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Pay-per-mile possible with next GPS system

Date: 02 August 2006

A new European rival to the American GPS network will deliver the pinpoint accuracy needed to make the Government's promised road-charging plan a reality, according to those closest to the scheme.

The European GPS, named Galileo, is in the launching phase of a scheme to send up 30 new satellites that will improve positioning from 5metres to 1m. We're also promised better reliability, particularly in urban areas, paving the way to road charging.

"You can't use GPS to charge because it's just not accurate enough," said scheme adviser and leading road-charging advocate professor David Begg. "We need more efficient use of the road space we have. Galileo is the key to the door."

The momentum for road charging has been steadily building within Government. New Secretary of State for Transport, Douglas Alexander, wrote to Tony Blair in July, committing his department to local pilot schemes to demonstrate how charging might work. The Prime Minister himself has promised a "successful introduction of road-user charging within the next decade".

Former EU transport commissioner Lord Kinnock, who was responsible for signing off the predominately EU-funded Galileo, said last week it has "literally limitless potential" and has "the power to change transport organisation in ways we can't even envisage".

Galileo so far has one satellite in orbit, with another 29 scheduled to launch before 2010. They will join the 30 already circulating as part of the American GPS system, and gradually boost the amount of satellites 'seen' by positioning systems such as satellite navigation and fleet telematics. Like GPS, it'll be free to access.

Road charging was first properly mooted back in 2002, when the Government-funded Commission for Integrated Transport - then chaired by professor Begg - published a report recommending charging by the mile.

The report put the maximum charge at 45p a mile to drive in central London at rush hour, dropping to nothing on quiet roads, off-peak. The quid pro quo for motorists would be zero vehicle excise duty and a cut in fuel duty of between 2p and 12p a litre.