Thursday 13 October 2011

Peak free - or the opposite of congestion charging #2 - Spitsvrij

Last week I wrote about Spitscoren, the trial in the Netherlands that pays motorist to not drive on a highway at peak times.  Effectively a congestion charge in reverse. The key foundation of the project, (which is an integration of telecommunications, tolling related technologies, e-commerce/payment systems and customer management) is to pay selected motorists for not driving in the peak, and the provision of tailored information to motorists through smartphones. An application on the phone gives trip alternative options, there is a service to facilitate carpooling and teleworking is facilitated through  a free flexible remote office that can be used by anyone on the scheme.

Recently launched is a second similar project, called Spitsvrij (Dutch only website). The project lasts till the end of December 2012.  It is in the Utrecht region of the Netherlands, bounded by the A1, A27 and A28.  The intention is to sign up 5,000 motorists (2,000 through their employers) to participate.   This time, network usage is to be monitored by On Board Units (OBUs) on vehicles backed up by Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR).
Spitsvrij area of operation

This time motorists get credit at the start of the month that may range between €30-€120 (US$41.50-US$165.47), which has money deducted from it depending on driving behaviour during that month.  Each trip at peak times in the region may cost between €1.50-€3 (around US$2-$4) off the credit.  The incentive is obvious.  The less you drive the more you keep.   Again the alternatives are to not take a trip, drive off peak, use public transport, motorcycles, cycling or walk or carpool (with someone without the unit).   A maximum of €100 can be available at the end of the month for the participant to use.

In additional to supplying the on board unit and e-commerce systems, the Spitsvrij project offers a smartphone travel app (but unlike Spitscoren no actual phone) with a carpooling database (to facilitate people carsharing) and customised alternative travel options.  The project also offers teleconferencing workshops and teleworking kits to support employers that participate, with a loyalty programme for such employers.   The intention is that it be a long term solution to managing congestion within the area, with a major emphasis on supplying intelligent and personalised travel information (including options and traffic conditions) to users through a website, smartphone app and the installed OBU in the car.  Meanwhile, participants (who like the Spitscoren programme are invited on the basis of being identified as regular motorists at peak times) keep track of their credits and are incentivised to not drive.   The minimum usage required to be able to participate is to have been a continuous user of the roads in the area at least 25 times during peak times over a 5 week period.  If a motorist qualifies he or she may join.

It is led by the Province of Utrecht and the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment.

BNV Mobility formed and leads the operations, development and implementation of this project together with Goudappel Coffeng and Technolution.

Apparently at least 50 employers are now participating, encouraging their own employees to join (and the employers get a financial benefit, although how much that is, is not yet clear).

The peak times are 06:30-09:30 and 15:30-18:30.  A trip of up to 5km can be undertaken without risking a loss of credit, to enable trips to be taken for school runs or to drive to park and ride facilities.

Installation of the GPS based OBU is done professionally and takes one hour.  A key part of the system is that it only measures distance travelled within the "credit area" concerned and during peak times.  It does not operate outside those times and when it detects departure from the "credit area".

An important dimension for the Netherlands is that privacy is secured, with no details onsold, and no records kept beyond what is necessary to credit for lack of use.  In essence, if you have it installed and never drive during the peaks, it wont ever notify the system.

The project was officially launched on 7 October by the State Secretary for Transport, Melanie Schultz van Haegen.
Again, another fascinating project that is the opposite of congestion charging.  This time it isn't just one road, but a whole area that is subject to the system.  The other interesting variation is the use of an OBU using GPS to measure and identify when participants drive in the zone, and for how long to determine the extent to which they keep or lose credits.

It is far too early to say what the results are, but if this is as promising as the Spitscoren project, it would appear to provide an excellent example of an alternative approach for cities or regions seeking to manage congestion, in a way that is far more politically palatable than introducing congestion pricing.


  1. How about the perverse incentives of getting into the group who is given the initial credit? If you drive much, we'll pay you to stop. But if you already don't drive, we'll just take your tax money to pay for other people not to drive. Ass backwards.

  2. Johny, yes but people don't know this was coming so didn't drive more to join. However your point on tax money is well taken, except for the Spitscoren project the Port of Rotterdam is primarily paying - which means it is a commercial investment, not taxpayers' money. Secondly, motoring taxes in the Netherlands are very high. The highest fuel tax in Europe as well as taxes of several thousand Euro on new cars and to own a car. It is a fair argument that this is a very small proportion of those taxes being recycled from those who use vehicles the most to pay for those who use them less.