The Technology That Could Transform Congestion Pricing - City Lab

Now that New York City has adopted congestion pricing in an effort to rein in traffic and raise revenue desperately needed to upgrade public transportation, other American cities are taking a closer look at this often-contentious technique. San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle have all recently released requests-for-proposals to begin studying the possibilities and implications of congestion pricing. As cities study the ins and outs of charging motorists to enter central districts, there hasn’t been much attention devoted to one critical part of congestion pricing package: the technology. How will tolls be collected? How will cities insure compliance in the charging zone? And how will our data privacy be addressed and protected?

Right now, every existing congestion pricing program—in London, Stockholm, Singapore, and Milan, relies on automated license plate recognition (ALPR) to document which vehicles pass a specific location on the perimeter of the congestion pricing zone. Video cameras—often offering as many as eight views—are used to capture the license plates and track down motorists who don’t pay with a transponder. This static and location-based method was a natural technological progression from old-fashioned fixed tollbooths and toll collectors; it’s the same system installed on highways where tollbooths (which slowed traffic) have been removed.

While this system once made sense, it doesn’t anymore.

Gantries work fine on highways, but for dense cities with many roads they are expensive, inflexible and require cameras installed at dozens (possibly hundreds) of different locations. Collecting fees from those without a transponder is costly, requiring snail-mail bills sent to addresses where the vehicle is registered, which may or may not be where the driver still lives.

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