Road User Charging (RUC) is a hot topic in Europe and globally. The clear case for satellite based systems that offer a sustainable, lower cost solution and can facilitate interoperability between national and regional systems was made to the recent 10th Annual RUC Conference in Brussels on 5 and 6 March.
Ensuring an efficient and economically sustainable road transport system in Europe is an increasingly important priority for governments and regulators. However, building new roads and maintaining ageing road infrastructure costs a lot of money and a substantial ‘funding gap’ for these activities is growing in both Europe and the US.
Opening the 10th Annual Road User Charging Conference in Brussels, former UK transport minister Dr. Stephen Ladyman stated that the cost to build dual carriageway in the UK was around €12 million per kilometre.
Traffic congestion in countries like the UK also has a significant economic impact. “An EU survey estimated the cost of congestion on UK roads to be equivalent to 1.5% of GDP,” said Dr. Ladyman. France has a similar congestion cost at around 1.3% of GDP.
Add to this policy mix the need to implement concepts to externalise the true environmental impact costs of road transport and a political headache can be foreseen. With revenue from taxes such as road fuel duty likely to be unstable due to increasing vehicle efficiency and alternative energy sources for transport, it seems that road user charging is increasingly seen as an equitable answer to this policy conundrum.
“Road user charging is fundamentally fair,” said Nina Renshaw from the European Federation for Transport and Environment. Fairness was an essential element for any revenue raising scheme in the road transport sector. She believed that road users recognised that road use should not be free.
In Europe interoperability between different national and regional road user charging schemes will be essential. And this is where satellite systems can show a clear advantage.
“Satellite-based systems for RUC have already taken off,” said Alberto Fernández Wyttenbach of the European GNSS Agency (GSA). He noted that the EGNOS augmentation service was already available to boost the accuracy and integrity of conventional GPS signals and the initial services from the European Galileo GNSS constellation would be available at the end 2014. In addition, Galileo Open Service will be free of charge.
“EGNOS capability was now a standard for most automotive GNSS receivers,” he claimed. “And new consumer and automotive products are becoming Galileo ready at no additional cost.”
The future deployment of Galileo promised a more robust ability for accurate position analysis even in ‘urban canyon’ environments.
A number of GSA sponsored projects had already demonstrated and quantified the benefits of EGNOS and advanced GNSS solutions for road charging. For example, the EGNOS2road project had shown the capability of EGNOS for free flow road tolling and other RUC-related applications boasting positioning accuracy of less than one metre.
Other road application examples included the tracking and monitoring of dangerous goods on roads across Europe and even the use of EGNOS accuracy to ensure that winter salt spreading for road safety was as accurate and efficient as possible.
“GNSS technology is becoming the technology of choice for free-flow RUC,” claimed Alberto. “GNSS is clearly the best choice in terms of interoperability as GNSS does not recognise borders.”
Although current cost for GNSS onboard units (OBUs) was relatively high compared with some other technologies there were compensating advantages in terms of lower infrastructure and maintenance costs, as well as the ability to offer other value added services. And the cost of OBUs was likely to reduce with increased production.
RUC schemes based on GNSS also had a clear technology upgrade path that would improve accuracy, availability and signal integrity at minimal cost.
First generation GNSS-RUC using GPS signals and EGNOS was already enabled in France. The French scheme will launch fully in July 2013 and will see all heavy goods vehicles using the main road network in France equipped with OBUs and subject to an environmental tax that is related to their CO2 emissions and the distance that they travel.
“EGNOS will be used in the French ECOTAXE tolling scheme,” said Alberto. “And Belgium’s plans to implement a GNSS tolling scheme for trucks in the near future specifies that the preferred architecture should be ready for EGNOS and Galileo.”
Alberto emphasised the additional benefits of dual civil frequencies and a robust authentication service that will come with the fully operational Galileo service and therefore be available to second generation GNSS-RUC schemes.
And the developments would not end there.
“The new European Commission research programme, Horizon 2020, will continue to foster research and innovation and adaptation for new challenging applications of satellite navigation technologies,” he predicted.
He closed by inviting all delegates to make the most out of European GNSS to enhance their RUC applications. “We offer the open solutions and the support that you need for successful implementation,” Alberto concluded. “At the end we will all succeed because GNSS is clearly the most sustainable solution and has the reach to provide true seamless interoperability across Europe.”
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