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User-pay the way for many

Governments everywhere are running out of money to build and maintain roads, with fuel taxes having only one-third the purchasing power they did 40 years ago.

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Governments everywhere are running out of money to build and maintain roads, with fuel taxes having only one-third the purchasing power they did 40 years ago.

Increasingly, new road-toll laws are winning support, particularly in Europe, for their ability to force motorists using the roads to pay for the infrastructure. New tolling technology – and GPS looks to be the front-runner – can do this by replacing general road taxes with targeted per-use billing.

Beyond the revenue source, governments have a new tool for controlling urban congestion.

Drivers in Stockholm are charged depending on the time of the day they enter the downtown “congestion tax area.” Traffic was reduced by 22 per cent and carbon dioxide emissions were cut by 14 per cent during the initial trial period. The project earned widespread support and residents voted to keep it in place permanently.

The best-known urban toll is the “Kengestion tax” introduced by former London mayor Ken Livingston in 2003. A complex array of cameras is used to photograph vehicles as they enter central London, and they are charged about $15 daily for the privilege.

The benefits of the London toll have been contested. While vehicular traffic was 16 per cent lower in 2006 than pre-charge levels in 2002, media reports pegged rush-hour traffic speeds and delays virtually back to their original levels by 2007.

Germany has been charging tolls on heavy trucks using the Autobahn since 2005. Trucks are required to have an on-board GPS unit that tracks the vehicle’s road use, generating a bill that goes directly to the trucking firm.

Mark Toljagic

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