Go back 20 years and only a few people had a mobile phone. Today virtually everyone has one, and people buy their landline and internet services from a plethora of providers.
Some 20 years from now, road pricing is forecast to be the norm, and every driver will have some sort of charging device in their vehicle. This is going to mean the establishment of an industry just as large in economic terms, as the mobile phone industry is today. Are there things we can plan for / expect given the mobile experience?
The first generation
A good starting point for our comparison is the London Congestion Charge and the original, analogue (1G) mobile systems. Both used relatively basic technology, had little real interoperability with other systems, and only cover a small amount of the population. The cell-phone started to become more widespread with second, digital generation (2G) of mobile technology.
The implementation of Directive 87/371/EEC meant that all mobile phones in the EU had to be compatible and work across networks wherever they were. At a stroke, the resulting GSM standard (notably the SIM card and EIN number) avoided a VHS v Betamax play-off between systems developed in different countries. Handset and system manufacturers had agreed specifications to produce against. This helped GSM to become the system of choice in over 100 countries worldwide.
There is a key parallel today for road pricing with EC 2004/52 (the EETS Directive) mandating the use of 5.8GHz DSRC, GNSS and GSM technologies. Although not yet fully implemented, it could provide just as important a foundation for the future.
GSM was the enabler for the market to take off. Pay-as-you-go was a winner, and resellers such as Carphone Warehouse sold bundled deals on behalf of operators. The SMS function, buried away in the GSM spec (and amazingly when you consider it now, given away free to early users) began the text generation. Lucrative, and completely unexpected, markets, such as ring tones developed.
Gradually, major corporations bought up smaller national operators, meaning the market became led by the private sector rather than the legislation of the public sector. But innovations, such as the heavily specified WAP, proved a flop, 3G licences cost the corporations a lot of money, and video and picture messaging are not the money spinners they were expected to be. However, the industry continues to be very profitable.
Lessons for ITS
So, what lessons can be learned for Road Pricing in the future? Revenues will go to fund public sector transport investments, but we might expect drivers to have accounts with large, private sector corporations who aim to give the consumer the best deal. Drivers may even get a discount by paying for their road use as one part of a bundle of services (real time traffic information, satellite navigation, mobile calls, internet, TV, gas or electricity, who knows?).
For the market to thrive, it will need good regulation and a culture of competitive innovation. But, it will also take some sort of catalyst for this new market to reach the size of the mobile industry – national road pricing anyone?
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