Smart road user charging is a new way of paying for the negative environmental impacts of road use.
Many governments have already implemented a system to charge road users for emissions, in an attempt to tackle air pollution and reach net zero.
The difference between smart road user charging (SMUC) and similar schemes like the congestion charge, is that SMUC involves charging drivers per mile travelled. It also takes into account factors like the location, pollution level of the vehicle and availability of public transport alternatives.
This means that the charge is more personalised to the vehicle and driver and exemptions can be made for people on low incomes or with disabilities.
Why EVs aren’t the solution
In the UK, the government collects road taxes and tackles inner city congestion in a number of ways. Drivers of fuel cars for example are expected to pay Fuel Duty and Vehicle Exercise Duty, but the increasing popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) is leaving a growing gap in the Chancellor’s budget.
In addition to this, the growing network of Clean Air Zones, Low Emission Zones, and Zero Emission Zones in the UK is becoming confusing for drivers to navigate, and EVs are not affected by these schemes, leaving a gap in their regulation.
These programmes have been generally successful in encouraging people to swap their fuel cars for EVs and reduce inner-city pollution, but electric vehicles still have a negative environmental impact, which needs to be addressed to reach net zero.
As EVs become more popular, the UK will have to switch to a more dynamic system of road charging to continue tackling air pollution and congestion, as well as fund road maintenance and transport services.
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What is the current technology used?
The road charging technology currently used in the UK, such as the congestion charge and Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) is fairly basic. These use automatic name plate recognition cameras to determine whether a registered vehicle should be charged or not. However these are generally expensive to maintain and need to be placed all over the city.
When it comes to an environmental impact, whilst they are seen as a good start, they don’t take into account how much a person is driving within an area. A once a day charge isn’t much of a deterrent for those making multiple trips a day, and with an increasing number of vehicles already compliant, it’s not an incentive for people to use more sustainable options like public transport.
Why is smart road user charging better?
To effectively roll out road charging, a smarter system based on GPS tracking is needed. GPS tracking is not only more effective, but also much cheaper than the current approach – especially when most new cars already have a GPS system installed. On a wider level, it’s much cheaper to utilise this technology rather than investing in thousands of cameras that need to be placed and maintained all over a city.
Smart road user charging will encourage drivers to think more carefully about how and when they travel. If drivers have to pay per trip – rather than per day – they will think more about the value of that trip to them and the environment. It also means that those who use the roads more contribute more to their repairs.
Smart road user charging has many benefits, but it will not be an easy transition. Once implemented it will create a more effective system, both on a financial and environmental level.