A proposed UK national road pricing scheme could use private sector technology rather than rely on a government-backed national system, according to transport secretary Alistair Darling.
The Financial Times reports that he made the comments at an Institute of Public Policy Research conference yesterday, effectively ruling out the possibility of a Government-mandated nationwide tracking system.
He said the Government was considering 30 bids from local authorities, and that pilot projects would be announced next year. Local authorities are currently bidding for funding from the Transport Innovation Fund.
The statements are the first Darling has made since June, when he reconfirmed the Government's commitment to replacing fuel duty with a national system for charging drivers by the distance, time and route of their journey within 10 to 15 years.
Darling said it was time to move away from the idea that the Government would define and specify road pricing technology. Perhaps chastened by his experience of overseeing failing IT projects as social services secretary, he said: " Government's record of building big computers is not altogether a happy one."
He suggested that it is necessary to piggyback congestion technology on systems already being offered by the market, including satellite positioning for navigation and pay-as-you-go insurance.
The Minister also ruled out 'hypothecation' - earmarking the income for transport purposes only.
Back in February 2002, the then Commission for Integrated Transport (CfIT) kicked off a heated debate about technology options when it delivered a report to the Department of Transport that proposed a nationwide GPS (global positioning system) satellite tracking system working in conjunction with the GPRS (general packet radio service) digital mobile phone network.
A GPS system has the benefit of being able to track vehicles wherever they go and doesn't need the construction of roadside masts that land-based systems use.
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