Traffic congestion gets U.S. attention

  • 22-Nov-2010 07:51 EST

U.S. government planners want to leverage telematics system output to reduce congestion and fuel consumption.

The U.S. Federal Highway Administration hopes to use telematics to reduce congestion on the nation’s roadways. The agency has tested a handful of techniques and has funding to help support new ideas.

Reducing congestion meets a number of goals that the government agency is promoting. It can reduce fatalities and accidents while also cutting vehicle emissions. Managers are exploring a range of techniques that can be used to achieve these symbiotic goals.

“What’s it worth for the federal government to pay people not to drive?” asked Allen Greenberg, Senior Policy Analyst for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.

His office has already funded a number of projects and has solicitations for more. “We’re interested in innovation; we want to see something new,” he explained. “We’re looking at incentives to get people to drive less and use less fuel. That will reduce congestion and improve safety."

He noted that a study by traffic data provider Inrix showed that a 3% reduction in vehicle miles driven led to a 30% reduction in congestion. “If you tried to get a 30% improvement by building or improving roads, it would cost tremendously more,” said Greenberg.

One of the concepts he’s exploring is called PAYDAYS (Pay As You Drive And You Save). It could leverage telematics systems that provide location data so it’s easy to track vehicle movement.

Mark Grant, Business Development Director at InsureTheBox, an independent English service provider, said the concept could be dovetailed onto telematics-based insurance services that monitor mileage and charge drivers based on vehicle usage. Insurance companies and government agencies both want to monitor when drivers are on the road as well as how far and how fast they drive.

He feels pay-as-you-drive insurance can play a major role in reducing vehicle miles. “If people go on holiday and drive a lot, they will pay more. If they go on holiday again and fly there, insurance will cost them nothing,” Grant said.

There’s a possibility that his agency could help fund the installation of telematics systems that could be used by insurance agencies. “We both need the same type of data. It looks like we could use a similar system for collecting data,” Grant said.

Efforts to monitor vehicle travel distance could also set the stage for changes in highway maintenance and construction funding. Vehicle electrification will make it difficult to maintain the model used today in which fuel taxes support highway trust funds. “We’re looking at new models, typically focused on tracking driving,” Grant said. He noted that some European countries including The Netherlands are already looking at mileage-based vehicle tolling.

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