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DfT rounds up Road-Pricing 2.0 contractors

Car-tagging pork barrel opened for early nibbles

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The UK government's rebranded road-pricing scheme took another lurch forward this week, as the Department for Transport announced the companies which will build pilot technology.

The Financial Times reports today that the DfT has named T-Systems (part of Deutsche Telekom), Trafficmaster, Sanef Tolling of France and US firm Intelligent Mechatronic Systems. It seems the companies will "work with volunteer road users to develop an accurate, affordable and reliable system that will also safeguard users' privacy".

As previously reported by the Reg, the DfT plans to wring more capacity out of Blighty's crowded roads - especially its motorways - by various different means. Apart from use of the hard shoulder, there are also plans for inescapably-enforced low speed limits at peak times, reducing the knock-on effects of braking and keeping traffic moving smoothly. Paid-for toll lanes - in effect, partial road pricing - are also expected.

The adjustable average speed limits have been enforced using automated numberplate recognition (ANPR) in pilot schemes thus far, which works well provided that faked or stolen plates aren't in widespread use. The government, however, has admitted that such fraud is simple, and might well become more widespread as the incentives for using it became stronger - as they would on the "Managed Motorway" of the future.

Thus it is that the new alliance of tech companies will be looking to develop some kind of in-car tracking or tagging kit which will more reliably identify a car than numberplates do. This will initially be used for the toll lanes, but it seems likely that in time there would also be calls to use it rather than easily-spoofed ANPR for ordinary speed-limit discipline too.

Thus libertarians will remain concerned about the prospect of the new car-tags or whatever eventually becoming compulsory on all British cars - in effect tightening the grip of the feared surveillance state. Such libertarians might also admit, however, that something will have to be done to keep the traffic moving - and a huge expensive road-building programme, even if it could gain consent, is looking more and more unaffordable. ®

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