Tech not taxes to tackle traffic

Posted: 06/11/2017

Tech not taxes to tackle traffic

Business people are increasingly worried about the county’s plans to charge more for its roads

Ask anyone about the problems facing Oxford and traffic will be at the top of the list. The major arteries snarl up at rush hour while the main roads into the city come to a grinding halt.

Oxfordshire County Council is taking the bull by the horns with plans for a more ambitious transport infrastructure and radical plans to manage future growth in traffic.

But those plans could be a set of unnecessary taxes that just grind local businesses to a halt and clog the roads with companies leaving for greener, more economically savvy places.

Here’s why: the council wants to stick a congestion charge on the city coupled with a car parking tax for business. For every car parking space that a company has, it will pay into the county’s coffers. And the recommendation is that companies pass that on to their employees.

The taxes aren’t just a disincentive to drivers – they aim to raise a “predictable, locally controlled source of transport funding” to deliver infrastructure and initiatives.

And business people are asking: “Don’t we already pay for that in our income tax, council tax and business rates?”

The real problem is that taxing road users will do little to discourage car journeys that are necessary due to the limited provision of public transport and the pressure on the city’s park and ride facilities. Add more slow-moving buses, we’ll just get slower moving traffic.

There is a better way and smart local government bosses are using smart technologies to deliver it. Glasgow is the latest in a list of cities to snag a £24m. pot of UK government cash to spend on technology.

They are planning to use sensors under the road to read and analyse data much quicker than a person could and to adjust traffic to free up bottlenecks. £24m. is a fraction of the cost of other infrastructure projects and could provide many other benefits.

Information can be collected in real time by sensors, cameras, and even wearable gadgets. As more and more vehicles are connected, data analytics and smart traffic decision support can direct all traffic – cars, buses and bikes – through the most efficient routes.

London, which has been gathering and sharing data for almost 10 years, claims the widespread provision of open data is boosting the city’s economy by up to £130m a year. The use of this data by commercial app and software developers also reportedly created around 230 jobs.

Oxford already has a number of ‘smart city’ projects under development (see also https://www.oxfordsmartcity.uk/cgi-bin/experimenting.pl#transportandsmartcities). But intelligent traffic management is conspicuous by its absence.

Smart use of data can fix the traffic problem, generate revenues, create jobs and add other benefits like improving safety, managing car parking and improving the visitor experience.

Congestion charging and employee parking taxes are just another burden on business and yet another barrier to attracting people to work in the city.

Isn’t it time for Oxford to get in the queue for government funding to join the 21st century cities tha are using big data to solve big problems?