After the resounding rejection of the Greater Manchester congestion-charging scheme (and the proposed scheme for Edinburgh) you might have thought road tolling in the UK was dead and buried outside of central London.
Not if the highways Agency has anything to do with it. I was browsing on the HA website last night and discovered this little gem buried at the end of the report on the planned increase in Hard Shoulder Running and variable speed limits.
‘To optimise the benefits, we plan to provide for ramp-metering – the use of traffic lights on motorway entry slip roads – as an integral element of HSR schemes, to ensure the best traffic flow onto the motorways.
‘The ATM Feasibility Study noted that managed motorway infrastructure could potentially enable additional capacity to be tolled, as seen in the USA. Further analysis of the concept of single lane tolling has been carried out since March 2008. This work has indicated that toll lanes could be beneficial in reducing congestion but significant costs would be associated with their introduction and operation.
‘The Government currently has no plans to seek the powers that would be necessary to implement single lane tolling.’
I’m not so sure. News Editor Stevens recently experienced the ‘ramp metering’ on the M4 at Reading. The lights cycled very quickly, letting just two or so cars down the slip lane at a time.
The real reason for this weird traffic light timing lies in the problems experienced with ‘Tag and Beacon’ tolling systems. Unless a car is going relatively slowly, the overhead ‘tag readers’ have trouble registering the charge card mounted on a car’s windscreen.
And despite Government trials of satellite tracking, it’s Tag and Beacon charging on motorways which is likely to be the next charging technology to be introduced nationally in the UK.
It’s for that reason I’m also suspicious of the narrowing of the M3 – where it passes under the M25 – to two lanes and the 50mph speed limit. This sounds like the ideal site for a couple of tolling beacons, charging cars for entering Greater London.
Incidentally, Transport for [Greater] London put a bill through parliament in 2006/7 which gives it the power to toll individual roads with as little as 14 days notice.
Tag and Beacon charging technology is also due to be rolled out in the London C-Charge zone from November this year.
Even with a change of government next June, the tolling juggernaut - thanks to the semi-independent Highways Agency - looks unstoppable.