Siemens is testing an in-vehicle system in Puget Sound, Wash., that could ease traffic burdens and change the way tolls are collected. The system uses software and a GPS device mounted in vehicles to gauge speeds of users to report traffic congestion. The device suggests alternative routes to the driver. Drivers would pay for that information. These fees may someday eliminate tolls and replace the fuel tax, according to Siemens. “It’s like a taxi meter, but more sophisticated,” Ken Aurichio, a spokesman for Siemens, told Business Fleet. “It will mark your position and tell you the least congested route from there.” Aurichio says there are a number of factors determining how the device will charge, including a way to distinguish size and weight of vehicles. “Assuming states do want to use this as additional revenue, then they would have to look at a fair way to tax,” Aurichio says. How often the device would charge is another issue. Currently, the Puget Sound project has the meters running constantly. Adjustments could be made to charge one rate during peak hours and a lower rate during off hours. Each state could have a different system for charging, leading to possible discrepancies in fuel taxes. According to Aurichio, states would have to plan their GPS service in accordance with their neighbors. He points to Iowa as an example. A 15-state coalition led by Iowa is seeking federal funding for the program. If those states were to gain the financial support, Aurichio says they would likely have a common charging structure. Aurichio says the Iowa-led coalition is not alone. “Basically every state is looking into this,” he says, because it would generate revenue and alleviate congestion. In Europe, Germany has a program in place for large trucks and expects to have all cars on-board by 2009. Aurichio doubts that it will catch on that quickly in the U.S. He says winning drivers over to the notion of charging daily on what were formerly no-cost roads is one hurdle, but not the biggest. “The biggest obstacle will be states already invested in other technology,” Aurichio says. “They’re going to be reluctant to change.” Many states, including New York and New Jersey, have just spent millions developing toll systems such as the EZ Pass express toll card.
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