As cities like New York move ahead with plans to charge motorists to enter certain urban areas, we need to think about the best ways to manage road tolling.
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.