Fleet consultant Colin Tourick says the costs of such a system would be enormous.
As reported in Fleet News last week, transport minister Dr Stephen Ladyman has suggested that a national road pricing scheme could work by operating differently-priced zones, rather than individually priced roads.
He said such a system would alleviate privacy concerns from the 1.8 million people that signed a petition against the proposed scheme. Dr Ladyman said all roads in each zone could be charged at the same rate, regardless of how congested they were.
‘We could have charging by zones instead of by streets’ he said. ‘It would solve our privacy problem because we wouldn’t need to know you were in Acacia Avenue at 12.30pm.
‘All we would need to know is which zone you were in and whether you crossed a border into another zone.’
But Mr Tourick called the idea ‘an awful sop to drivers’.
He said: ‘Admittedly ‘they’ won’t know exactly where you are but there will be cameras at the entrances to all zones, and also within all zones, so they will pretty much know where you are and where you have been anyway.
‘The cost of building a network of cameras across the country would be staggering – the current scheme covering a small part of London alone cost £161.7 million.’
Mr Tourick said the matter was of great interest to fleets.
‘It’s businesses that are going to have to bear much of the cost of road charging,’ he said. ‘If the cost of the system is modest the cost to business will be too.
‘If it is massive it could be crippling to fleets. And we already know what will happen if receipts from the system are inadequate to pay for it – they will put up the charges as they have just done in London.’
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said no decisions had yet been made about how such a scheme would work.
“WHETHER you like or dislike the idea of road charging there is a lot to dislike in the approach to road pricing just announced by roads minister Stephen Ladyman. It seems that the government has decided the 1.7m drivers who signed the petition against road pricing were not against it per se: They just didn’t like the idea of their movements being tracked 24/7 via GPS-linked black boxes fitted in their cars. Which is confusing because the prime minister’s letter to the 1.7m petitioners on 21 February said this “is the beginning of the debate not the end of it”.
It seems there are to be four charging zones - Country, Outer Suburbs, Inner Suburbs and City Centres – with different rates per mile for each. This is an awful sop to drivers: OK, ‘They’ won’t know exactly where you are but there will be cameras at the entrances to all zones, and also within all zones, so they will pretty much know where you are and where you have been anyway.
But the difference in cost between the two schemes will be huge. The cost of a manufacturer-fitted GPS black box in every new car would be miniscule whereas the cost of building a network of cameras across the country would be staggering. The scheme covering a small part of London alone cost £161.7 million. A national scheme would cost billions.
If we are to have road pricing (Stephen Ladyman says “Yes”, Tony Blair “Maybe”, but let’s assume that’s a “Yes”) it would be quite easy to use nice cheap black boxes and to build in a whole host of safeguards to protect the citizen against the State. For example, if the black boxes were only capable of storing data every 10 minutes and only transmitted a log of journeys every day, that would reduce the level of ‘surveillance’. And it would help if the data was controlled by a parliament-appointed body independent of government that was barred from passing it to government except in specific instances, and was required to destroy it after 90 days.
Manufacturer-fitted GPS transmitter/receivers would only cost a few pounds. If you have a smartphone you can load software and maps onto it right now to turn it into a satnav device. You’d need to buy a small key-ring size GPS transmitter/receiver to make it work. Mine cost just £23. And I was only buying one. And presumably someone made a profit on it. OK, it only transmits at Bluetooth power levels but it would cost very little to beef it up to hold a little data and transmit it to a receiving station.
This all matters enormously to businesses, because it’s businesses that are going to have to bear much of the cost of road charging. If the cost of the system is modest the cost to business will be too. If it is massive it could be crippling to fleets. And we already know what will happen if receipts from the system are inadequate to pay for the system: They will put up the charges. They have just done so in London - by 60%!”