising as much money as originally forecast the people of London are now going to be S W I N D L E D out of their money AND much needed capital investments in new urban public transports. Such as the zero emission trolleybuses proposed for the East London Transit bus rapid transit scheme.
The introduction of the congestion charge, as well as increased use of automatic numberplate recognition cameras, has also resulted in a significant rise in the number of vehicles having their number plates either being cloned or stolen.
Cloned means where a second set of number plates are made and fitted to a (usually) identical vehicle that belongs to someone else. Initially criminals adopted this practise but after changes in the regulations for issuing new numberplates were changed to require sight of a V5 certificate or other proof of ownership of a car with the required number, so number plate thefts have become more common. In both cases the result is that innocent people who (sometimes) live hundreds of miles away have been receiving penalty charge notices for not paying the fee when they have not actually been in London.
Another ruse to avoid paying the congestion charge is that when caught on camera and presented with a penalty charge some drivers will claim that their numberplates have been stolen and must have been fitted to another car.
In August 2004 the Mayor, having just been re-elected to office, confirmed that he would be acting upon his election manifesto and expanding the charging zone towards west and south-west London. He acknowledged that of the 100,000 people who responded to the public consultation 63 per cent of residents and 72 per cent of businesses oppose the plans but claimed that "whilst the proposal to extend the zone is clearly controversial, consultations tend to draw responses primarily from those opposed to whatever is being consulted upon.". He suggests that the extension would reduce traffic by five to 10 per cent - and congestion by double this figure - cutting both pollution and bus journey times. However the extension will increase congestion inside the main zone, but only by one to two per cent and it is claimed that compared to the 30 per cent reduction already achieved this will be manageable.
Opposition however remains stiff; for instance London's 33 local borough councils want a rethink claiming that the estimated £120 million it will cost to expand the zone will drain cash from projects such as new tramways or widening the North Circular Road (this being well outside the charging zone, and where the single lane sections remain the congestion often adds 30+ minutes to journey times). There is also much concern that the running annual costs of £50m - £60m will reduce the profit to only £10 million per year - and if not enough motorists enter the zone then there could even be an annual loss of £5m.
The enlarged zone is scheduled to become operational on 19th February 2007, and to help "sell" it there will be some concessions; for instance, to help the theatre and restaurant industries the hours of charging will be reduced slightly so that it ends at 6pm instead of the current 6.30pm, and that several major roads through the extended charging area will remain free, as otherwise some north-south and east-west drivers would have to make very lengthy diversions clogging up currently uncongested suburban roads.
(All this came to pass as scheduled, and is discussed further down this page).
Also revealed in November 2004 is that more than one third of revenue from the congestion charge comes from motorists being fined. However as (in January 2005) the National Audit Office revealed that one-third of cars could be incorrectly registered in government databases (vehicle owner's addresses, postcodes and / or vehicle registration numbers) it is probable there are many more vehicles getting away with not paying the congestion charge. Possible reasons why there could be so much incorrect data could include that despite being a legal obligation drivers often fail to inform the Driving and Vehicle and Licensing Agency when they buy / sell vehicles privately or the vehicle owners changes address.
Meanwhile in January 2005 it was confirmed that yet more expansionary plans would see road user tolling reaching out into the suburbs - not just the already announced zone around Heathrow Airport but also anywhere else within the Greater London area where congestion is a daily occurrence. The plans are to progressively roll out new the charging zones over a period of about eight years, probably starting around 2009, which is when the "tag and beacon" system (as described in the image panel above left - just above bottom image) is expected to replace roadside cameras in the already operational Central London zone.
There are several possible ways in which suburban charging might be effected. One option would be to base the charges on the suburban town centres. Another is for area-wide charging. A third option could involve specific targeting of congestion hotpots (especially trunk roads which suffer from heavy congestion) with higher "premium rate" tolls for use at busy times. This implies that even the single-lane sections of the A406 North Circular Road will incur charges, even though these sections of road are woefully inadequate for the traffic levels which are expected to use them - with, in many cases there being no viable alternative options - except perhaps the already massively over-congested M25 motorway, use of which will possibly double the distances to be driven for comparable journeys, resulting in much longer journey times plus increased fuel consumption, air pollution...and more fuel duty (tax) revenue for the government.
It is expected that many of the local councils in London's outer boroughs will be vehemently opposed to any charging being introduced into their areas. As will the many people who will resent being told to buy (at their expense) the 'big brother' spy in the cab tagging equipment - especially also as in the suburbs people's journeys start and finish from a much wider range of locations and therefore are less easy to cater for with public transport than for journeys to / from central London, which is a much smaller area of destination locality.
Speaking on a radio interview in summer 2004 the Mayor suggested that the daily charge would almost certainly be increased during his second term in office. In November it was revealed that the increase would be £3 per day - a rise of 60% - and in March 2005 it was revealed that the new charge would come into effect on Monday 4th July 2005. The Mayor claimed that the extra funds could raise an extra £50 million to reinvest in public transport, on top of the £79 million annual revenues already being received. He also voiced a concern that traffic levels were slowly creeping up again towards the pre-charge days and the increased fee should result in between 5% and 13% fall in traffic levels within the zone.
That there should be any increase at all angered many of the opponents to charging but now the size of that increase has been revealed the effect has been like introducing a red rag to a bull. Even some pro-charging advocates have been taken aback by such a large increase whilst the "anti" campaigners are crying foul and questioning the integrity of both the Mayor & TfL because until now it had always said that the congestion charge scheme was introduced to reduce congestion - and not raise revenue. Many businesses are claiming that when the price hike comes into effect so few people will enter the congestion charge zone that a lot of them will end up either having to relocate outside the zone / London itself (which apparently some are already actively looking to do) - or cease trading (close down / go into liquidation).
In mid August the Mayor revealed (in a letter to a national newspaper) that the increase in the charge has resulted in just 1,000 - 2,000 fewer cars entering the charging zone per day. This reinforces the views of those critics who were suggesting that revenue generation really was the intended aim - and not traffic reduction. However, following the fatal bomb incidents of 7th July, and non fatal bomb incidents of 21st July (this being the first time that terrorist bombs have exploded on a London Underground train [with fatal results] since March 1976) many people so dramatically changed their travelling habits that it will be the end of the year before meaningful changes to travelling patterns can even begin to be discerned.
In March 2005 a newspaper report suggested that they had seen secret documents proving that the real reason for the increase was to ensure that the planned westward extension of the charging zone (which opened in 2007) could be afforded and would "wash its face" financially. Yet when charging was introduced the official "stated aim" was to raise funds to improve public transport. But then most thinking people already knew that this was just political doublespeak by self-deluded politicians and well-meaning misguided advisers.
If the politicians (local and national) were really serious about using the funds raised to improve public transport then they should stop ALL their underhand scheming to use the funds on proposals which disadvantage road users and instead use the money to install non polluting electric street transport trolleybus and tram systems which will reduce traffic levels by attracting motorists out of their cars and also reduce urban air pollution. Trolleybuses especially should be London-wide (indeed nationwide) with trams reserved for routes with the heaviest traffic flows... where there is available roadspace without forcing unsuitable vehicles (delivery lorries, etc) into residential roads....
In May 2006 it became known that the Mayor is considering a further increase of £2 daily, (bringing the charge up to £10 daily) which will be included in his manifesto during the next Mayoral elections, and if he is re-elected is expected to be enacted in 2008.
As from June 2006, and following much lobbying & adverse criticism, the payment system changed slightly in that the charge became £8 if paid by midnight on the day of travel or £10 if paid by midnight the following charging day. "Next day" payments can only be made via the telephone call centre and website.
In June 2006 an article in the London Evening Standard newspaper suggested that statistics produced by Transport for London showed that the average central London travel delay had doubled from the levels when congestion charging began in 2003, and that if congestion in Central London kept on rising at the same rate then by the end of 2007 it would very probably have returned to pre-congestion charge levels.
The newspaper also revealed that taking the bus was often 'slower than walking'. Meanwhile in an interview on LBC radio a taxi driver's spokesperson suggested that whilst when the congestion charge first began the traffic flowed very well, not only had journey times now slowed down back to where they were but in some locations were already worse than before.
However, with the number of vehicles entering the charging zone still well below the pre-charging levels it seems that the congestion is not because of more people bringing vehicles into Central London. Instead the extra congestion seems to be as a result of road space reallocation / reduction, traffic signal re-phasing and a significant increase in the number of buses on London's roads - especially articulated buses which although very much in the minority are blamed for taking up twice as much road space as other vehicles.
In November 2006 the Mayor announced that if he wins the May 2008 Mayoral election then he would be changing the charges so that owners of cars in Vehicle Excise Duty Band G (typically the high price / high performance cars plus the 'off-road' style 4x4's also known as 'sports utility vehicles' / SUV's) will see the daily charge rising by 312% from £8.00 to £25.00. This is being proposed for environmental reasons, because cars in 'Band G' are typically the highest polluting vehicles, producing more than 225g of carbon dioxide per kilometre. Apparently a fifth of all cars on London's roads will be affected in this way. In addition, under the revised charging system the 90 per cent resident's discount which exists for householders living in the congestion charging zone will be withdrawn for Band G vehicles.
In explaining why he was proposing these changes he said "those who buy them can afford to choose from pretty much the whole of the mainstream car market but have chosen to buy one of the most polluting vehicles." He also questioned why anybody would need an off-road 4x4 car in what "is the most urbanised part of Britain". With respect to his proposing to scrap the householder's congestion charge discount he added "This is a warning to anyone considering buying a heavy polluting vehicle that they will not be eligible for a discount if they live in the congestion zone."
As a contrast, he also suggested that the lowest polluting vehicles will no longer be charged. This would apply to vehicles in Vehicle Excise Duty Bands A and B, which typically produce less than 120g CO2 / km, which meet Euro IV standard.
Whilst TfL have a point in wanting the lowest possible air pollution within London they are also failing themselves by increasing the number of diseasal (disease diesel) buses on London's roads... Diesel engines tend to be far more polluting than petrol engines, are known as significant sources of pollutants which are known to be harmful to human health, and as TfL's 2006 Environment Report points out, "there is not much difference in terms of pollution per occupant between buses and cars taking the average occupancy of each type of vehicle." If TfL really wanted to reduce air pollution within central London then this could be achieved by electrifying the buses (ie; convert to trolleybuses)... comparatively few roads would need equipping with the overhead power supply system, whilst the benefits would cover a much larger area.
Environmentally themed variable charging according to vehicle type was originally planned for spring 2008, however for various reasons it was put back to 2010, when charging is expected to start using the 'tag & beacon' system (as detailed in the Electronic Your Every Move Is Being Recorded (by whom?) Road User Pricing Technologies section below) rather than just number plate recognition.
New Mayor, changes cancelled. However as Mr Ken Livingstone lost the mayoral election so within days of taking hold of the reigns of power the new Mayor fulfilled his election manifesto promise and scrapped this charging change.
In February 2007 it sort of 'slipped out' in local newspapers that due to the volume of traffic which passes through its town centre the London Borough of Greenwich would like a congestion charge imposing upon itself. A spokesperson from Transport For London said that if this goes ahead then it will be a 'one-off' standalone scheme, totally independent of the Central London charging zone, which does make sense given the distance between Central London and Greenwich. In an interview London's Mayor said that a decision could be made by the end of spring, but added: "We don't want to do it unless people want it locally" - which given his previous track record (eg: publically stating that he did not want to scrap the Routemaster buses and then doing just that) makes this scheme a 100% certainty.
Whilst Greenwich has been blighted by traffic congestion for many, many years this could be because it is on the route from a to b - and there are no viable alternatives. Fume belching heavy goods vehicles only choose to travel through town centres and residential roads when they really have to! Greenwich is also an area where air pollution induced asthma is an issue - for both adults and young children.
As expected the Central zone expanded into more of West London on the 19th of February. Also as expected, to help the theatre and restaurant industries the hours of charging were reduced slightly so that it ends at 6pm instead of the previous 6.30pm, and that to encourage north-south and east-west drivers to stay on certain important through routes (instead of diverting along quiet residential roads on the zone boundary area) there are several major roads through the centre of London which remain free to use.
Preliminary results of traffic surveys show that two weeks after the expansion traffic in the extended part of the zone has decreased by 13%, which is well within the Transport for London (TfL) predictions of a 10%-15% reduction. This is said to represent approximately 33,000 fewer vehicles entering the expanded area of the zone. So far the predicted 2% increase in traffic in the original part of the charging zone has not come to pass. This was expected because with 78,000 households in the new part of the zone being eligible for a 90% discount on the daily charge so some people would decide to drive there, instead of taking public transport or not travelling at all.
In July 2007 several sources of information announced their findings of studies into the success (or otherwise) of the enlarged charging zone.
An article in the London Evening Standard newspaper suggested that average speeds in the extended part of the zone had dropped dramatically - both when compared to the time frame prior to 2002 before any congestion charging and the time when only the original charging zone was in force. Their extensive article suggested that speeds had fallen from a typical 12.4mph (no CCZ) to 12.1 mph (Central Zone) to 8mph (after opening of the extension).
Meanwhile TfL announced that its Fifth Annual Impacts Monitoring Report had shown that over the first three months of operation traffic levels in the western extension of the congestion charge zone had fallen by approximately 10% - 15% (compared to 2006). This they suggested is in line with their predictions, and that congestion has also fallen by between 20% - 25% against comparable values in 2005 and 2006. They also claimed that traffic levels in the original charging zone remained stable in 2006, being 21% lower than when charging began in 2002, whilst traffic levels on boundary routes of the original zone also remained comparable to previous years. Furthermore, they added that their studies had shown that traffic on the north - south free passage route running between the original and extended zones (Edgware Road to Vauxhall Bridge via Park Lane) has more or less remained unchanged.
However, London Assembly Member Angie Bray criticised TfL for presenting a false picture of traffic movement in the capital, saying that reality is not as rosy as TfL would have people believe, with congestion in the original zone having risen by 15% (compared to 2006). She also lambasted TfL for claiming that this was solely due to roadworks (urgently replacing life expired under-road utilities) when in reality "it is due to traffic light rephasing; the installation of bus and cycle routes and other traffic-restricting measures which have the effect of limiting overall road space." She further suggested that as much as 4% of the increased congestion is due to the western extension and a significant number of cars becoming exempt through the extended resident's discount, and added "Congestion is up on the boundary roads by 5%. So all that is happening is that congestion is being spread over a wider area, not eliminated. This new report wants to talk all about the apparent 'success' of the western extension, despite it only being in operation for a few months, but at its heart is a clear admission of failure in the central, flagship zone."
It is worth noting that after serious issues with low rainfall / low reservoir levels and severely high levels of water supply pipe leakage which almost resulted in the introduction of emergency drought measures central London became in the grip of an urgent programme of utility repair and upgrades, which have negatively impacted upon traffic flows. After the drought of 2006 it is most fortunate for the water supply companies that summer 2007 saw much rainfall.
Also interested in this report was The Association of British Drivers (ABD) whose webpage on the report would suggest that Ms Bray 's understanding of the TfL report is more accurate. The ABD also point out that despite the reduction in other traffic the 25% increase in buses & coaches plus 13% increase in taxis entering the charging zone is another factor in the slowing of overall traffic speeds, plus explain why the introduction of the charging zone has not resulted in significant air quality benefits (reductions). Indeed whilst levels of the known to be cancer causing PM10 pollutants have remained broadly stable levels of NOx pollution have, if anything, gone up - especially around the perimeter ring roads (both these pollutants are known to come from diesel engines)
"This tends to explain why pollution has not reduced because taxis and buses are generally diesel powered and often relatively "dirty" in comparison with modern cars. Even though the absolute numbers of taxis and buses may be lower, one bus generates a lot more pollution that one car, and as reported in another TfL publication entitled the "Environment Report 2006", there is not much difference in terms of pollution per occupant between buses and cars taking the average occupancy of each type of vehicle. In reality the former car users tend to have moved to using buses and underground usage has not changed much, so there is little or none environmental benefit."
The TfL report can be found at this webpage: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/media/newscentre/5474.aspx
and the ABD report at this webpage: http://www.abd.org.uk/london_congestion_charge_report2007.htm
the ABD also has a factsheet about the CCZ which may be of interest: http://www.abd.org.uk/london_congestion_charge.htm
(links to external sites which open in new windows)
Reported on the ABD factsheet detailed above are the results of a survey conducted by the Freight Transport Association which found that as a result of the Congestion Charge...
25% of businesses have had to lay off staff.
80% of businesses have reported a reduction in takings. (London Chamber of Commerce)
27% of retailers are considering relocating outside the zone.
69% of delivery companies have seen no reduction in journey times.
Towards the end of 2007, and with the holiday shopping season in mind, an enterprising company introduced an electronic device which is located in vehicles and will help people who drive within the CCZ avoid missing payments.
The genesis of this device was the sheer frustration of being fined for forgetting to pay the CCZ, something which is very easy to do in people's busy working lives, and that the people behind this device were peeved that whilst some businesses are able to take advantage of corporate schemes which offer automated payment systems this facility is not offered to individuals. The product has been named 'KenBuster' in honour of London's (much loved) (sic) Mayor.
The 'KenBuster' uses global positioning satellite technology to determine whether a vehicle is within the CCZ, and if it is and during the time of day when charging is in force so an automated payment is made on behalf of the vehicle (with the cost charged to a pre-arranged credit / charge card account) and a confirmatory text message is sent to a designated mobile phone. In addition transactions can be checked on the Internet. KenBusters can be bought for £50 plus £8 a month for 12 months, or for a one-off £200 for unlimited use forever. Apparently "tired" KenBusters will be upgraded for free.
At the time of writing (November 2007) it is too soon to know how successful this new service will prove to be, however with as many as 4,500 people being fined on a daily basis (this being about 6% motorists who enter the zone) so it is possible that this new service will be very successful. However this could prove to be very bad news for TfL.
The real issue for TfL is that without the income from the fines the CCZ system's finances will become a liability instead of the cash cow which had originally been hoped for. As stated under the headline Fines Rake It In! several columns above the income from fines actually accounts for more than one third of income (indeed for 2006/7 the fines represented a whopping 38% of total income) so if everybody was to pay before incurring the fine then the system would almost certainly start operating at a net (financial) loss. This is clearly visible when looking at the 2006/7 accounts, where (according to TfL’s annual report and accounts) the Charge Income was £157.4m, Enforcement Income (ie: fines) £95.0 giving a Total Gross Income of £252.4, of which the net income was £89.1 million, this being lower than the enforcement income! (ie, without the fines the thing would already be making a loss).
Of course it is not realistic to expect that nobody will ever again be fined for non payment, nor that they will only ever pay the lower £8 daily charge, but it is very possible that enough people will use this new service (and others which are very likely to spring up as commercial rivals) so that the reduction in income will see the CCZ system permanently operating at a financial loss. Remember, the fines are £50/100/150 (depending on how quickly they are paid) this being at least equivalent to six vehicles paying 'on time' (6 payments @ £8 = £48) or five paying the £10 'next day' rate. Then again, maybe this possibility has some bearing on why it has been proposed to switch from a congestion to an environmental basis, with some vehicles having to pay as much as £25 a day.
Additional information sourced from these webpages - although the london.gov page does not seem to work (links to external sites which open in new windows)
According to a report in the London Daily Telegraph newspaper on Friday 22nd June 2007 the London congestion charge could be illegal. Or rather, the type of charging used in London could be deemed illegal.
The news article says that Britain has secretly signed up to a europe-wide road charging scheme, and the govt. used what is known as a 'Statutory Instrument' (ie: what could be said to be like a secretive backdoor fastrack entrance) to sneak the enabling legislation through Parliament in a way which effectively means that it has been given a rubber stamp of approval without serious scrutiny by the MP's.
This legislation allows a 'European directive' to become legally binding here in (was Great) Britain giving the unelected undemocratic unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels the ultimate right to dictate the types of technologies used in any British charging scheme.
The EU wants all the road pricing systems within the lands it controls to be compatible, so that it becomes possible to charge all road users, no matter where they are. To achieve this their grandly named Road Tolling Interoperability of Road User Charging and Road Tolling Systems has listed three approved technologies, all of which work on the Orwellian 'Big Brother' principle of tracking a person's every movement. These technologies are 'tag & beacon'; satellite tracking with cars carrying a black box; and a system which is based on a variant of mobile phone technology which would require vehicles to be fitted with the equivalent of a sim card - again, to enable its movements to be tracked.
Because the London charging system uses a different technology it follows that it could fall foul of this directive and therefore be deemed illegal.
Common sense suggests that a conceivable solution would be to declare that as the London system pre-existed the new directive so it could be deemed as having 'grandfather rights', so would be allowed to continue to be used - although no new pricing systems would be allowed to use similar technology. But since when has common sense ever existed in the eu? For example, in the name of public safety they ban the production of barometers containing mercury, in the process destroying many ancient industries and jobs (which in reality will simply transfer to other countries that have lower safety standards) whilst at the same time plan to force everyone to use the more energy efficient compact fluorescent lights (instead of incandescent light bulbs), even though these contain mercury and create a serious environmental disposal hazard, plus if the lamp is broken (easily done) the spilt mercury then creates a similar hazard throughout its immediate environment - (including the air you are breathing!!!)
The full newspaper report can be found here (link to an external site which opens in a new window) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/06/22/nroads122.xml
The Low Emissions Zone.
With the Congestion Charging Zone (CCZ) having resulted in London's streets being flooded with hundreds of extra diesel-engined motor buses (the cumulative effect of which can only serve to INCREASE urban air pollution) February 2008 saw the introduction of what is being called a 'Low Emissions Zone' (LEZ).
The aim of the LEZ is to improve air quality by deterring the most polluting vehicles from driving virtually anywhere in London and its suburbs, as defined by political / local government boundaries. Because London's politicians do not have any authority outside of these areas so some outer suburban parts of London's 'built-up' area which are actually in neighbouring counties are outside of the LEZ. Also excluded from the LEZ are most of the roads which enter London, however this dispensation only applies as far as the first suitable reversing point, so that any vehicle which does not comply with the regulations can turn around and leave London without being penalised.
The LEZ is totally seperate from the CCZ, and only vehicles which fail to meet its requirements face a financial charge of any kind.
The reasoning behind the LEZ is that in London the primary causes of air quality-related health problems, including asthma, come from pollutants such as Particulate Matter (PM10) and oxides of Nitrogen (NOX) - and the principal emitters of these are heavy duty diesel engines such as are used by commercial road vehicles. Which of course includes buses - although the people behind the LEZ do not seem to understand this - otherwise they would be replacing diesel motor buses with clean electric trolleybuses - - that do not emit any tailpipe pollution at all! (For a few routes it is likely that clean electric trams will replace the diesel buses, however it is assumed that buses will always remain London's primary form of street-based public transport.)
The vehicles affected by the LEZ are older, diesel-engined lorries, buses, coaches, large vans (exceeding 1.205 tonnes unladen weight), minibuses (over eight seats and below 5 tonnes) plus specialist vehicles that are derived from lorries
and vans including: motorised horseboxes; breakdown and recovery vehicles; refuse collection vehicles; snow ploughs; gritters; road sweepers; concrete mixers; tippers; removals lorries; fire engines; extended-cab dual purpose pickups and some
light utility vehicles. Motor caravans, ambulances and large hearses (over 2.5 tonnes) are also included. The LEZ applies to all these vehicles, irrespective of whether they are used for commercial or private use.
The LEZ is in force at all times, every day of the week. It also applies to vehicles from overseas, although how violators will be traced and fined remains to be seen - especially those from countries in the eastern parts of Europe. To make life easier for overseas vehicle operators whose vehicles conform to the requirements there is a registration scheme so that TfL will know who they are and not try to fine them. This also applies to N. Ireland registered vehicles and vehicles which have been specially modified to meet the emissions standards.
The LEZ commenced on 4th February 2008 for diesel-engined vehicles exceeding 12 tonnes Gross Vehicle Weight (typically lorries). On 7th July 2008 it was extended to diesel-engined vehicles between 3.5 and 12 tonnes Gross Vehicle Weight as well as buses & coaches over 5 tonnes with more than eight seats, plus the driver's seat. Originally it was planned that further types of vehicles would be added in 2010 and 2012, plus in 2012 existing vehicles would be subjected to stiffer pollution regulations, however in February 2009 London's Mayor announced that (subject to consultation) the 2010 third phase would be suspended.
According to a press release issued by the Greater London Authority, the Mayor explained his decision thus:-
More information about the LEZ can be found on the Transport for London website (link to an external site which opens in a new window)
In March 2008 it was revealed that as part of his manifesto for the May 2008 London Mayor Election the London Mayor (the dearly 'beloved' Ken Livingstone) plans to implement plans he drew up with TfL back in 2006 to introduce localised congestion charge zones in many of the town centres throughout suburban London. However this would only be possible after the introduction of the 'tag & beacon' systems of vehicle detection.
In the event Mr Livingstone lost the election and as the new London Mayor (Boris Johnston) was elected on a ticket which included a new review of the expanded section of the CCZ and whether it is really wanted by / beneficial to the people of West London so it is now questionable whether the CCZ will be expanded any further.
The full newspaper report can be found here (link to an external site which opens in a new window)
In summer 2008 the new London Mayor announced that in order to fulfill one of his election manifesto promises there would be a five week consultation period starting in September 2008 with an aim to decide the future of the expanded (western) section of the CCZ, and whether it should remain or be closed.
About 28,000 people responded to this public consultation, with 69% of respondents, including 88% of businesses, saying that they wanted to see the extended zone closing, citing issues such as the scheme’s impact on business and communities. Because of the legal formalities required it took many months for this to be possible, with the closing date eventually being set at 24th December, this being the last charging day in 2010.
In October 2009 it was announced that in addition to steep increases in fares on the London bus and Underground railway networks, the daily charge for the remaining part of the CCZ would be rising by almost 25% - from £8 to £10 - which effectively means that the daily fee will have doubled in less than a decade! The higher public transport fares and daily charge rise were introduced on the first full working day of 2011 (4th January).
At the same time it was also announced that a much requested automatic payment system would be introduced. Known as CC Auto Pay this new payment system is open to all motorists and sees those who sign up to it paying a reduced daily charge of £9. Opening a CC Auto Pay account requires a credit or debit card and there is a £10 registration fee for each vehicle, with individuals being able to register up to five vehicles. Fleet operators can also join, provided they are registering a minimum of six vehicles. The stated advantage to road users is that they will be protected from forgetting to pay the daily fee for as long as their vehicle(s) are registered and their CC Auto Pay account is active.
A new charge being introduced is an annual £10 fee for vehicles with nine or more seats. This covers registration for the 100% discount on the normal daily fee.
Londoners living within the smaller charging area that is operating from 4th January 2011 and who have registered for the residents' 90% discount can also register for CC Auto Pay. They will then pay the 90p daily charge - instead of paying weekly, monthly or annually in advance. Alternatively they can still pay in advance if they wish, although the cost will be higher. Londoners living in the former Western Zone no longer qualify for the residents' discount and must pay the full charge to enter the Central Zone.
A new development which suggests that charging is now more about air pollution than traffic congestion is the introduction of a GVD (Greener Vehicle 100% Discount). Initially the GVD is for cars that emit 100g/km or less of CO2 and that meet the Euro 5 standard for air quality, however in 2012 a review will be made of the then available vehicle technologies with the aim of reducing the air pollution discount levels to 80g/km or lower. Some pundits foresee a rush (by those who can afford to do so) to buy new cars which meet the minimum standards and a consequential increase in traffic congestion. To benefit from the GVD a vehicle must be registered, for which an annual fee of £10 is charged.
Two other 'environmental' changes to the regulations are that the 100% electric vehicle discount is being extended to 'plug in hybrid electric vehicles' (PHEV) (as usual vehicles must be registered and pay the £10 annual fee), and that the AFD (alternative fuel discount) is being discontinued, although vehicles registered for this on 24th December 2010 are being allowed to benefit until the end of 2012.
Apparently as many as 35 British towns and cities (plus many more overseas) are known to have investigated road pricing schemes.
The Scottish capital of Edinburgh was especially keen and proposals were put forwards for a £2 daily charge which would be levied as an "entrance fee" payable once per day, for crossing inbound across either of two charging cordons. The inner cordon would be around the city centre and operate from 7am-6:30pm whilst the outer cordon would be inside the bypass - and only operate from 7-10am.
However when in February 2005 the people of this fine city were asked to vote on the issue an overwhelming majority of them said no. Out of a total electorate of 290,000 people the two-week postal ballot saw 133,678 people voting against the charge and 45,965 in favour of the charge. The turnout was 62%, a figure that is even higher than is usual in a general election. Some pundits suggest that the people voted in this way because they very strongly felt that available funds should be invested in better public transport - NOT a road toll. In other words they want solutions which add value to their lives - not which just empty their pockets. Scotland is an oil-rich nation, although most Scots would point to London and Brussels as being reasons why so much of this wealth cannot be spent in their homeland.
Whilst the Edinburgh scheme is now unlikely to be brought into fruition local politicians in other British conurbations are still scheming - aided and abetted by the national government which is prepared to spend as much as £2.5 billion (between 2005 - 2015) on a Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) for traffic management schemes where "pricing is a major element". Whilst the national government has an ultimate aim of introducing road pricing on a nationwide basis it is content with doing this on a step by step basis, and knowing how unpopular this will be with the general population so it is using the TIF to bribe local politicians into doing its dirty work by setting up pilot installations to test feasibility and gain some understanding of how road users might change their driving habits / lifestyles.
Over 20 local governments have either put in bids for / or already received funds for preliminary studies, including...
In January 2007 local councillors approved a report commissioned by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) proposing a pay-as-you-go system to charge drivers who use the 15 busiest routes in the Greater Manchester area, which includes the City of Manchester plus neighbouring towns. At first it was planned that there would be a sliding scale of charges which would be levied according to which road was being used, when it was being used (rush hour? off-peak? etc.,) and the length of the journey on that road. So (unlike London) the charging zones would be aimed at both the heart of the city centre and traffic hotspots across the region. However, these proposals later mutated to being very similar to what had been proposed (and voted down) in Edinburgh, namely a simpler twin cordon system, with the outer cordon around the M60 motorway and the inner cordon closer to Manchester city centre. Charges would only be levied during the weekday rush hours, so that (unlike in London) off-peak shoppers driving in to the city centre would not be charged. Well not at first, but who knows what would happen a few years after it introduction??? The scheme is (was) expected to commence in 2013.
In June 2008 it was confirmed that Manchester would receive a large injection of funds to expand the Metrolink light rail system (and other rail and bus investments) in exchange for introducing a road pricing scheme. It was also decided that because of massive opposition to the charge there would first be a period of public consultation followed by a local referendum on the issue. The AGMA said that under their constitutional rules for the deal to go ahead there would have to be a majority of voters in favour in at least seven local council areas. However, the leader of Manchester council (Sir Richard Leese) said he would only back the idea of a region-wide vote if all 10 local authorities agreed to be bound by the result.
After much wrangling between the various local governments October 2008 saw a decision being reached on how the local referendum would be conducted. The chosen method was an Edinburgh-style postal vote, with ballot papers sent out to the 1.9million eligible voters on the electoral roll by the end of November and needing to have been returned by the 11th December. At the same time yet more changes were announced to the proposals, including slight adjustments to inner and outer rings, a halving of the £10 maximum daily rate (for regular uses), extra school buses, 30,000 extra tram capacity for passengers, a 20% discount on public transport for those on the minimum wage and HGVs being excluded from the charge for the first year.
Meanwhile Cambridgeshire County Council, which had also been expected to introduce a road pricing scheme, suddenly decided to "go back to the drawing board".
The following links (which lead to external sites and open in new windows) lead to some of the many newspaper articles where more information can be found:-
The Manchester Evening News - both paper and electronic versions - http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/,
This link leads to an interactive map of the proposed Manchester charging zones http://www.newsmapping.com/manchester.c-charge.html,
The result of the poll was announced on the 12th December, and it was a resounding 'NO'.
At 53% the turnout was as high as a general election; the vote was almost 4 to 1 against (79%) with all 10 areas voting no. However, it seems that the whole exercise might have been both a waste of money and a democratic sham, as the result is not legally binding on the councils. Furthermore, almost immediately the referendum results became known the Department for Transport confirmed that it would still be pressing ahead with development of a costly series of studies designed to create a pay-as-you-drive scheme that could result in motorists paying up to £1.30 a mile to drive on British roads during the rush hours.
The real question has to be why anyone honestly expected ordinary hard working heavily taxed people to vote in favour of being tracked 24/7 and having to pay a new tax for the privilege - especially as what would have been charged for is currently free at point of use.
Manchester was a guinea-pig for the rest of the country, and (as is suggested elsewhere on this page) just a stepping-stone for the (then) government's ultimate desire for 24/7 nationwide road charging and personal tracking.
More About The Manchester Proposals.Local councillors suggested that Manchester's scheme would better incentivise drivers to travel outside of peak times (as if they have a choice?????) and would be likely to use a combination of satellite tracking and number plate recognition technology, although exact details remained to be decided upon. There was also a possibility that drivers would be given a choice of either paying a flat rate daily amount or be charged per traffic scanner they pass. Charges mooted included £3 per scanner passed or £8 a day (the latter being approximately a whopping £2,000 a year) - although as time progressed this was cut back to a maximum of £5 a day.
It was suggested that as much as £1 billion could be raised to fund transport improvements - including expansion of the Metrolink light rail system - although it was always possible that the national govt. would emulate what it did for London by reducing its funding by amounts roughly equal to those raised by the congestion charge.
Meanwhile some opponents of the congestion charge accused the national government of blackmail by insisting on its introduction as part of a package for partly financing an expansion of Metrolink to new areas within Greater Manchester.
Part of the 'official' reason for a desire for a Manchester charging system is that since 1997 there has been a 13 per cent increase in overall car travel in Greater Manchester and the GMPTE (Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive) believed congestion was about to reach a `tipping point' where it has a negative impact on the regional economy. Their studies suggested it could cost Greater Manchester 30,000 of the 210,000 jobs expected to be created in the region by 2021. There were also concerns about an increase in carbon emissions and the number of times local concentrations of nitrogen dioxide were already exceeding environmental targets, and that with continued traffic growth this would only get worse.
It might be interesting to compare this data with the 'success' (or otherwise) of the local mainline suburban railway franchise, its services, frequencies, etc; and the myriad of local bus companies, two of which in late 2006 / early 2007 had their operating licences revoked by the traffic commissioners. (Apparently for safety reasons). A conclusion could be drawn that at least part of the 'problem' is that people are voting with their feet because they do not see the existing transports as offering viable choices for the journeys they wish to make & times of day they wish / need to travel...
The organisation Manchester Against Road Tolls created a campaigning website which can be visited by clicking either of these image banners - links will open in new windows.
The question which was asked was cleverly and (in some people's view) controversially worded to reflect the whole package of works which the TIF will help fund, rather than just one aspect of it - namely the congestion charge - which
is the most controversial. The idea was to ask a simple 'yes / no' question which it was hoped everyone would understand. It ignored the fact that life is not always a simple yes / no, black / white, etc,. issue and instead there are shades of grey
(gray) in between. The question read:
To help voters understand the wider issues beyond the road charging every ballot paper included the following explanatory preamble: "Please read the leaflet enclosed with this ballot paper which provides details of the Greater Manchester Transport Innovation Fund proposals. These involve both major investment in public transport improvements in Greater Manchester and a weekday, peak time only, congestion charging scheme. Congestion charging would only be introduced after 80% of the public transport improvements are in place and not before the summer of 2013."
Not Really 'Dirty Tricks' - Just Biassed Campaigning.
As could be expected there was much campaigning by various (local) governmental bodies in favour of a 'Yes' vote. So perhaps the following two items should not be complete surprises...
In January 2009 Durham County Council scrapped plans to enlarge its existing congestion charging zone within Durham city. It also scrapped plans to build a new northern relief road, as it recognised that both would result in increased congestion on the main north-south route which skirts the city (the A167) and that neither option was likely to persuade people to adopt the 'key target' of a more sustainable mode of travel. At a time of serious economic recession it was also recognised that the enlarged charging zone would be likely to deter people from visiting the City for shopping or leisure purposes - which for a city that faces stiff competition from other destinations would be highly undesirable.
These policy changes come after a two year study into options for addressing traffic management problems in and around Durham city centre, and the 'NO' vote in Manchester several months earlier. The study, incidentally, was partially funded by the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) described above, making Durham City Council one of the few local authorities to have won TIF funding. The study cost a little over £500,000, with the TIF contribution being £350,000.
Another blow to the national government's desire to see satellite based "spy in the sky" road charging and tracking / surveillance of everyone's movements is that also in June 2008 the insurance provider Norwich Union discontinued its trials of 'pay as you drive' (PAYD) car insurance. Whereas normal motoring insurance is charged on the basis of a fixed fee that is usually reviewed / revised on an annual basis, the experimental PAYD system saw the actual amount paid by the vehicle owner varying depending on when the vehicle was used (time of day, etc.,) the type of road used, how far it travelled and how fast it was travelling. This system worked by vehicles being tracked 24/7 using "tag & beacon" technology. The "tag and beacon" system is looked at below.
Another form of vehicle based taxation which is set to be introduced here in Britain is the Workplace Parking Levy (WPL).
The first city expected to introduce a WPL will be Nottingham, which already has a very successful single tramline and wants to use this as another way of funding its expansion - as well funding improvements to its other railway and bus networks. Assuming that the national government gives its seal of approval the city council expects the WPL tax to be introduced in April 2010. The reason for only charging parking spaces provided by employers is that the intended aim is car commuters who are being blamed for the weekday 'rush hour' congestion, and not people entering the city to go shopping, take children to / from school, etc.
What is being proposed is that employers who provide 'free' parking space for their staff will be charged an initial £185 annual fee (per parking space), which by 2014 is expected to have risen to £350. It will then be for the employers to decide whether to absorb the cost or pass it on to their employees. Employers who absorb the cost may find that the Inland Revenue will treat their car commuters as if they had received a benefit in kind and demand that the value of this be included in their remuneration and therefore be subjected to income tax. Only large employers (about 500 are expected to be involved) will be charged in this way; smaller employers with 10 or fewer car parking spaces will not pay the tax. In theory parking spaces used by fleet vehicles which are left in the employer's car parks overnight will also be exempted - although what happens if the same space is then used during the day by commuters remains to be seen.
A WPL was chosen over a congestion charge scheme because only 10% of the income received from the WPL will be lost in operation costs compared to 40-50% lost in operation costs in London. The WPL is also thought to be cheaper and easier to organise.
In early October 2007 a Scottish govt. insider let it be known that the Scottish govt. would not co-operate with the Westminster politicians and instead would refuse to pass legislation to allow road pricing in Scotland. Although
the Westminster govt. has the power over transport policy to introduce UK-wide tolls, these would still require approval by a vote in the Scottish Parliament. What is more, it was pointed out that some aspects of the plan, such
as laws allowing installation of equipment, would have to be authorised by the Scottish transport minister, so even if the minority Scottish National Party govt. lost a Holyrood (Scottish Parliament) vote on the introduction of road
tolling, the transport minister could still block their introduction by refusing to rubber stamp minor aspects of the plan. Information source:
http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=477&id=1600962007 (Link to an external site which opens in a new window).
With the above news item in mind, and a count of 1.8million people on a 'Office of the Prime Minister / 10 Downing Street Petition' against road tolling it is not surprising that just one week later the national govt. let it be known that whilst it would still be looking to see as many as ten (10) 'pilot' local road charging schemes being introduced (in England) it would scrap its plans for a national scheme for all of the UK.
In defending this policy u-turn a spokesperson from the DfT said "We agree that there are congestion problems on parts of the strategic road network, but 88 per cent of congestion is in urban areas. Therefore it is sensible to prioritise the assessment of road pricing in these areas."
Instead of a centrally planned national scheme the national politicians will leave it to local politicians to decide upon road pricing schemes, this even applies to national trunk roads which pass through their areas. The same newspaper article also points out that (so far) only Greater Manchester has submitted a formal application to run a road pricing scheme and that earlier in the year the West Midlands, which had been seen as another possible guinea pig, decided against drawing up a road pricing blueprint.
At least for the time being - as we all know, politicians can and often do change their minds, especially immediately after winning an election when they know that they will have enough time to implement an unpopular proposal well before
the next elections. Additional information source:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/10/15/nroads115.xml.(Link to an external site which opens in a new window).
As part of its management of our roads system the Highways Agency is introducing a new nationwide roads information system which is being promoted as being designed to inform motorists about road conditions, delays, planned closures for roadworks (etc.,) and therefore help make journeys more reliable and safer. What is not being said is that this system is also capable of transmitting the information required for road pricing.
Known as the National Roads Telecommunications Services (NRTS) and costing upwards of £500 million, the system has been designed to create a "single national approach" to the future of communications on our motorway and road network. The news that this system could be used as part of any future road pricing system came in an apparently unguarded remark by a consultant working on the system who suggested that just as plug and play technology (usually) makes it easy to add new features to computers so NRTS has been designed so that in years to come it would be relatively easy to add extra functions such as the Govt. / Highways Agency see fit, and that an ability to transmit the data required to make road pricing work could be one of these extra functions.
The NRTS links the many cameras, message signs, sensors and other kit which makes it possible for the Agency to keep track of traffic. One member of the consortium rolling out NRTS throughout Great Britain also has expertise with automatic number plate recognition technologies, although NRTS could just as easily be used to transmit data collected from electronic tags located on vehicle windscreens / number plates, and or other systems.
Information sourced from the printed and online versions of the Daily Telegraph newspaper, the latter as per the following two links which open in new windows:
In August 2008 during the height of the holiday season the information sort of 'escaped' that in or around 2010 various parts of the country will host a series of technology trials for a national road pricing scheme, which at peak times on the busiest roads could see charges of as much as £1.30 a mile. It seems that the desire for road pricing is being driven by the Treasury, who are keen to find new ways of taxing people. Curiously however, these trials could coincide with a general election, and 'if so', then mass voter disaffection could influence the result of that election.
Apparently one of the basis for the amount charged will be where a person lives, this being something that has caused much alarm that motorists who live in affluent areas could be charged higher rates, although the official reason is so that local governments can charge their residents a lower rate. Other options which could be implemented include
Another aspect of these trials is that especially the people from the various different companies which are hoping to win the contract to trial one of several different technologies will have to abide by the Official Secrets Act.
As if these aspects are not ominous enough, in its consultation document the Government accepts that thousands of motorists could be wrongly charged with contractors initially expected to record only 95% of charges correctly.
What is a real mystery is why anyone believed the earlier pronouncements that a national road pricing system was no longer on the agenda. Maybe the public are gullible? Too trusting? Unaware of possible / probable ultimate intentions?
Included in a Local Transport Bill passing through Parliament (November 2008) is provision for local governments to introduce road pricing schemes in their areas without Central Government's (ie: Westminster) approval. In fact they will not even need the approval of local people - because there will be no binding form of consultation which will allow local people to veto such local schemes. This legislation will also give the Welsh Assembly the power to impose tolls on all trunk roads in Wales, this apparently being the first time it has been given tax-raising powers of any kind.
National govt. Ministers say that what they are doing is giving local governments the freedom to manage congestion locally, whilst a source at the DfT claims that the lack of a requirement for consultation with local people is because they do not want to be 'prescriptive' about how local councils consult the public.
Critics of these proposals are claiming that the national politicians are just passing the road tolling 'poison chalice' to local politicians and that if many local councils were to use these powers then the effect would be like a national road pricing scheme which had been sneaked-in via a 'back door.'
Meanwhile, the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill which is passing through Parliament (January 2009) includes in its small print for the creation of 'super-councils' which will encompass several local authority areas and whose members will be appointed / not elected & not democratically accountable. These 'quangos' will have the power to impose road charging, workplace parking taxes etc., on the unwilling public who will have no form of democratic redress - except perhaps to petition the Monarch to save them from such tyranny. (Something which would pose an interesting historical contrast with the reason why there was a civil war and its end-result in 1649 - specially if by then Prince Charles has ascended to the throne!)
In many ways these 'super-councils' will be similar to the Regional Development Agencies, which are a form of regional government which in November 2004 the people of north east England overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum by 78% to 22%.
Information sourced from the printed and online versions of the Daily Telegraph newspaper, the latter as per the following link contains further information and will which open in a new window:
In spring 2010 a public consultation was held in the city of York over the desirability (or otherwise) of some sort of congestion charge. The idea of road pricing was rejected, and with traffic levels expected to grow by 28% by 2021, improvements to roads, public transport and cycle routes are being planned to combat the problem.
Traditionally British motorists have not had to pay any additional fees above the existing motoring taxes to use the fastest & safest roads, which are known as Motorways. However, that situation is changing, and the first British toll motorway opened in December 2003. Known as the M6 Toll this 27 miles / 43km motorway acts as a relief road to the very heavily congested M6 motorway in the Birmingham, West Midlands area. The reason for charging is that as in medieval days this motorway was built (for the government) by a private (commercial) organisation on a DBOM (design, build, operate, maintain) finance contract and it was decided that the cost of construction should be recovered by charging the road users directly. The tolls are paid at tollbooths, similar (in theme) to those in the Dallas image seen below left. There is more information about the M6 Toll on their website at http://www.m6toll.co.uk. (Link to an external site which opens in a new window).
Within months of opening the M6 Toll was credited with having reduced traffic levels on the main M6 by as much as 10%, and because of this apparent success it is probable that similar tactics will be used for other new roads, which implies that despite paying heavy motoring and fuel taxes British motorists will soon be charged extra taxes not only to travel within cities but between them too. Already on the drawing board (March 2005) is a northward extension of the toll road from Birmingham to Manchester. This will be of two lanes per direction and (for the most part) run alongside the existing M6 motorway.
Toll motorway fails to solve congestion...
Despite the above comments (which came from a government Minister whose department has a vested interest in seeing the toll road as a success) a report by the Highways Agency suggested that Britain's first motorway toll is failing to cut the amount of traffic on the road and instead is increasing congestion, This report suggested that traffic north and south of the toll road is much higher than before - and that whilst rush hour traffic speeds are improved the M6 still suffers from congestion - with off-peak traffic moving more slowly than before. Information source: http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=2026562005 (newspaper article dated 2nd October 2005). (Link to an external site which opens in a new window).
In January 2008 it was revealed that after the roads fourth price rise in three years which saw the toll rise from £3.00 to £4.50 the House of Commons transport select committee would include increases in the cost of road tolls in a wider ranging investigation into increases of travel costs over the winter holiday period. MPs are considering an investigation into Britain's only privately-owned motorway after the cost of driving on it rocketed by 50 per cent in just four years.
In September 2005 information published under the Freedom of Information Act (but surely it would have come out anyway, albeit perhaps via a different route??) suggested that transport officials are planning to impose a fee which could be as high as £20 per journey on vehicles using the section of the M4 motorway which passes London's Heathrow Airport. This would apply even to vehicles which are travelling to or from London, and for which the airport is just a commercial organisation that is passed en route. This would the first mandatory levy on drivers using an existing (ie: not new build) motorway and would probably lead to road users switching - in their droves - to other, local roads.
The M4 toll would be in addition to the Central London Congestion Charge, creating a financial double-whammy for those road users who travel through to central London.
It is perhaps significant that the primary motivation for this M4 charge (and its very steep fee) is to deter motorists travelling to / from the airport from travelling by car - especially once the new Terminal 5 is open - as it would then help stop local air pollution levels from rising, and indeed even see them falling - something which would then make it possible to build a third runway at the airport whilst still keeping within stiffening local air pollution regulations. The following link to a national newspaper website has more information about the proposed M4 toll. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1796281,00.html. (Link to an external site which opens in a new window).
This is an appalling proposal - which is more fully explored (with viable alternative solutions too) on a small pop-up window reached automatically by locating your computer mouse anywhere in this red box.
In an effort to maximise road space and reduce congestion (and to be seen to be doing 'something' about traffic congestion on the motorways) October 2008 saw the govt. propose to use the hard shoulder as a toll lane for vehicles wishing to by-pass the congestion. The 'hard shoulder' is the emergency lane for vehicles which have broken down to use. It is also used by emergency vehicles when trying to pass traffic congestion and reach the scene of accidents. The proposed fee for this is 42 pence per mile, which can work out as being 'very expensive'. Also proposed were some US-style toll lanes on the motorways.
Over 500 miles of motorway could become part of such a scheme, which would require significant investment in 'tag & beacon readers to detect and charge both the vehicles using the tolled lanes legally - and illegally.
The proposals also include the use of variable speed limits to slow traffic approaching traffic congestion. This technology is already being used on part of the M42 outside Birmingham and the M25 to the west and south-west of London, and the cameras monitor traffic speeds at all times, not just when the limits have been reduced.
It could be significant that the proposal to use the hard shoulder as an additional traffic lane comes just months after the March 2008 scrapping of what had been seen as a 'flagship' HOV (High occupancy vehicle) scheme which was to have been trialed on the M1 motorway between junctions 7 and 10 (Milton Keynes South to St Albans) with the idea being that if it proved successful then it would be extended further north when more sections of the motorway are widened (as well as rolled out on to other motorways too). This scheme was scrapped after a feasibility study decided that it "could lead to an increase in accidents". This is because it was proposed to use the outside lanes, and (suddenly!) someone had recognised potential hazards in that vehicles on other lanes could be "undertaking" others in the outside lane (passing on the inside is illegal - although poor lane discipline by 'middle lane hoggers' means that it frequently happens anyway) and over concerns about how the police would be able to pull over non-compliant vehicles. So, instead it is now planned to use the hard shoulder, which will still create problems, albeit of different kinds.
Information sourced from the printed and online versions of the Daily Telegraph newspaper, the latter as per the following link which open in a new window and where further information can be found:
As previously stated some bridges and tunnels also charge drivers to use them; these are separate issues not directly related to (urban) road / congestion charging although experience with the Dartford Tunnel / QE2 Bridge crossing over the River Thames to the east of London is worth mentioning - because whilst originally the tolls were collected to repay the cost of construction and build up a pot of money for future maintenance (a happy situation which was reached in 2003) it has subsequently been decided that so much money is being raised from vehicles crossing the river here that the toll represents a "nice little earner" and therefore it will not be stopped even though the original intentions have been realised (see below).
Some of the British tunnel / bridges which charge fees to use them offer regular users the option of automated electronic payment systems as an alternative option to paying in cash "there and then" every time they pass through the toll booths. For instance: the Dartford Crossing operates what it calls the "DART-Tag", this being an electronic pre-payment "tag and beacon" system whereby detectors mounted at the toll booths read tags located inside the vehicles' windscreens, and then automatically deduct the charge from the vehicle owners' account. The advantages of this to businesses (especially fleet owners) include vehicle drivers not needing to carry cash, the possibility of centralised accounts, and a 7.5% discount for each use. However, the system only works when the pre-payment account is in credit - so if the credit runs out then tolls must be paid, in cash, at the time of use. That way the recipients of the tolls avoid the issue of monthly accounts which run into arrears and the many cowboy companies which take an outrageous 90+ days to settle their accounts. For more information visit their website at http://www.dartfordrivercrossing.co.uk/dart-tag. (Link to an external site which opens in a new window).
The M6 Toll also operates an electronic "tag and beacon" system and it is probable that long distance road users who use both the M6 Toll and the Dartford Crossing would subscribe to both such systems. This means that they will probably have two "tags" inside their vehicle windscreens - hopefully when these vehicles pass through the toll booths only the correct tag for that organisation will be read and only the correct account (for that organisation) will have money deducted.
In October 2006 the Department for Transport (DfT) announced that instead of honouring the previously stated commitment to make the Dartford Crossing free once a sufficient pot of money had been raised it wanted to increase daytime toll charges on the Dartford Crossing.
The new regime started in November 2008, and includes some artificial sweeteners along with price rises which leave a very bitter taste in the mouth. For local residents in the two communities either side of the crossing (ie: Thurrock and Dartford) the introduction of a discount scheme will be very welcome. (For a £10 annual fee people with proof of local residency can use the crossing 50 times for free and then at just 20 pence per time) However the fee charged to all other car drivers who pay cash will soar upwards by a whopping 50% - from £1.00 to £1.50, whilst for "DART-Tag" users the fee will be bumped-up from £0.93 to £1.00. Furthermore, receipts for cash payments will not be given at the tollbooths - this especially adversely affects businesses where employees need proof of expenditure. Charges for commercial vehicles are also increased whilst additional charges for all trailers are being withdrawn.
However the most significant aspect of the changes is that they only apply between 6am and 10pm. During the night all vehicles can travel for free. The idea is to encourage commercial heavy goods vehicles to travel at these times, when the roads are less busy. Many of them already do.
With respect to private motoring the DfT claims that the new regime is to encourage motorists to use the "DART-Tag" instead of waiting in queues at toll booths, and, as part of a series of small stepping stones towards a nationwide 'pay-as-you-drive' system to get more motorists used to having RFID chips in their vehicles. They 'conveniently' forget that many car drivers take advantage of the automated 'throw the correct money in a large coin collector' (cash) payment machines which already minimise delays. They totally ignore the fact that the optimum way to avoid delays would be to make the crossing completely free, as this would totally avoid the need to pass through tollbooths.... although congestion might still occur if more traffic tried to use travel at the same time than the tunnels and bridge can carry.
|In 2005 Transport for London trialed a 10 vehicle / 2 beacon "tag & beacon" system, which in 2006 was extended to use 20 beacons and 500 vehicles.
This beacon is in Tooley Street, near to London Bridge station and (perhaps very appropriately) the "Britain at War" and "London Dungeon" visitor attractions.
|More beacons - seen in summer 2007 on London's North Circular Road.
Although technically just ANPR (automated number plate readers) used to detect stolen (etc.,) vehicles these beacons could also be used to enforce the London Low Emissions Zone and (in the future) road pricing.
Unidirectional above and bi-directional below (located alongside some traffic signals on a road centre traffic island).
Whereas the traditional way for road users to pay road tolls has always been by handing over money at toll-booths / turnpikes recent advances in technology have led to the development of new ways of extracting money.
The electronic system which is currently used the most is known as "tag and beacon". This works by means of an electronic radio emitter (the "tag") being located within a vehicle. Usually this will be on the inside of the windscreen although obviously safety dictates that it must be somewhere where it will not obstruct the driver's field of view. These tags are interrogated when the vehicle passes close to a "beacon" unit and information is exchanged between the two. This communication is by means of microwave technology:
The advantage of electronic systems such as this is that journeys are not delayed by calling at toll plazas, toll booths or coin chutes. In most situations vehicles just drive normally - which is important on busy and urban roads as it helps to maintain a steady flow of traffic.
For road tolling the beacons tend to be mounted on overhead gantries which span the carriageway, with there possibly being several beacons per gantry - the exact number will vary according to the road configuration (eg: number of traffic lanes). The beacons usually share the overhead gantries with surveillance cameras which are linked into number plate recognition computer systems. This is primarily done for enforcement purposes, although the use of such vehicle movement tracking systems could also help the various authorities to keep tabs on vehicles as they travel around. (See below)
Depending on the type of scheme (eg: a flat rate bridge / tunnel toll scheme or a varying charge distance-travelled / road usage scheme) each "reading" of a tag might simply deduct a "unit" which is equivalent to paying a flat rate toll, or deduct a variable monetary value. Monetary values can be held either at a central database or on a "smartcard" tag. In the latter instance it could be possible to use the same tag to pay for parking, public transport usage or even purchases at a local grocery, newsagents (etc.,) .
Because of the automatic number plate reading systems it is possible to track vehicles without tags and assuming that the registration details held by the vehicle licensing authorities are correct an automated invoice (or fine) can be sent to the vehicle owner. If the system is set up to do so it would also be possible to send automated alerts to the police if any vehicles are detected which are "of interest" to them - perhaps for having been reported stolen, for not being registered as having paid the road fund tax disc, for not having motor insurance or for having an unknown number plate. If it were possible to identify "cloned" number plates it could help prevent much heartache for the otherwise innocent people who would (probably) be receiving invoices and / or penalty notices for having been in violation of the road user charging system when in fact they had not even been there!
A slightly different electronic system would dispense with the tags (or make them optional) and see road users being billed directly from the information gained by the surveillance cameras. It would still be possible for road users to pay funds "upfront" into their road user charging account (if such accounts exist) however, especially for a variable charge system, there would also be a much larger element of retrospective billing. Plus it could be that there would need to be surveillance camera equipped gantries on every road at regular intervals - something that could become unmanageable on any large geographic scale or complex urban area.
It is anticipated that none of the tolling methods described above would be robust (or intensive) enough for the large scale (virtually nationwide) schemes which would be needed if road user tolling is to be a viable alternative to the present-day system of imposing taxes on fuels sourced from finite resources. Instead what is being proposed is that every vehicle contains a GPS (global positioning satellite) receiver which - by listening for incoming signals from the satellite - matches its position with an electronic map of charged areas and a list of charge rates. Then either an in-car "smartcard tag" can have the appropriate value deducted from a previously installed monetary value or the appropriate data can be sent (perhaps by an automated radio link) to a processing office for the user's invoice to be generated. Both variants of this system would still require some surveillance cameras to watch traffic flow - if only to ensure that every vehicle actually using the public highway was accounted for and being charged,
Apparently something known as "Assisted GPS" is already being introduced for use with future generations of mobile phones. This enhanced form of GPS will incorporate new levels of accuracy in locating the phone's exact position and will allow retailers, for example, to call potential customers as they pass their doors. Similar technology could easily be adapted for motor vehicle use - not just for road user tolling but (for instance) to help summon emergency assistance in the event of a road traffic accident (rta) - perhaps as automatic summoning of help whenever the airbag is deployed? (something that every vehicle driver will appreciate after the inevitable rta because a retailer they were passing diverted their attention from driving safely by phoning to ask them to visit and buy things the motorist neither needs nor wants!)
Another use for "tag & beacon" technology is the creation of car insurance based on when a person actively drives the vehicle.
A trial of this was offered by one of Britain's major insurers (Norwich Union) but it was suspended in summer 2008.
The idea was that charges would be higher at times when accidents would be more likely - such as during the rush hour and late at night. Charges also varied depending on the type of road travelled on and the distance travelled. It was claimed to result in people with low car usage or young drivers, who typically face very high insurance costs, saving as much as 30% compared to other types of car insurance.
The reasons for the suspension of this type of insurance policy include that:
"Big Brother" 1984 is N-O-WAs many people know, everything in life is connected. The topic of road user tolling systems which involve the continuous detection and tracking of moving vehicles crosses over into many other aspects of life - creating new possibilities for improving our daily lives, as well as new dangers - and this section looks at some of these issues.. Note that these comments are not intended to be judgmental - just to explore the possibilities.
With CCTV (closed circuit television) surveillance cameras almost everywhere nowadays many people already accept that their every movement is being watched and would therefore see road user tolling systems (whether satellite based or otherwise) as nothing more than just an extension of that surveillance. Furthermore, for most people the attitude would be that as they have "nothing to hide" then why should they worry? But it could also be asked why - if a person is innocent of any crime - should other people (including the State as well as an unknown number of possibly unscrupulous commercial organisations) be allowed to track them in this way? Well before 2008 the media was often publishing stories of CCTV system and anti-terror law misuse, such as CCTV cameras looking into teenage girls bedrooms and local governments using anti-terror legislation to snoop on households which claim council tax reductions because of single occupancy. All this bodes ill for the use of electronic road pricing systems, and only serves to validate the worst fears of those who see the real aim as being the conversion of Britain into a freedom-hating police state.
Some people would suggest that such tracking would be more reminiscent of totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union - where power-crazed leaders had enemies within their own nations and therefore really did live in fear of their own people - than the free, open, democratic nation that we tell ourselves is modern-day Britain... (maybe though our leaders really are frightened of the general population? - of course if asked they will deny this but that might just be a "politicians" response! - the way in which the 2004 Civil Contingency legislation confiscates our human rights suggests that there is more to this than meets the eye.) Terrorism cannot be a valid excuse for such tracking - after all even when the IRA was bombing Britain in the 1970's the powers that be did not deem repressive-style tracking, internal passports (aka ID cards) and compulsory fingerprinting of the entire population to be a sensible solution. (Few people will remember that in the 1970's the IRA even bombed the London Underground - with fatal results!)
Whilst it is true that ID cards were used during WW2 experience afterwards when the police used just checking your ID as a legitimate excuse to stop (harass) otherwise innocent motorists was a significant factor in their abolition. Vehicle tracking systems might be intended for road user charging but once the technology is in place its uses could easily be expanded to "other" areas / uses too.
It is hoped that with vehicle tracking systems which are based on computers reading vehicle number plates already being used there is *very* robust checking of the data - anyone who has ever used computer image manipulation software packages (such as Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Photo Goo, plus many others) will know that it is possible to "digitally" enhance images so that a photograph could be produced showing a vehicle (or person) as being somewhere where they have in fact never been. Indeed, the technology is now so advanced that it is possible to add / remove people or things from live streams of video. This technology has already found favour in the advertising industry as it facilitates the customising of the advertisements the viewer sees on broadcasts of live international sporting events to products available in the viewers' home country!
To a certain extent transponder "tag" based vehicle tracking technology has already been used for many years here in Britain. Fleet owners / employers (such as the money - cash - distribution to banks industry) already keep tabs of their vehicles' movements to check up on their employees and make sure that they are where they are supposed to be. Many vehicle owners also subscribe to a tracker system designed to help the police locate stolen vehicles - the on-vehicle "tags" help identify individual vehicles even when the number plates have been replaced with false plates - although here the "tags" are only activated after an equipped vehicle has been reported as missing / stolen.
Information from these systems could also be used in a court of law to prove a vehicle's whereabouts - and if / when every road vehicle is tracked in this way the information could help the police with their scene of crime (or accident) investigations as it would let them know which road users were in the area at that time - possibly seeing innocent motorists being treated as potentially guilty until they can prove otherwise.
Some of the issues raised in this section are not directly related to road tolling but as previously stated technology does have a tendency to "cross-over" into other uses too.
Skin Detecting Cameras
In summer 2005 it was reported that an automated camera detection system was under development - amongst the challenges which needed to be resolved were to correctly detect occupants in vehicles with partially obscured windows
/ passengers only in the back seats / vehicles with children in them / babies in child seats... plus of course that no-one is using blow-up dolls or dummies - these being the legendary North American 'dodges'!
In late 2007 a new infrared CCTV system was unveiled which can count the number of people in a vehicle - and differentiate from doll, dummy, or whatever - by detecting human skin and counting faces.
Known as Dtect, this system uses cameras which are elevated so they have a three-quarter vantage point of vehicles on the road and are therefore able to get a clearer view inside a vehicle - which includes taking images through a vehicles' windscreen.
At present the promotional buzz words and catchphrases include that it would allow the police and authorities to monitor how many people are in the car accurately while not infringing people's right to privacy. Some media reports have talked of the possibility of a legal challenge on the basis that the use of Dtect cameras amount to illegal surveillance, although it is probably too late for that, especially in a country where CCTV camera systems are virtually already on every street corner.
Occupant-based Variable Charge Road Pricing???One possible future use being touted for Dtect camera systems is that they could be also used to police sophisticated local congestion and road pricing schemes in which discounts could be offered to anyone willing to share a vehicle.
Is everyone happy about this??? After all, it does sound logical. Maybe we should all just welcome implantable RFID chips and let the power mongers turn us into real life 'Borg', who are monitored and controlled 24/7 - this being the ultimate endgame plan...
|In 1975 Singapore city became the first urban area to introduce road pricing, with vehicles entering the 'Restricted Zone' during the hours of operation having to display a special licence, or be fined. This system was enforced by police officers making visual checks at entry points. Even taxis were charged, with most taxi drivers just adding the fee to the fare of the first passenger who took them into the restricted zone that day.||In 1998 Singapore started using the "tag and beacon"
ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) system.
See below for information on this.
Image sourced from the "Wikipedia" encyclopædia http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:ERPBugis.JPG
(link opens in a new window).
In Singapore's Central Business District the ERP scheme applies from 7.00am to 8.00pm, whilst on the expressways / outer ring roads charging is between 7.30am and 9.30am plus
5.30pm and 10.30pm. Some roads are also charged on Saturdays.
In Norway three cities have toll rings around them, charging what effectively is an urban "entry fee" into their communities - Bergen (opened 1986) Oslo (opened 1989) and Trondheim (opened 1991). These cities use tollbooths where there are special lanes for "tag and beacon" equipped vehicles. Vehicles without tags must pay at the automatic coin machines located in the other lanes. Toll prices increase during peak rush hours and since introduction the system has been changed so that drivers are also charged as they travel around eg: for passing from one sector of the toll ring to another. However limits are imposed on the number of charges that can be made so that people who live close by the ring or who make very frequent crossings do not rack up huge bills. Enforcement comes via video camera systems which will record vehicle's front number plates if a non-tagged vehicle tries to use the wrong lane, if the vehicle's tag has no credit or is otherwise inoperative. In these situations a demand for payment will be sent by post. The video is also used if someone tries to cheat the coin machines.
Trondheim claims to be the first city anywhere globally to use an automatic toll collection system. This was on the 14th October 1991. The word "automatic" means in this context that the toll ring almost exclusively consists of unattended toll stations. In Trondheim the electronic "smartcard" tags can also be used to buy public transport tickets and pay for parking - both "on street" and in multi-story parking garages which are also equipped with tag readers so that on arrival the barrier will open automatically and the vehicle owner does not have to pay on exit as a beacon unit will read the vehicle's tag and charge the fee automatically. In this way there are none of those "take ticket on entry & pay on exit" tickets to lose.
When road tolling began in Bergan the funds raised were matched by national government with the monies raised being spent on roads, public transport and inner-city regeneration. However in 1988 the agenda was changed and it was decided to banish through traffic and close many of the roads within the tolled area. After a one year "experiment" these road closures were made permanent.
A new urban charging scheme was planned for introduction in Stockholm (the Swedish capital) starting summer 2005. However on 8th February 2005 the Swedish National Road Administration ordered a halt to all works to introduce the e-congestion charge project pending new court rulings on the contract awarding process. This was after a company which lost its bid to install and operate the system filed a complaint in a district administrative court, claiming the negotiations unfairly favoured the winner. Stockholm's road pricing system was meant to be a one year trial aimed at assessing whether congestion charges could reduce traffic, increase accessibility to the city centre and improve the environment. It was originally scheduled to run from 1st June 2005 to 31st July 2006 but the start date was put back to 3rd January 2006, ending as originally scheduled on 31st July 2006.
Known as the Central Stockholm Congestion Charge (CSCC) it was only paid by vehicles crossing one of the 18 tolling stations on radial routes into and out of the central charging zone. This very low number of tolling stations was because Stockholm is almost surrounded by water, so significantly fewer toll booths were needed compared to many other cities, such as London which has 200 routes into the charging zone. Whilst some of the tolling points were located on the entry / exit ramps of the Essingeleden Motorway (E4) traffic which remained on the E4 as it travelled through the central area was not charged. Tolls were collected by passing under a gantry which spans the entire road width, from which transponders read tags located at the front of the vehicle, and cameras photographed rear number plates.
With the Stockholm model all road vehicles were charged either Skr10, Skr15 or Skr20 (Skr = Swedish Krona / Crowns) each time they entered or exited the charging zone between 6.30am and 6.30pm (on weekdays - weekends being free), subject to a maximum fee of Skr60 per day. All vehicles (eg: private cars, articulated lorries, etc.,) paid identical tolls according to time of day, with there being a very complex system of ten different charging periods per day including a 60 minute morning and 90 minute evening peak hour toll rate, a "shoulder" toll rate which was charged on either side of the peak hours and a middle-of-workday toll rate which also started and ended the day. Exceptions to charging included the emergency services, buses, taxis, electric & hybrid vehicles, foreign registered, military, disabled persons with handicapped parking permits plus diplomats - although it could be asked whether the latter group should be entitled to such a dispensation.
Early data (published 17th March) from the first two months pointed to a drop in 100,000 cars entering the city but an increase of only 40,000 using public transport - implying that tens of thousands of people could have been avoiding the city. Because of the reduction in road traffic it was found that in order to keep to the timetable (and avoid running early) buses were having to spend time waiting at bus stops. By way of example it was found that journeys which previously had taken 13-15 minutes were now taking just 6-7 minutes. Studies after the trial had been concluded showed that during the trial period weekday traffic dropped by an average of 20% and air pollution decreased 9-14%.
In September 2006 a referendum was held to decide whether the toll should become permanent. This date was chosen because it coincided with national, regional and local elections. The results of this poll were that whilst the residents of Stockholm municipality voted in favour the residents of 14 other municipalities voted against implementing it permanently. On the 1st October 2006, the Swedish government declared it will implement the Stockholm congestion tax permanently; and it is scheduled to return on the 1st of August 2007. The Swedish government (which is centre-right in its politics) plans that income from the charge will go towards road-building, rather than towards public transport as the Social Democrats had proposed.
Whilst for the permanent tolling system the schedule of time of day / charges will remain the same there are a number of (mostly subtle) changes. These include that:-
Perhaps the most significant change is that because the use of number plate readers worked so well during the trial - about half reads were by transponder, half by cameras - the main technology for the tolling is by cameras, eliminating the need to manage a large database of transponders. However the use of transponders will still be a possibility, especially by vehicles with exemptions to the toll, and by residents of Lidingo, an island only which can only be reached by travelling through the central area.
In January 2010 the city council in Gothenburg - the second-largest city in Sweden - voted in favour of introducing a similar tolling system to that used in Stockholm. Proposed to start in 2013 it will feature 40 tolling points encircling the city centre. A provisional charge level of Skr10 has been suggested, with charges being levied 6.30am - 6.29pm Monday - Friday, except during the month of July, which would be toll-free.
Information sources include:-
http://www.thelocal.se/24666/20100129/ (links to external sites which open in new windows).
|Toll plaza on the Otowa-Gamagori Toll Road, in Nagoya, Aichi, Japan.
Image sourced from "Wikipedia" encyclopædia link
|The payment station at Norrtull of the Stockholm congestion tax trials, 23rd January 2006.
Image sourced from "Wikipedia" encyclopædia link
Hong Kong tested road pricing between 1983 and 1985 and although the concept was proven to be successful public opposition prevented a permament system being installed. It seems that in part this was because people did not want to be tracked 24/7. They placed personal freedom above the wishes of those in power.
In April 2007 New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that as part of a major plan for a greener greater New York City he would like to see congestion pricing introduced in Lower Manhattan south of 60th Street. Initially this would run as a three year trial with decisions then made as to whether to adopt it permanently.
He proposed that for cars the fees would be $8 for each entry and exit and daily movement within the central area toll (CAT) zone, or $4 for internal travel solely within the zone. For trucks the fees would be $21 for each entry, exit and daily movement or $5.50 for solely internal movement. Charges would apply 6am to 6pm, on weekdays only.
As with London the zone would also incorporate charge-free through routes, these being FDR Drive and the Eastern Bridges and their approaches.
Tolling would be by a combination of "tag and beacon" transponders being read on moving vehicles and license plate reading cameras. The latter (which is known as video tolling) would have to be paid within 48 hours to avoid violation charges. Tolls would be payable online, by telephone or at walk-in retail counters. As approximately 70% of drivers in New York City already have E-ZPass "tag and beacon" transponders on their windscreens so this is how the majority would be expected to be charged. The Mayor also proposed that E-ZPass users paying tunnel and bridge tolls would have those tolls credited against the CAT, so that in effect the total charges would be capped at $8.00 daily.
Taxis, local transport buses, emergency vehicles and handicapped license plate holders would be exempt from the toll. Funds raised would go to various transport and road improvements around the city.
It is (was) very much hoped that British diplomatic staff will point blank refuse to pay this toll, in the same way and for the same reasons that US diplomatic staff are refusing to pay London's Congestion charge. If the various US authorities do not like this then they will understand exactly how the various British authorities feel.
Charging in NYC fails to happen.
However in April 2008 this proposal was blocked by the state Assembly so what after London would almost certainly have been the highest profile urban road user tolling scheme has been abandoned. Coming from a nation where many major highways impose road user tolls this turn of events is somewhat surprising.
|Milan Ecopass zone road sign. Image sourced from this page on the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) website http://www.itdp.org - pages open in new windows.|
Although introduced under an environmental label Milan's scheme is also intended to reduce traffic levels within the zone.
Under the scheme, which is marketed as Ecopass, motorists are charged a daily fee of €2 - €10 to enter a small 8sq km (3sq miles) city centre zone. The charge is levied on a sliding scale of engine types, with the most polluting paying the most, but note however that some older vehicles which predate the 'euro' engine exhaust classification are banned from entering the zone without an option to pay extra for an Ecopass. Some vehicles are exempted from paying the charge, these include scooters and electric or methane cars. Residents can pay a fixed annual fee of up to €250 or (along with everyone else) can buy discounted multiple-entry passes. Charges are levied on weekdays between 7.30am and 7.30pm and a network of cameras at 43 gates monitor vehicles, with fines of between €70 and €275 for offenders.
The scheme, which began in January 2008 had a very bad start, causing chaos with motorists and police complaining that online and free-phone payment systems had broken down.
Milan's Mayor said that the new charge is part of a wider project to reduce smog and increase the use of public transport, and forecast that the scheme would raise euro24 million a year, two thirds of which would be ploughed back into public transport. Milan has a range of public transports, including suburban trains (some of which travel across the city as an underground railway), three metro lines, a large urban tramway system, a small suburban trolleybus system as well as motor buses. This means that in many ways Milan is already further advanced than London most other British cities which still primarily rely on diesel buses for street transports.
Critics of the Ecopass scheme include those who say that the zone is too small to make a significant difference in this large city. Despite the Ecopass Zone March 2008 saw the announcing of Milan as Europe's most polluted city, with a lung specialist from Milan University suggesting that the use of diesel cars should be discouraged, pointing out that whilst they may produce less C02 than petrol-engined equivalents, they also create 100 times more pm10s and are responsible for much of the particulates contaminating the city's air. This suggests that the critics may be right.
As the linked (below) Daily Telegraph article reports, research suggests that children are the people who are worst affected by the airborne pollutants, with the director of paediatrics at a Milan hospital noticing how the number of children admitted with breathing problems - some life-threatening - on a given day was in direct relationship to the amount of PM10 Particulates air pollution at the time... this being a pollution which is directly attributable to diesel engine exhaust fumes.
In April 2008 it was announced that a 3 Euro daily fee will be charged for certain types of vehicle entering the centre of the city of Prague, which is the capital of the Czech Republic. As yet it is not known how the charges will be levied. The idea of a congestion charge has received praise from some quarters, especially environmental groups. Unconfirmed reports suggest that charging will commence in 2010.
Information sources include: (Links to external sites which open in new windows).
In many countries road users are charged for using their busiest inter-city highways and / or new roads specially built to solve traffic congestion issues on existing roads. This is even the situation in some of the very wealthy nations of N. America, Europe, etc. Traditionally the tolls have been paid at toll-booths such as illustrated from Dallas, in the image panel above left - either by paying a fixed fee or by collecting a (paper) token at an entry point and then paying a varying amount (depending on distance travelled) at an exit point. More recently however electronic "tag and beacon" systems have been introduced.
|The Swiss introduced an annual motorway tax disc for local and foreign registered vehicles after having built an extensive network of motorways in their country and then realising that some road users could travel straight through without even stopping to buy fuel!|
|On a bus, approaching toll booths on an American 'Freeway' (sic) in Dallas Tx.|
|Northbound at the University Toll Plaza on Florida State Road 417, with high-speed lanes.
Image sourced from the free online "Wikipedia" encyclopædia link - page opens in a new window.
|The main toll plaza of the Dulles Toll Road on Virginia State Highway 267, heading toward Washington DC just before rush hour.
Image sourced from the free online "Wikipedia" encyclopædia link - page opens in a new window.
In Switzerland all road users who wish to their motorways must buy a special annual permit (which is printed on to a plastic film / ie: non electric) which is displayed inside the windscreen (in the same way as we in Britain display our annual tax discs). In this way even foreign registered vehicles contribute towards the cost of building and maintaining these roads. And there is no need for either tollbooths or video surveillance camera systems. The Swiss charge road users in this way because having built an extensive network of motorways in their country they realised that some (foreign) road users could travel straight through without even stopping to buy fuel - effectively not making any financial contribution towards the upkeep of the roads they were using.
In some places in North America their roads include dedicated lanes which to use incurs an extra fee or charge - these lanes are usually emptier than the rest of the carriageway so the road user is effectively buying a faster journey. Generally only certain types of vehicle are allowed to use these express lanes - with heavy lorries being prohibited. (Note that this is a different topic to HOV "high occupancy vehicle" lanes, which are looked at on the main Roads page).
On the 91 Express Lanes system based in Orange County, California, there are variable charges which vary depending on the day of the week and the time of the day. Road users have a choice of using the congestion-free toll lanes or heavily congested other lanes. Since there are no toll collection booths California state law requires that all road users who intend to use the toll lanes must equip their vehicles with a properly mounted "FasTrak" transponder allowing tolls to be collected electronically. The fines (known as "toll-evasion fees") for non-compliance are $100 for the first violation; $250 for the second violation, and then $500 for each additional violation within one year. The electronic tags can be moved from one vehicle to another, although before the first use the account holder must inform the toll operator of any new vehicles and their licence plate numbers. Apart from this specific highway the electronic tags can be used on any other local highways where tolls are levied that show their "FasTrak" logo, including the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego, and the Carquinez, Benicia-Martinez, Richmond-San Rafael, San Francisco-Oakland Bay and Golden Gate bridges in the San Francisco Bay area. For more information visit the toll operator's website at http://www.91expresslanes.com/ (link to an external site which opens in a new window).
In Minneapolis the I-394 MnPASS Express Lanes system sees the carpool / transit bus / motorcycle lanes also being opened to solo drivers and small two-axle trucks who are willing to open an MnPASS account. Tolls are pre-paid and deducted as required, with automatic transfers (from a charge account) replenishing MnPASS Accounts as required. In addition to the tolls there is a monthly fee of $1.50 for leasing the MnPASS transponder. If switching to a different vehicle (spouses' car, etc) drivers can simply take their MnPASS transponder with them. What is so significant about this system however is that although the tolls will average from $1 - $4 during the rush hours, (with a maximum of $8) they are calculated in "real time" depending on actual traffic conditions, with the fee being posted on overhead signs just before the entrances to the MnPASS lanes. The idea being to make sure that traffic flows at about 50 to 55 miles per hour. (Exact tolls will also depend on where the road user enters and exit the tolled roadway.) Another noteworthy feature is that no tolls are charged when a vehicle driver takes a passenger with them and turns off the transponder. Enforcement is by the Minnesota State Patrol or other law enforcement officers plus other electronic methods of enforcement. Violators are subject to fines of about $130. For more information visit the toll operator's website at https://www.mnpass.net/ Note that this is a "secure" site. (link to an external site which opens in a new window).
In the Toronto (Ontario, Canada) area the toll highways are of the "all-electronic, open access" variety where road users can either choose to equip their vehicles with electronic "tag and beacon" transponders or be charged an extra non-transponder charge per trip (Cdn$3.45 per trip at the time of writing). Overhead gantry mounted video cameras police the system, these are linked into a computerised licence plate recognition system. In Toronto vehicles are charged according to distance travelled, there is no minimum charge and billing is retrospective on a monthly basis. Tolls are tax exempt. Agreements with vehicle licensing authorities in other Canadian Provinces and the USA mean that out of area vehicles are charged too. For more information visit the toll operator's website at http://www.407etr.com (link to an external site which opens in a new window).
In October 2005 it was reported that the E-ZPass (toll operator) and the Maryland Transportation Authority were threatening to suspend the automobile registration of a Virginia motorist claiming that he has not paid (just) $7 worth of tolls, despite evidence that he had, in fact, paid. Apparently when using the toll road in question the motorist drove through two toll plazas on Interstate 95 in Maryland and noticed that the toll booths failed to acknowledge his E-ZPass transponder, but he continued on his journey regardless. About two months later he received a bill in the post for $7 and immediately paid the monies owed. His bank records confirm that E-ZPass cashed his payment on 13th October, yet despite this the toll operator continued to tell the motorist that he has not paid and will not release his account until he proves that he has paid. They also threatened him with a $100 fine (which is reasonable for people who dont pay but this motorist had paid!).
What is even worse is that when he requested a written review of his case there was no ability to report an erroneous citation - after all innocent mistakes can happen - but there really ought to be equitable ways to resolve them. Although it may seem somewhat odd the toll operators' demand that despite already having received his money they want him to prove that they have his money is typical of the many large faceless bureaucratic organisations that have too much power and lack social justice.
More information can be found in this online article, which also reports that the Bay Area Toll Authority's FasTrak system overcharged hundreds of motorists crossing the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. Apparently this happened because a third party organisation allowed laser scanning devices (which reads licence plate numbers) to become dirty. http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/07/736.asp (link to an external site which opens in a new window).
In the USA many lawyers are finding that the E-ZPass and other electronic toll collection systems have become invaluable tools in helping prove infidelity. Many of the 12 states that are part of the E-ZPass system will provide electronic toll information in response to court orders in criminal and civil cases, which includes divorces. For instance, there was a situation where a businessman told his wife that he was working late at a business meeting in Pennsylvania - when the records showed that he had been in nearby New Jersey. Information source: http://wcbstv.com/topstories/e.z.pass.2.246457.html (link to an external site which opens in a new window).
Australia has also taken to expressway road tolling in a big way with (urban) motorways in several States charging tolls. Mostly these use the "tag and beacon" system and there is a raft of state govt. and commercial organisations supplying the electronic tagging devices
To use a toll road motorists are required to register with one of the toll system operators, either by opening a toll account or by buying a DayPass. Those who open an account will receive an e-tag to install just inside the vehicle's windscreen. With several States all introducing tolling schemes a degree of inter-operation means that tags can be used in more than just the motorists' home state - eg: e-tags issued in the neighbouring states of Victoria and Queensland can be used in Sydney / New South Wales as well. The tollbooths at the Sydney Harbour Bridge have also been re-equipped for tagged vehicles - although in this instance the toll booths remain and there are dedicated lanes for cash or e-tag vehicles.
The only user-identifiable information stored in the Australian e-tag's electronic memory is its unique identity number. They do not contain the vehicle's licence plate number, the driver's name and address or other personal details. Unlike public transport smartcards the e-tags do not hold currency values - instead the charging system works by vehicles passing under scanners fitted to gantries above the roadway which read the e-tag's unique ID and then pass it to the central computer. This information is then linked to the driver's toll account and the computer deducts the toll for that toll zone. This process represents a single 'transaction'. Each transaction is similar to a withdrawal from a bank account and is entered into the records of the driver's toll account. Toll statements are sent out quarterly with accounts having to be topped up when the balance falls below a certain level. This can be done by cash, cheque, credit card, Bpay or direct debit.
Video cameras mounted on gantries above the roads enforce the system. Although well above the speed limit the cameras have been tested to speeds as high as 150km/h. The system works by all vehicles having their front number plates electronically recorded as they pass under a gantry and if the vehicle also fails to trigger an e-tag then advanced electronic imaging systems read the number plate. In this way the system can detect vehicles which had been pre-registered for a DayPass and therefore have still paid for using the roadway - and for whom no further action is necessary. For vehicles which are in violation the number plates are reconciled with the vehicle owner details (as supplied by the relevant State authorities) and eventually the vehicle owners receive (by post) an invitation to pay a $100 fine, complete with a time-stamped copy of the original digital image to prove that they were there. (ie; a photograph!)
A specific problem which has arisen in Australia is that after a while the batteries in the e-tags go flat. Apparently the batteries are supposed to last for about eight years, but like most things that's an average and some last longer and others wear out faster. Motorists can easily detect when their e-tag's battery has gone flat - all they have to do is pass under a tolling point (where the e-tag readers are located on gantries above the roadway) and listen for a single beep confirming that their tag has been "read". A silent tag means that it was not read - and they have been charged an extra $1.20 as a 'No Tag in Vehicle Fee'. Apparently these batteries are of a special type which are integral to the tag - so the motorists must endure the hassle of returning them to the e-tag operators for replacement.
It seems somewhat unjust for an otherwise innocent law abiding person to be financially penalised because a battery has gone flat. Especially when the system has been designed so that they are not able to replace the battery themselves. Perhaps whoever designed this system has shares (ie: a financial interest) in the organisation which pockets the fine monies?
In November 2004 one of the Australian e-tag operating organisations announced that starting 1st March 2005 it would be introducing an "account management fee" (aka: low user fee) of $6 per quarter for customers who used their e-tags fewer than 24 times in three months. Not surprisingly the prospect of being charged $24 per anum in this way was greeted with horror with many people claiming that this was an iniquitous tax which penalises those road users who rarely use the tolled roads, and could even constitute a financial burden on the less affluent members of society. According to media reports in addition to the public outcry about 1750 e-tags were returned with the accounts being closed. Rival e-tag companies (who do not charge low user fees) claimed that as a result of this episode their new customer numbers doubled. In January 2005 the low user fee was scrapped, although there will still be a $6 quarterly charge to customers with inactive accounts.
In Sydney, Australia the state government narrowed (some) and closed (other) city centre roads with the willful intention of forcing unwilling motorists to use a newly constructed subterranean toll road which is failing to attract the forecast traffic levels. These highly controversial policies have also created severe traffic congestion along the surface routes which remain available to motorists. According to media reports it seems that at least part of the reasoning behind these actions is that the State Government had (secretly) guaranteed the tunnel's builders a minimum revenue (indeed it even allowed the tunnel's length to be extended because it would make the tunnel more financially attractive to the private industry) & that apparently the soaring cost of petrol had seen overall traffic levels in the city fall by 5%, - this being something that had negatively impacted on the toll road too. Some media reports suggest that the road closures always were part of the plan, implying that the fuel price issue became a convenient 'excuse'.
However, if that has not done enough to cause anger, resentment and hostility amongst Sydney's motorists another 'feature' of the new road is that the tolling process does not make any provision for cash payments! Instead road users without e-tags fitted in their vehicles must either pay by telephone or on the tunnel's website, a process which attracts a whopping surcharge of $1.60 (the 'normal' toll for travelling the full length of the tunnel is $3.50), plus there is also a registration fee of $3.30, which is valid for 7 days. Violators will receive 2 warning letters, then a $130 fine.
Another route to pay is by means of a pre-paid tag. Costing $25 these are available at selected Sydney newsagencies and can be used on all toll roads up to the same value. There are no fees or monthly charges so the user pays $25 and receives $25 worth of toll road usage, immediately.
The pre-paid tag is promoted as being ideal for infrequent toll road users and those who want to trial the convenience of a tag prior to making a commitment to opening a tag account. As with the regular e-tags they must be fixed to the front windscreen of the passenger vehicle. The toll operator also recommends that to avoid the possibility of going in to violation pre-pay tag users contact the Customer Service Centre to open an account prior to reaching the $25 toll value limit.
For the record the Cross City Tunnel opened in August 2005. It is 2.1km in length and lets vehicles bypass the CBD (Central Business District). Traffic heading for the CBD must still use the surface routes - where road space permits. Following a public and media outcry in October 2005 there was a 3 week 'free' period (publicity stunt) to try and encourage road users to travel via the toll road. Another similar private road scheme is planned for elsewhere in Sydney; this too includes road space reallocation as part of measure to force road users to pay for journeys which previously had not been chargeable.
At the end of December 2006 the Cross City Tunnel went in to receivership. It is claimed that this was because its daily usage was less than one third of what had been projected, resulting in such a significant revenue shortfall that the tunnel company was unable to even pay the interest charges on the finance for the tunnel's construction. Attempts to boost usage and revenue by means of temporary discounts and the introduction of speed cameras both failed.
More Australian information can be found by following these links, which lead to external sites with the pages opening in new windows.
Additional information also sourced from the January 2006 issue of 'Transit Australia' - the publishers have a website at http://www.transitaustralia.com.au
A Personal Observation.
Most people of my generation (I am 49) have only known life with the freedom to travel where and when WE choose that comes with having easy access to a car.
Direct links to other pages within the theme...
Return to Main Roads page.
Below are web links (which open in new windows) leading to external sites with more information on Road User Tolling & Congestion Charging systems. Some of these sites also have "links" pages from where even more information can be found.
The free online "Wikipedia" encyclopædia also has several pages on toll roads, road user pricing, etc., below are links to some of their pages, from where links to further pages can be found...