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Government turbo charges congestion initiatives and apps at local level

The government is putting resource behind cutting congestion in major cities, but this time it’s putting money in rather than using congestion charging to take it out. The Department of Transport has awarded funds to a number of local authorities for technology initiatives and apps that should cut the crush down, at least a bit.

The amount involved – £4m – will strike some people as pretty trivial, but a lot can happen because of a little local development.

Successful bidders

19 local councils across the UK are going to receive between £50,000 and £300,000 to develop or commission digital innovations (which many are interpreting as apps) to improve not only the movement of traffic but the environmental impact of cars. These will include apps to alert drivers to congestion as well as to tell them where parking is available.

Examples include Blackpool, which will use Bluetooth to cut congestion (quite how a network with a radius of ten metres is going to assimilate the big picture you’d need to make any headway with this should be interesting), Westminster and a number of other London authorities which will make electric charging points visible through another app and Warrington which will make information on traffic conditions visible through social media and displays.

Roads Minister Andrew Jones, said: “I congratulate today’s winners for coming up with cutting-edge, innovative ideas that will transform journeys for passengers and motorists across the country. Technology is rapidly evolving and this important work shows that if we get it right, it can cut congestion, speed up journeys, clean up the environment, and improve accessibility.”

No consistency

The problem is likely to be one of consistency. It’s undeniable that the issues facing, say, Coventry may be different from those of Blackpool. It could well be the case that the different areas have addressed their particular conditions correctly. However, this only works if the local people are the main consumers of the technology.

Many drivers don’t work like that. Take a driver who starts in Blackpool and has to go to Leeds. He or she will now have to bear in mind that in Blackpool they’ll get information on congestion sent straight to their phone but this might cut out if Leeds doesn’t happen to offer the same facility. If they have to stop off in Manchester there may be yet another piece of information available. Meanwhile Londoners will be charging their vehicles with supercharged information but might welcome an app telling them where they can park, but that might be a while in coming.

There is a good argument for decentralising and allowing local authorities some sort of autonomy in what they offer drivers. The councils are the people on the spot after all. Making them compete for funding was an interesting idea, and suggests there will have been losers rather than winners, which won’t help drivers or the environment universally. The radical differences between the services on offer, though, could well be counterproductive. It would be a surprise if this doesn’t get addressed eventually.