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Inconclusive trials leave road tolling uncertain

ELECTRONIC ROAD tolling needs more research investment to make sure it operates efficiently, the results of the government's electronic road pricing trials, published last week, have concluded.

A decision on whether the government will fund research will be taken next month - after the Integrated Transport White Paper is published - said the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions this week.

Government admitted last year that road tolling was at least five years away (NCE 25 September), after delays and controversy dogged the TRL-led trials. Of the original six bidders, GEC Marconi Communications and Bosch Telecom systems were the only firms to last out the trials. The others withdrew amid complaints that they were being asked to fund the trials without evidence of government commitment to electronic tolls.

DETR's 'Report on the Test Track Trials of Motorway Tolling Technologies 1996-97' says: 'From the experience gained during trials the DETR has concluded that the capability of technology to toll equipped vehicles reliably . . . has been demonstrated.'

But the department said that 'no fully engineered, off-the shelf-package solution is available which would allow drivers to be charged without the need to stop or slow down'.

Both systems trialled used on-board smartcards read by roadside equipment. But the amount of information needed to be processed was a key area of concern.

Final results from the Leicester Environmental Road Tolling Scheme have revealed that efficient public transport is the key to getting people out of their cars.

Although tolls hit a £10 peak, TRL's Jonathan Smith said: 'People switched to park and ride when they realised - because of dedicated bus lanes and priority at junctions - that it cut one and a half minutes off their journey into the centre of Leicester.'

But he added: 'The park and ride option was only attractive to those who worked within 500m of the bus stop: 45% of those drivers made the switch.'

Drivers with free parking at the their destination consistently resisted the option of the bus, he said.

(see Commentary page 8)

Jackie Whitelaw

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