Britain’s first ‘Tag and beacon’ road charging system is less than 18 months away, Autocar can reveal.London mayor Ken Livingstone has dropped an extremely broad hint at the move in his transport manifesto for the forthcoming mayoral election in London. Despite the significance of the move Livingstone's manifesto only promises:‘A new, hassle-free system for paying the congestion charge, so that drivers can choose to have payments automatically debited when they enter the charging zone, avoiding fines for simply forgetting to pay the charge.’Autocar understands that Livingstone and Transport for London signed a new C-Charge contract with IBM last year that will see the adoption of tag and beacon technology in the capital by November 2009. The system uses pre-pay charge cards mounted in the car’s windscreen. These are detected by roadside beacons, which deduct the local road toll from the card. ‘Tag and beacon technology’ has been used on the continent for many years – especially for priority lanes on toll motorways – but the forthcoming London system will be compatible with a new EU standard, which means the same charge card can be used throughout the whole of the EU.However, this move might just be the tip of a much larger road charging iceberg.Livingstone and Transport for London have already been given the legal ability to toll any road in Greater London and a report in today’s Times newspaper claims that the plans to do just that are being kept under wraps until after the mayoral election on the 1st May.Autocar first reported in June 2004 that the existing C-Charge system which uses number plate-reading cameras would be replaced.In fact, within weeks of the C-Charge being rolled out in February 2003, it became clear that the administration costs would spiral out of control. However, Livingstone signed a five-year deal with Capita, which incorporated a substantial exit penalty. This was partly to prevent the system being removed by any subsequent mayor.Unfortunately, it also meant London was saddled with highly inefficient technology. Last year, the C-Charge consumed £151m in running costs, nearly all of the payment income. It was only high levels of fine income that allowed the C-Charge to stay well in the black.The adoption of tag and beacon tech will not only massively reduce administration costs, but should also make late payment fines a thing of the past.However, it also means that tolling Greater London’s A-roads will become much easier. The news is significant for those who live outside the capital, with forthcoming congestion charge schemes in other cities including Manchester.