Tolls are also proving useful tools in managing traffic, as demonstrated in the US city of San Diego. New express lanes on the I-15 employ dynamic tolling whereby the toll rate fluctuates depending on congestion levels. Motorists pay up to $8 (£5.50) to use the express lanes at the busiest times, but less than $1 when traffic is flowing well. After a year of operation, average journey times on the 20-mile corridor had dropped from 40 to 30 minutes for all travellers.
In the future, motorists could decide when to travel and at what cost. “You could book a slot for your journey and pay a supplement for going at a busy time on a particular route, or go for free by travelling later or taking a deviation,” says Dr Enoch.
Investment in nationwide real-time systems
Better travel planning is already possible thanks to government and private sector investment in collecting and sharing real-time data. In China, where the number of registered motor vehicles jumped 248 per cent in the decade to 2012, an internet-based traffic management and information system is being developed. According to the Ministry of Public Security, users will access it via the government’s official website, by smartphone application or by calling a nationwide telephone helpline.
In parallel, personal traffic navigation systems and apps are becoming increasingly sophisticated. TomTom, the satnav company, estimates that it reduces users’ journey times by up to 15 per cent. Its MyDrive app creates personalised notifications of traffic ahead on drivers’ smartphones, providing alternative routes.
But the biggest breakthroughs will come when vehicles can talk to each other and to the smart infrastructure on which they are travelling. Luxury marques have made a start; Audi’s Traffic Light Assist system, for example, can tell drivers to slow down or speed up to make a traffic light. And together with fellow German carmakers BMW and Daimler, Audi last year purchased Here, Nokia’s mapping service, the supplier of digital maps to four out of five vehicles. The plan is for onboard sensors to contribute to the platform’s wealth of real-time information.