Is Technology the Answer for Roads?

25 Mar, 2012 | PoliticsTechTravelTdp

A few days after reading an article on the future being about driverless cars I was met by the headline that the government plans to reform the road network by privatising some of it.  Do I think privatising it is a good thing?  No.  I don't think anyone in this country can honestly point to any of the previous schemes and say we, the taxpayer, got value for money out of it, or better service.

You only have to look at the few toll schemes already in Britain to see that while some may deliver on service, they don't on value for money (just look at the complaints about rising prices, in January of this year) and, in the case of the M6 toll road, it delivers neither and largely seems to have been a waste of time and space.

Technology could provide a solution and drive (no pun intended) a whole new business sector.  I'm not talking about telecommuting either, which everyone seems to vaunt as a great saviour, but has never appeared (and won't).

I'm talking about transport technology to improve cars, to take over driving, so we can fit more cars, travelling at greater speed, more safely, in the same space.  It's all well and good for the government to talk of widening roads, fixing 'pinch points' and increasing capacity, but in many cases it's simply not possible, there simply is no room to widen, not without hugely expensive land purchases, and that's going really well for the high-speed rail link proposal.

Buses and trains are reaching capacity and don't offer good value for money, not to mention the flexibility people demand in the modern world.  Automated cars, travelling at better speeds, closer together, controlled by computers would cut down on the need for new roads, because we could fit more onto existing roads and we'd suffer fewer delays due to accidents.  All while providing a better service, customised to individuals.  And, thrown into the bargain, could mean most people wouldn't need to own a car of their own, making us greener too.

Then you can add in the economic benefits of being world leaders in the technology, which we can sell to other nations, bringing back some manufacturing perhaps, maybe make that 'Made in Britain' stamp mean something again.

I'm struggling to find a downside here.  Okay, it'll be expensive to develop and it won't happen overnight, but a concerted effort and several billion in investment (by comparison, a new motorway which will run you between £25 and £30 million per mile, depending on who you believe, probably more now, so less than 33 miles per billion) should go a long way to helping.

If the government wants to be truly innovative, technology gets my vote over some new finance scheme.