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See Inside December 2010

Know-It-All Toll Roads

Building more roads won't eliminate traffic. Smart pricing will

THE ROAD OF THE FUTURE will look much like the road of the present, but it most certainly won't be free. “You can have your driveway,” says Bern Grush, founder of Skymeter, a Toronto-based company that creates GPS-enabled devices to measure road use. “But if you're going to come over to visit me, you need to pay to get to my place from your place.”

With the emergence of wireless, location-based technologies such as GPS, it is now possible to gauge the true costs of driving and the true value of the roads. The umbrella term is dynamic road-use charging, which means essentially that drivers will pay for roads they use by the mile, rather than through other mechanisms such as registration fees or a gas tax. Only a few pilot programs are up and running at the moment, but urban planners think the idea could change our experience of driving from white-knuckled frustration to something closer to a joyride. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and General Motors laid out such a vision earlier this year in “Reinventing the Automobile,” a study that argued that transparent trip pricing would optimize road use, reducing traffic congestion and highway deaths.

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