To check the system AM-sister title CAR magazine put a satellite tracking system and the Government’s provisional pricing structure to the test.
A black box tracker was fitted to a Ford Focus, with the device, already in use by fleet operators, pinpointing the car’s every move to within three metres. The system can also identify speeding infringements, even by as little as 1mph.
However, there is also the potential for a huge jump in motoring costs.
CAR magazine tried out the system on some of Britain’s most congested roads during the rush hour and the magazine applied the Department for Transport’s sample prices per mile, following the Government’s charging principles: the more congested and major a road, the higher the cost per mile.
It found that the cost of motoring would rocket for millions of Britain’s commuters.
The first journey, from Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, to Baldock, Hertfordshire, took in a mix of motorway, urban, A roads and rural roads, with prices varying from 86p a mile on the gridlocked A14, to just 4p a mile on the rural A505.
At today’s prices, this 53.2-mile journey would have cost £3.57 in fuel duty and road tax, in a 1.6-litre Ford Focus averaging 44.1mpg. But under pay as you drive charging, CAR estimates that the journey would cost £17.50.
Similarly, a 74.3-mile journey from Peterborough to London – depositing £4.84 into Government coffers at today’s rates – could cost £20.85 when pay-as-you-drive is up and running.
"The Government says half of motorists will pay less if road pricing comes in. But the other half – some 14m drivers – face big hikes in their cost of commuting," said Jason Barlow, CAR editor. "Not to mention the 140,000 drivers who will be subjected to the top rate, provisionally priced at a hefty £1.34 a mile."
CAR agrees something has to be done about the congestion that blights our roads – and the Government claims this pricing structure would cut total jams by 46%.
"Having conducted a real-world test, we believe satellite tracking could provide a sophisticated, precise way to make motorists pay for their true cost of motoring," says Barlow. "But it will be a huge challenge – and cost billions of tax-payers’ money – to develop a bullet-proof system that works not just for one car, but for the 28m cars out there on Britain’s roads."
CAR believes there are other crucial issues that must be dealt with, before the system is implemented.
Barlow said: "We are concerned that congestion might be displaced from high rate, major roads – which are best suited to dealing with heavy volumes of traffic and typically away from residential areas – and onto cheaper, minor roads, causing congestion there.
"And we need the following guarantees from the Government. First, that the public transport system will be improved, to offer a true, reliable and flexible alternative to the convenience of the car."