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UK gov announces Road Pricing 2.0 - Managed Motorway

'A high level of monitoring and compliance is needed'

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ANPR is equally well known to be easy to beat. Miscreants can simply use stolen or faked numberplates. It's a trivial matter to find out what make and colour of car is registered under any given number, and so ensure that one's ghost car will appear to be legit in a camera picture. Thus, back when the government was still openly considering a national road pricing scheme, it was expected to make use of some kind of in-car electronic tracking or tagging.

Even quite mild libertarians, however, might get a little bit worried about a national database able to reliably locate and track every vehicle in the land in real time and back into the past. So the government doesn't talk about "road pricing" any more. But the Command Paper nonetheless sees the future "Managed Motorway" as charging money, at least in some circumstances. It's not thought that temporary speed limits and hard-shoulder use can provide enough capacity on their own. Simply building more road is expensive, causes environmental protests, and is ultimately seen as a race the government can't ever win. Traffic will always increase to fill any amount of roads, goes the thinking - and then increase some more. Thus, beyond the use of lowered speed and hard-shoulder driving, there remain plans to bring in widespread charging.

High Occupancy or Tolled (HOT) schemes have been put in place in the US and have been more successful at managing congestion than car-share lanes alone ... Users who choose to use the lane and pay the toll typically get an electronic tag ... While the HOT lane approach has proved very successful in the US – experience suggests that it is the tolled element that offers greatest flexibility for managing congestion ... this idea ... ultimately would require new statutory powers ...

Electronic tags are more reliable than automatic number plate recognition cameras, as they are much less susceptible to fraud, but they do require the vehicle to be equipped before it can use the tolled lane. Devices using the Global Positioning System could be used in the future ...

We will work with the Information Commissioner to ensure that our exploration of these privacy issues properly addresses public concerns and conforms with the Data Protection Act ...

In all fairness, the government does seem willing to have a two-tier motorway system, not a compulsory e-surveillance panopticon. You could choose to get tagged up in the new, hard-to-spoof electronic numberplate system and pay your road prices, which would mean you could use the toll lanes and get places on time when you needed to. But tagless diehard-libertarian and/or cash-strapped drivers would still be able to drive in the crammed and jammed free-to-use ANPR lanes. Criminals and others not inclined to let the government log their every journey would only need enough competence to beat ANPR; but they might take forever to get anywhere.

So yes, Ms Kelly is "giving motorists a choice about how they make their journeys". There doesn't seem to be any option to avoid having your journeys logged while remaining compliant with the law, however. And in many ways it might be more honest to call this "optional road pricing and degree of surveillance" - rather than "Managed Motorway" or "Choice and Reliability" as the government has chosen to do. ®

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