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Road user charging changes gear. 13/07/2004
Road user charging (RUC) is rapidly climbing the European political agenda as the EC presses for the development of appropriate technologies and agreement on issues of interoperability. The new-found enthusiasm probably has more to do with the realisation that therein lies an untapped source of revenue rather than any genuine desire to see an improvement in levels of congestion or reduction in harmful emissions into the atmosphere. But whatever the underlying motive, the principle of road user charging is now firmly within the focus of governments around the world with the expectation that RUC will become relatively commonplace within the next decade.

Responding to these demands has seldom been easy and the ITS industry has needed to keep a close eye on developments around the world in order to ensure the delivery of best practice. Two recent meetings in London provided information on the current position of several projects. A seminar organised by the IEE Automotive and Road Transport Systems Professional Network at Savoy Place, London in June dealt with the technical and operational developments of RUC. Less than a month later, a meeting of ITS (UK) in Tufton Street, Westminster, dealt with road user and congestion charging. The Society announced that it expects to publish a White Paper on the subject later this year.

ITS (UK) members were told of several RUC schemes around the world including the upcoming Stockholm trial, the $US14 billion electronic toll collection system being developed in India to fund infrastructure development, the planned national tolling scheme for New Zealand, the profits of which will be used to warn of the cost of congestion and the plans in the US to expand the roads network through a value-pricing mechanism.

DIRECTS Project

Among the projects covered in the IEE seminar was the UK-based DIRECTS, where the Department for Transport (DfT) is looking at the possibility of developing an end-to-end system for road user charging that will be compliant with existing DSRC and future satellite-based CEN standards. Around 500 volunteer drivers in Leeds have been testing the ability of the trial system to comply with a minimum interoperability specification using DSRC technology in the on-board units. Awarded to the Fareway Alliance, the companies involved with the prime contractors KBR are equipment suppliers Kapsch, Thales, Vodafone and Combitech. Toronto-based data collection specialists IBI and back-office suppliers Mott MacDonald along with Atkins complete the field. A report is expected to be delivered to the DfT towards the end of this year.

"We spent some time testing the system to see that it satisfied the interoperability criteria," said Dr David Tindall, Technical Director, Transport Telematics at KBR, "including the end-to-end compatibility. Arriving at a specification was not easy."

London update

Speaking at both meetings, Jeremy Evans, head of Transport Management at TfL (Transport for London) presented a picture of the London Congestion Charging scheme 16 months after its launch. He said that driver responses had remained constant, that delays were down 30%, the volume of incoming traffic was down 18% and there were no significant impacts on traffic beyond the zone. There had, he said, been significant improvements in 'bus services with some 50-60% of drivers switching to public transport.

On the negative side, the income from the charge was lower than initially expected. Revenue for 2003/4 was 79 million (119.70 million) surplus to cost instead of the estimated 130 million (196.97 million) but was expected to rise in future years.

For the future, there are plans to more than double the size of the London zone but this would follow a period of public consultation between October 2004 and about May 2005 with an earliest operational start date of May 2006. Evans said that new technology for the zone was currently at the proof-of-concept stage with consideration being given to DSRC (both microwave and Infrared), ANPR, GPS/GSM and digital broadband.

"We do have concerns over the ability of GPS signals to work in central London," said Evans, "and don't expect this position to improve before about 2010. There are also problems with using GSM although the potential exists for using it in small cells. We expect to achieve improved detection rates with ANPR (for enforcement), using a DSRC tag and beacon system by 2008 (for collecting the charge). The tag system produced the positive results."

The London scheme run by Capita, currently handles one million photographic images a day leading to 7,000 detected infringements.

Swiss Lorry Road User Charging System

Using a combination of DSRC and GPS/GSM technologies, the Swiss system of lorry road user charging is based on a combination of distance, weight and carbon emissions. A DSRC gantry at the Swiss border automatically switches on the vehicle's on-board unit (OBU) which is itself connected to the tachograph. As the vehicle leaves Switzerland, the OBU is read, the appropriate amount charged and the unit switched off.

"A GPS receiver is also fitted to the on-board unit and acts as verification of the vehicle's presence and distance travelled within the country," said Ueli Balmer, deputy head of the Transport Policy Section of the Federal Office for Spatial Development. "If there is a dispute about the charge, we can examine the route followed by the driver."

Balmer said that the system had resulted in vehicles with cleaner emissions and lower weight using the country's motorway systems. There had been little diversion to secondary routes as drivers considered their use to be uneconomical. There had also been little shift to rail since the introduction of the scheme.

There are plans to raise the charge in 2005 and introduce replacement technology in 2006. The system had led to a reduction in the number of lorries passing through the country.

Swedish lorry road user charging announced.

A decision was made by the Swedish government in June to press ahead with a national lorry RUC, beginning in 2008, under the control of the SNRA (Swedish National Road Administration).

Announcing the change of responsibility for the SNRA at the IEE seminar, Eva Schelin, Department Manager for Intelligent Transport Systems at SWECO VBB said that a new national centre would control the scheme and be responsible for the development of the charging system including that of Stockholm and the new toll link over the Svinesund bridge linking Sweden with Norway.

"A Nordic consortium is emerging," said Schelin, turning her attention to the question of interoperability with neighbouring Denmark and Norway, "with a view to ensuring that drivers can use one system wherever they travel in the three countries."

 
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