Road-pricing solution?


altProfessor Gabriel Roth has been thinking about road pricing since he was a member of a government committee on the idea back in 1964. He's convinced that motorists should pay for the roads they use – and for the congestion that they impose on others – rather than through taxes such as the fuel and vehicle excise duties. Price road-use properly, he says, and people would use them more carefully, avoiding the morning and afternoon peaks if they could, and maybe deciding to walk or take the bus or the train. Good for smoothing traffic, and good for the environment.

London's road-pricing system is crude, though. You are charged for entering the central zone, not on how much congestion you stoke up while you're inside it. A better system would charge people more for being on the busier roads at the busier times. But that means that some authority somewhere has to know where and when you're driving – yet another form of surveillance and an obvious threat to personal privacy.

Roth's answer is to fit vehicles with GPS devices that transmit only a regular digest of the journeys they log – how many miles you travelled, on what kind of road, in busy or non-busy periods. And you would be billed on that basis. But the details of exactly where and when you were driving stays with you. And Roth has in mind that the regular digest would go not to government officials, but to companies like those who handle telephone billing. (Maybe then you could even have different kinds of tariff depending on exactly how you use your car or prefer to be billed.)

I would also think it quite possible that, after your bill has been settled, you could wipe past journey information from the memory of the device. So you would have more privacy over where you take your car than you do at present over where you take your mobile phone. I don't know that this idea solves all the privacy questions, but it's certainly worth mulling over.