Here’s something definitely worth watching: The UK is considering a massive pilot project to make drivers pay to use the roads. And not just on a few select roads — the system would effectively turn every street and highway in Great Britain into a toll road. (Here’s a link — but the article is subscription only. Sorry.)

Tolls would vary based on the kind of road, the number of miles driven, and the time of day; it would cost more to use the most congested roads during rush hour, say, than an uncongested road in the middle of the night. This sort of system — sometimes called "value pricing" — is a much better bargain than it seems at first blush. It simultaneously cuts congestion, saves fuel, reduces accident risks, and, perhaps most importantly, relieves some of the pressure to build new roads — an expense that only seems to grow more costly with time.

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As a side benefit, this sort of system would make it far easier for insurance companies to offer Pay As You Drive car insurance. That’s a big benefit to people who don’t drive much — since they drive less, they’ll pay less, and will stop subsidizing people who rack up both big mileage and big accident risks.

The basic technology underpinning value pricing isn’t far-fetched at all — in fact, mobile Global Positioning Systems are already available as an option for new cars, as well as in some rentals, and their cost will only go down over time. The Puget Sound Regional Council has experimented for years with a small-scale value pricing scheme. That said, there are still all sorts of potential technical kinks to be worked out before the system can be adopted more widely — which makes a big UK pilot project all the more valuable.

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