FAQ
 
Frequently Asked Questions
 
1- What is the minimum equipment that a tax-farmer would need?
2- How is a trip measured?
3- Isn't the way of measuring trip inaccurate compared to satellite technology?
4- How would tax-farmers be paid?
5- How would drivers pay for their trips?
6- What happens if a driver does not pay?
7- What is the conventional approach at present?
8- How can trucks and 4X4's be charged more and fuel-economical cars less?
9- What happens when a driver sells his car?
10- What is the role of the DVLA in all of this?
11- What happens if the car is stolen?
12- What happens if a car has a number that rightfully belongs to another car?
13- How about foreign registrations?
 
1- What is the minimum equipment that a tax-farmer would need?
Here is one possible configuration:
a- A secure location with a good view over a busy road (e.g. a first-floor window of a house)
b- A personal computer with a sizeable disk-drive.
c - A digital video camera with a feed to the PC.
d- An ADSL connection for the PC with a fixed IP-address
Obviously, a different arrangement would be made if the camera were to be placed in the back of a parked van. In these examples, the data would be sent daily to the data-centre. On motorways, for example, it would be worth having far more advanced equipment and the data would be sent in real-time to the data-centre.
2- How is a trip measured?
Please take a look at the hypothetical data example
3- Isn't the way of measuring trip inaccurate compared to satellite technology?
The inaccuracies are all in favour of the motorist and minor in relation to the length of most trips. In a real trip into London by a commuter, there would probably be more like 50 data-points in each direction. Increasing the number of data-points with satellite technology improves the accuracy (and revenue collection) only marginally. The savings by not having in-car gadgets and satellites far exceed any relevance in this accuracy argument. In any event, inaccuracy in over-billing is of far greater importance than inaccuracy in under-billing.
4- How would tax-farmers be paid?
Roads would be graded according to the amount of traffic. For example, a very busy road with many thousands of cars an hour would have a much lower charge per car. There would probably be several cameras on this road and the fee would be split equally between them. However, at the other extreme, a road in a residential area would attract a much higher fee in order to make it attractive for a tax-farmer.
5- How would drivers pay for their trips?
Drivers would pay in advance in a similar way to "pay as you go" mobile phones. For example, they could buy scratch-cards in any convenience store and transfer the payment to their number-plate by a text message or call. Obviously, other solutions using the Internet and service-stations could be envisaged. The balance on any number-plate could be determined by SMS or the Internet - without any comp
6- What happens if a driver does not pay?
If a car has been in debit for more than one week and is now more than, say, £10 in debit, its details would be placed automatically on a website. The website would publish the car's number and type as well as its data over the previous month (place, date and time). This information is almost always enough to determine whereabouts the car is usually parked. Members of the public or tax-farmers would be able to report where it is parked. The first one to give accurate information would be rewarded (perhaps by tax-credits to their car). Once located, the car would be clamped or towed away and the claimant would have to pay the costs, penalties and arrears. A car would be unsaleable if it were in arrears.
7- What is the conventional approach at present?

The conventional approach at present (May 2005) is described in the article in "Current thinking"

The disadvantages of the this approach are numerous:

  • The equipment in the cars is expensive - say £1000 per car. This translates to £31 billion at present - just for the in-car equipment.
  • It is not clear how it can be verified that each car really does have a working in-car system - presumably cameras and receivers dotted around will be used to verify this!
  • Electronic equipment is being constantly improved - persumably this means that this equipment will have been superceded before it has been installed in more that a small fraction of cars.
  • Billing drivers after they have driven is a very expensive proposition compared to them paying in advance.
  • Cheating satellites is already a huge business. It should be simple for a technically competent person to steal another's identity.
  • When a driver is billed for trips unfairly, how will he/she be able to dispute the bill?
8- How can trucks and 4X4's be charged more and fuel-economical cars less?
Each number plate denotes a different type of vehicle (data from DVLA). The charging system can depend on the type of vehicle, the road, the time of day and the distance driven.
9- What happens when a driver sells his car?
The seller and the buyer would check the current credit/debit for the car online or by SMS and adjust the price accordingly. Similarily, the email address and mobile phone number of the car-owner would be changed (assuming that the previous owner had registered on the website).
10- What is the role of the DVLA in all of this?
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre (DVLA) is not at all set up to monitor car-usage. In fact, keeping track of the 10 million changes in car-ownership each year is a major task. However, the system proposed here does need to identify the type of car represented by each number plate - a piece of data that almost never changes. Foreign number plates can be handled in a similar manner - they are no problem for the appropriate software (see Carmen). It should be noted here that mobile phone companies with "pay as you go" systems do not need to even know the address of the users or any details about them.
11- What happens if a car is stolen?
The system for locating cars in arrears for more than one week can be activated immediately. The car owner or insurer would be encouraged to offer a reward to the person who first reports the car's whereabouts. If the car has been given a false number plate, the same system would be used to locate the car (even though it is not known that this car is necessarily stolen).
12- What happens if a car has a number that rightfully belongs to another car?
The software handling the billing would find out almost immediately that there is something odd about this car number - the same number would be observed "jumping" about the country without triggering intermediate sightings. The rightful owner of the car number would, on checking his car's status, be informed that there is probably someone else using his number. The system explained in 6 would be used to locate the car and the police would be involved. Essentially, car-theft would cease to make economic sense to those who carry it out for financial reasons.
13- How about foreign registrations?
The UK is fortunate in being surrounded by water. Foreign-registered vehicles could register and pay in advance for credits over the Internet before arriving here, or pay on the ferries, or shortly after arrival. All cars leaving the country would be required to pay any outstanding charges before leaving - the ferry companies could readily carry out the check as tax-farmers.