27 January 2005

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone says that his Transport for London (TfL) arm is testing a new electronic road-charging technology which could be rolled out nationally in less than four years. Autocar has also uncovered TfL documentation (above, right) that states this new DSRC (Dedicated Short-Range Communications) system will be rolled out in central London in February 2009, replacing today’s camera-based ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) scheme.

If the scheme were rolled out nationally, ‘tag’ readers and a single ANPR camera could be placed on motorway sliproads. Drivers could be charged directly from their bank account as they either enter or leave the motorway network. Motorists without a windscreen-mounted tag would be photographed by the ANPR camera and sent a fine through the post.

In the initial phase, drivers would probably be charged a fixed fee for driving on the most heavily congested motorways at peak hours. This system has the advantage of being much less complex than the satellite tracking system recently rolled out in Germany for charging commercial vehicles.

The new DSRC system is currently being tested at undisclosed locations in central London. The contracts for the scheme will be placed in August 2006 and – according to the documentation – will undergo a ‘phased introduction with final Go Live’ in February 2009. Livingstone has also signed a draft contract to double the size of the London Congestion Charging zone into Kensington and Chelsea, despite majority opposition to the plans.

Since its introduction, London’s Congestion Charging scheme has made significantly less profit than planned. TfL commissioned the currrent camera-based system because it allowed Congestion Charging to be rushed in in the Mayor’s first term. However, its massive running costs have totalled over £95m this financial year. Congestion Charging profits last year came to just £50.9m – a far cry from TfL’s original predictions of £200m – and this will be reduced further next year with the costs of extending the zone. Livingstone revealed his plans in Edinburgh, where he was supporting a ‘yes’ vote in the local referendum to introduce a congestion charge in the city. He claimed a ‘no’ would halt the expansion of road tolling across the rest of the UK.

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