Road tolls 'risk failure without trap for dodgers': Experts weigh merits of satellites, short wave radio and infra-red technology

ROAD TOLLS will fail unless the Government decides how to catch and penalise those who do not pay, ministers will be told today.

At a London gathering of more than 500 experts, advisers will urge the Department of Transport (DoT) to be explicit about toll enforcement, as it decides the technical features of road pricing. Trials on a few thousand cars are planned for the M4 or M25 in less than two years.

The sophisticated electronic technology needed to make road pricing work is proven, but only at prototype stage. Technologists want to know the Government's targets on enforcement so their designs can meet the challenge.

It should also ease public acceptance of tolls if people know beforehand how the authorities will compel the public to pay, according to Peter Hills, director of the Transport Operations Research Group at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Professor Hills is one of the DoT's key advisers, and a speaker at today's meeting. 'To have a system that accuses people of not paying when they have, or charges them twice because it is over vigilant, would be just as damaging as a system so lax it becomes widely known that cars can get away without paying,' he said yesterday.

Simple decisions such as whether systems must be sharp enough to pick up motorcycles hidden behind lorries could be critical in dictating the sensors and transmitters used.

Other basic questions remain unanswered. It is not yet clear whether failing to pay a road toll will be made a criminal offence. The problem is whether to distinguish between the old man who strays onto the M5 on a Sunday afternoon without the kit in his car to pay, and persistent violators. Professor Hills suggests an approach that is pragmatic, but has few supporters in the police establishment.

Most proposed toll systems store images of the licence numbers of cars that pass but do not pay. Professor Hills says these could be scanned to pick up cars that fail to pay perhaps five times in a week, thus ignoring one-off defaulters and concentrating the cost of enforcement on persistent offenders.

Early generations of road tolls were based on read-only tags that identified vehicles to a roadside computer. Then came systems whose tags could be altered, not just read. Beacons on gantries need not know the identity of each car, but use two-way communications with a 'smart card' in a unit inside the car to deduct payments. This makes roadside computers redundant, so avoids worries over privacy.

However, the Government has reasoned that offenders forfeit the right to privacy and it wants to be tough on enforcement. This means cameras sharp enough to spot and log non-payers within huge volumes of traffic.

The DoT has decided against the kind of 'toll plazas' used at the Dartford tunnel, for instance. But monitoring traffic on the move imposes huge technical demands. Equipment must cope with massive volumes of cars, and also vehicles travelling at high speed, possibly straddling lanes.

This requires a whole new approach. The most ambitious option uses satellites to broadcast signals that dock credit from in-car units. Local broadcasts, using cellular communications, might prove cheaper. Both approaches would require roadside cameras, because cars without toll units could avoid paying. Short wave radio links or infra-red communication are a possibility, although the favourite is microwave communication.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 12 months

£12675 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Assistant is required...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Case Handler / Probate Assistant

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Case Handler/Probate ...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration Engineer

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: These refrigeration specialists...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Logistics and Supply Chain

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an operational role and...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral