A Practical Way of Improving Road Traffic
In the UK, the construction of major new roads is, essentially, a thing of the past. However, this has not prevented the number of vehicles on the road from spiralling. The consequence of this is a vast waste of time and resources each day as people struggle to get around. In many areas, "rush-hour" lasts most of the working day.
The current tax on fuel is more than that of neighbouring countries and far too little to affect traffic meaningfully. The main beneficiaries of the UK having a higher fuel duty are the French and Irish fiscal authorities, foreign truck drivers and the IRA.
This site shows an alternative way of taxing trips, or road-pricing. This novel way of getting users to pay for their journeys has numerous advantages and is summarized below.
The Present context
  • There are over 31 million licensed vehicles in the UK - a doubling in 25 years.
  • A vast number of households and offices have permanent access to the Internet.
  • Most Internet users have powerful PC's.
  • The cost of computer-disk storage is very low.
  • Digital video cameras are cheap and can readily transfer images to PC's for analysis, storage and uploading.
  • PC's connected by ADSL can act as servers and respond to requests from elsewhere - server software is free.
  • License plate recognition software (ANPR) is highly efficient but error-prone.
The Objective
If, for each trip made in a vehicle, several pictures are taken of the vehicle en-route, it should be possible to determine a charge for that trip. A minimum charge will ensure that trips are not made for trivial reasons without a cost to the driver. The charge should relate to the location, date, time and length of the journey. The chronological nature of the data makes it straightforward to exclude erronous data.
The Concept
  • A large proportion of car trips would be recorded by digital cameras placed at numerous locations. Some cameras may be expensive and permanent (for example on motorways) while others can be portable and placed in strategically-located windows of houses and offices by tax-farmers.
  • The photos would be scanned by software periodically and turned into simple data - number-plate, date, time and location.
  • This simple data would be encrypted and uploaded over the Internet to servers using a suitable, secure, process.
  • The data for each vehicle would be analyzed periodically and if there is insufficient confirmatory data, ignored. For example, if a number plate is reported a long way from where other data indicates it to be, this item of data would be ignored. This would lead to a zero-error rate for overcharging.
How to Accomplish This
  • Tax-farmers would collect the data - they would be paid according to the type of road and the density of traffic. If several tax-farmers were to take pictures of the same car on a particular road, they would share the revenue. The payment would be greater, per car, on roads with less traffic.
  • Competition would be so great on the main traffic arteries (e.g. M25) that many tax-farmers would prefer to concentrate on less-travelled routes. The system would eventually lead to the most efficient allocation of data-collection resources - in line with the incentives.
  • Each data-point (number-plate, date, time and location) would be evaluated as valid, indeterminate and invalid. Each invalid data-point would lead to a deduction of, say, 20 valid points from the tax-farmer's account. Indeterminate values would be ignored.
  • Each number plate would have an account that should be always in credit (pay as you go) - this reduces the administration costs, as mobile phone companies have discovered. The account would be "topped up" by any of the usual methods. It would also be possible to check the account online - see VirginMobile.
  • If the car-owner believes that he was incorrectly billed, he could request that the photos are displayed online - this could be done at a small charge (10P). The computers with the photos would be running a free server (see Apache) and a suitable application that would allow the central servers to carry out such requests. Only a tiny fraction of each tax-farmer's data would need to be uploaded.
  • Drivers would be able to report identity theft online.
  • Drivers with no credit, or drivers using number plates other than their own, would be rapidly localized. Online reports would allow members of the public as well as tax-farmers to know the numbers in their locality that are under investigation. They could then report the parking-place of any such vehicle - for a suitable reward.
The Benefits
  • The technology is already available.
  • There will be no need to install expensive GPS and satellite transmitters in 31 million vehicles - technology deemed unavailable at reasonable cost for at least another 10 years according to a recent report in the papers (see current thinking).
  • An open competition will lead to the best solutions for monitoring vehicles.
  • The software on the computer determining the charges could be made public so that skilled members of the public could find and report anomalies - open-sourcing.
  • The cost will be much lower.
  • The infrastructure is highly flexible and its performance may be regularly monitored and constantly improved. For example, if the incentives do not encourage enough tax-farmers to monitor a certain category of traffic, that can be readily altered.
Car Sharing
In tandem with the introduction of this scheme, another scheme to encourage car-sharing should be introduced. Clearly, if cars carried more passengers than they do at present, the total number of trips per person can continue to rise without adding to congestion.