Congestion charging: Here’s a new system that would really be popular with the public – Professor Stephen Salter

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While London introduced a congestion charging zone, plans for one in Edinburgh were rejected in a referendum (Image: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

However, the idea of ​​being forced to pay to enter a city is not usually popular with the public. In 2005, 74 per cent of people voted to reject a scheme in Edinburgh in a referendum.

The proposal was put to the vote two years after the then mayor, Ken Livingstone, introduced congestion charging in London in 2003, and although he was re-elected the following year, it is fair to say that it was a highly controversial issue even in such a city. populated like London.

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But what if there was a way to introduce a scheme that surprisingly appealed to a vast majority of the public, while also solving those perennial plagues on modern society? What if this scheme could also increase voter turnout and provide financial aid to those with low incomes?

In this article, I describe how such a system could be introduced not only in cities but throughout the country.

Currently, entering the London Congestion Charge Zone for one minute costs the same as 15 hours. Current London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is currently considering a number of changes, including increasing the size of the zone, says he ultimately wants to introduce a pay-per-mile system.

But this would not actually measure the problem that the charge is designed to address (congestion) and it is technically possible to design a system that does this almost exactly.

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My proposal is that each vehicle has an electronics box glued to the inside of the windshield behind the rearview mirror. Every few seconds it would transmit a short burst of radio signals of varying amplitudes. Between transmissions, it would “listen” for signals from other vehicles and count the number.

It would pick up only the largest signals from distant vehicles, all of them from the ones close by and most of them in between. So the total count would be an accurate measure of how long each vehicle has been near each other, and that’s exactly how we define ‘traffic congestion’.

From time to time, perhaps at MoT tests, service intervals, or changes of ownership, the accumulated count would be read by an instrument at the service station.

Like sunglasses, radio signals can be polarized and the angle of polarization can be measured, which would allow the signal count of cars traveling in the same direction to be greater than those going in the opposite direction. opposite, so motorists are going in the opposite direction from everyone else. you would not be penalized for simply passing in front of stopped traffic.

An important question is what to do with the proceeds. The money raised is claimed to go to worthy traffic reduction schemes chosen by unknown officials despite the fact that congestion is getting worse and traffic is moving slower, which is one of the reasons why congestion charging is rare. once is considered a vote winner.

The money collected by my system could be claimed by the central government or the relevant local authority.

But the most politically popular way would be to introduce a negative poll tax where everyone who showed up to vote in an election would get a share of all income since the last election.

London’s congestion charge of £15 a day adds up to over £20,000 if drivers pay it every day for four years, so payments of even a moderate fraction of this would be extremely popular and also they would give the incoming government an economic advantage. increase.

The large lump sum coming in may seem better to motorists than the long-term slow trickle out. There might even be fond memories of the political party that introduced the scheme!

Vehicle owners can compete with each other to produce less than average congestion by shifting from their normal routes to quieter ones. And people too poor to own a car would get a life-changing windfall.

Those who live in isolated rural communities, who need a car much more than city dwellers, would be paying much less by not being near other cars and it would also be possible to give them an initial ‘ration’ of negative counts.

London’s current scheme allows lower payments for environmentally benign vehicles but with fairly crude steps. My pulse counting system would allow for a completely uniform range based on each car’s emissions and even driver-by-driver charges depending on occupancy.

We could also install static signal generators to deter people from passing through particular congestion hotspots and also to charge for parking with payment in direct proportion to the time a parking space is occupied, removing concerns about punishment. for parking one more minute or not knowing how long a meeting will last.

Foreign tourists, who could be easily identified by their license plates, could be allowed free movement for a limited period to avoid dissuading them from coming.

Some might have the idea of ​​tricking the system by wrapping aluminum foil around signal boxes, which would reduce incoming radio bursts and thus load.

However, this would also reduce outgoing signal strength, so traffic wardens and police cars could carry transmitters that send a message saying “report my signal strength” to devices in passing vehicles. and take action if the response is lower than it should be. This means that fraud prevention would be at least as good as license plate tampering prevention, such as changing a P to an R or an I to a T.

A congestion charging system that achieves the same social benefits as any other, but that people might actually come to love? There is an idea.

Stephen Salter is Emeritus Professor of Engineering Design at the University of Edinburgh.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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