'Dynamic toll for road use may reduce traffic jams'

A toll system in which drivers would have to pay a fair, dynamic fee for the use of roads may help avoid traffic jams and protect the environment, scientists say.

Traffic jams are not only annoying and time-consuming, they are also costly, said researchers from the University of Cologne in Germany.

The economic damage caused by congested roads in 2017 in Germany totalled approximately 80 billion euros, they said.

Fees that respond to traffic volumes in real time and with site precision, taking into account factors such as vehicle type and exhaust emissions, can significantly improve traffic flow and contribute to reducing air pollution.

"Currently, road users who cause traffic jams, while damaging the environment and even incurring costs, are paying just as much as those who are not involved," said Axel Ockenfels from the University of Cologne.

"Without a toll, this means that the general public is subsidising these road users. That is unfair," Ockenfels said.

A toll for road use would bring these costs to light and reduce congestion.

"If the fee adapts to the volume of traffic and the situation on the road in real time, ie, is more expensive at rush hour than around noon, everyone can choose the route that suits them best. This already works for navigation systems," said Peter Cramton from the University of Cologne.

"Ultimately, this would reduce the load on main traffic arteries, improve traffic flow and reduce CO2 emissions," Cramton said.

Technically, a dynamic road toll could already be implemented in real time today.

Navigation and telecommunications systems, GPS data and apps can provide drivers with information and predict traffic volumes.

"Of course, you have to develop a system that is an acceptable compromise between collecting personal data and protecting privacy," said Cramton.

Modern cryptology could allow system operators to charge tolls without exposing private travel information, the researchers said. 

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