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TfL hands out contracts for congestion charge tags

Tag and beacon to bring home the bacon

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Transport for London has contracted six companies to introduce 'tag and beacon' technology for the next phase of the capital's congestion charge.

The framework contract will provide roadside equipment to charge motorists for driving into the centre of London and the western extension which covers Kensington and Chelsea.

Tag and beacon technology, which is already used on toll roads including the M6 Toll and some bridges, operates by picking up a radio signal emitted by cards on vehicles. So far, London's congestion scheme has relied on automatic number plate recognition technology (ANPR), where cameras read licence plates which are checked against a list of who has paid. Those not paying can be traced through Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency records.

The new contract, which covers both technologies, has gone to six companies, according to the Official Journal of the European Union on 5 June 2008: Efkon, Kapsch TrafficCom, Siemens, Thales Transport & Security, Q-Free and Capita Business Services. Capita is currently TfL's main congestion charge supplier, but is due to be replaced by IBM in November 2009.

Commenting on TfL's move to tag and beacon, Stephen Roberts, senior analyst at Kable, said: "Although there's a significant upfront cost in setting up a tag and beacon system, the complexity of managing each transaction at the back office is far less than with an ANPR system. Also, the need for human intervention to manage anomalies and queries is greatly reduced.

"It's estimated that once 30 per cent of drivers are using tag and beacon, it makes sense to use it alongside ANPR."

Congestion charging was introduced into central London in February 2003 and extended westwards in 2007. Figures from TfL show that the scheme has reduced traffic entering the original charging zone by 21 per cent, as well as generating revenues of £123m in the last financial year, which is being used to improve public transport.

Manchester is currently bidding for £3bn of government funding to develop a peak time congestion charging scheme for the city centre, which will also use tag and beacon technology. Businesses in Manchester today announced a new alliance to back the scheme, saying it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to improve the city.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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