Wireless technology mooted to relieve Auckland traffic

RFID-like transponders would detect and charge vehicles crossing into central district

Several of the schemes proposed by the government-initiated study into relieving Auckland traffic congestion would use a combination of wi-fi and radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to detect cars whose drivers choose to take busy routes or who cross a “cordon” around the central city.

The technology, known as Dedicated Short Range Communication, uses RFID-like “transponders” on vehicles, with the normally very short range of an RFID signal extended by onward transmission through a dedicated wireless network.

Transponders used in similar projects overseas vary in their capability, says Transport Ministry spokesman Chris Money. Some can store information in the chip, useful in case of disputed charges, but others in situations that most closely parallel Auckland’s are “dumb” like RFID tags on retail items. They merely return a signal when stimulated by the radio waves from an overhead gantry at the crossing point, and require no power themselves.

A vehicle travelling a particular stretch of motorway, or entering a designated area would be detected by its electronic identity as it entered and left the sensitive zone. Charges could then be levied and a periodic invoice sent to the motorist.

Similar schemes to those contemplated for Auckland have been in place in Singapore since 1999 (with a paper-based scheme since 1975) and in London since February 2003.

Stockholm began a six-month trial scheme in January, and the NZ study, co-ordinated by the Ministry of Transport, says this closely parallels what could be done to benefit Auckland.

Reading of electronic identities from vehicles would probably be complemented by visual recognition of registration plates.

Stockholm’s trial scheme involves charging vehicles around €2 (NZ$3.86) each time they cross the cordon boundary during peak periods, with lower charges outside these periods. The scheme has about 20 crossing points “covering an area of similar size to the Auckland isthmus and also with similarities in terms of natural water boundaries. It is hoped the scheme could raise up to €100m (NZ$194.79 million) per annum and significantly reduce congestion, particularly in the centre,” the study says.

While vehicles are charged for crossing into the central district, they do not attract charges by moving about within it, the study points out. Such movement may aggravate congestion. Accordingly, a “double cordon” is advanced as one proposal, with a smaller area within the first attracting an even higher charge, and thus deterring travel across the central district.

The London scheme is not strictly comparable, it says, because of the greater availability of public transport in that city.

In answer to one worried Aucklander who lives inside the proposed cordon and works outside, Money confirms that the sensors will be specific to certain lanes, “so the system will be able to tell if you’re entering or leaving, unless you’re driving the wrong way for the lane.”

Carmakers and transport authorities overseas point to the potential use of DSRC technology for other purposes, ranging from collision avoidance to downloading of traffic reports and entertainment files to the vehicle.

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