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New technology could end misery of flat congestion charges

A new infrared imaging system that automatically counts the number of people in moving road vehicles could offer a simple and cost effective solution to help lower carbon emissions and congestion.

Demand for innovative ways to encourage vehicle sharing is particularly acute in major cities as only 20% of the road capacity is used by multiple occupancy vehicles. With 80% of vehicles occupied only by the driver, congestion charge zones and toll gates are an increasingly common feature on Britain’s traffic black spots. But unless vehicle occupants can be easily counted, it is impossible to implement variable charging to encourage more journeys to be shared.

Dtect, the new technology developed by optical engineering experts at Loughborough University, can be used for a variety of scenarios where multiple occupancy could attract lower fees, such as congestion zones; toll roads, bridges and tunnels; high occupancy vehicle lanes and car parks. It illuminates the moving vehicle’s windscreen without distracting the occupants and then processes images using a patented formula to detect the number of occupants. Occupant identity and vehicle registration can be stored in case penalties need enforcing, otherwise this information is data protected. The process takes a fraction of a second and results can either be integrated into a larger automated traffic management system or transmitted to a remote terminal.

Avingtrans Plc, who own Crown UK Ltd, the leading UK supplier of roadside camera housings, has recently made a major investment into the Loughborough technology. For John Tyrer, Loughborough inventor and director of Vehicle Occupancy Ltd, the company formed to commercialise the technology, this partnership is ideal: “Flat rate charges are not the answer to congestion and the resultant pollution. Getting more people to share their journeys can only happen with incentives like variable charging. We have developed the step change technology to make this happen and Avingtrans / Crown have the credibility to incorporate it into the market.”

Anna Seddon | alfa
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