September 11, 2003

The European Space Agency is watching your car

Michael Jennings | Road Pricing

This is just what we need.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is funding Irish provider of location technology products Mapflow to undertake a feasibility study to look into the possibility of implementing a pan-European road tolling system. The research aims to establish whether satellite technology can be used to calculate the cost of motoring. A plan exists to complement this activity with a real demonstration of the virtual tolling concept in the greater area of Lisbon. Also under ESA funding, the project is being conducted by the Portuguese company Skysoft in close cooperation with the Portuguese motorway authority. The demonstration is planned for the end of 2004.

In April this year the European Commission published a proposal that all vehicles should pay road tolls electronically, with full implementation foreseen for 2010. Under the proposal, all vehicles will carry a 'black box', which will be tracked by satellites relaying information on the distance travelled by the vehicle, the class of road travelled and the time at which the journey was made.

...

Germany recently received EU approval to implement a new tolling system for goods vehicles. The system – currently being tested – uses the US-operated Global Positioning System (GPS). The government hopes to raise 650 million euros a year through the new charges.

Satellite-assisted tolling would make use of Galileo, Europe's planned satellite navigation system. Galileo is a joint initiative between the European Commission and ESA to develop a global navigation system, scheduled to be operational by 2008.

I am actually in favour of charging for road use on a per kilometre basis. Inevitably this means using electronic tolling devices of some sort (and from a traffic management point of view this is desirable, as people do not have to stop to pay tolls, and also it is possible to manage congestion better by being able to vary tolls depending on time of day and traffic conditions). Equally inevitably this has privacy consequences.

However, having a top down approach in which a centralised EU agency moniters the movement of every car in Europe strikes me as terrifying. (Also, the further you remove the charging scheme from the people who are building and operating the roads, the less it becomes a charge for road use and the more it becomes a simple tax, too. A Europe wide charging scheme is about the worst way of doing it I can think of. What is much more desirable is a bottom up approach in which the individual owners of the roads implement their own systems, and from which they negotiate technology compatibility and a clearing house for sharing charges between themselves. Governments may still get their hands on the data, but a situation where it starts out in the private sectory and possibly works its way up is far better than a situation where everything starts in the hands of the EU and then works its way down.

This trial is perhaps partly a consequence of the fact that the EU has decided that Europe will build "Galileo": its own alternative to the American GPS system. Having decided this, it needs to find uses for it. And if you are the EU, tracking Europeans at all times is the sort of thing that comes to mind.

(Link via slashdot)

Crossposted to The White Rose

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