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The Future of Biking – The Governments Hand on Your Thottle and Wallet??

September 16, 2009
Who's Hand is on the Thottle?

Who's Hand is on the Thottle?

Liverpool, England – 3 million unemployed, recession, doom, and gloom bet you thought all those nasty little techie things like road pricing and intelligent speed adaptation had all been forgotten, shelved, and palleted in some dingy Government warehouse. Oh boy are you wrong!

Regardless of want UK Government Ministers are saying, supported by their Shadow Cabinet colleagues, road pricing is alive and well and there’s plenty of busy work going on at the Department of Transports (DfT) Road Pricing Framework Section. Secretary of State for Transport Lord Adonis effectively ditched a UK national road pricing in June, but the UK Government is carrying on with a series of technology trials which may pave the way for local pricing schemes. Adonis has simple passed the road pricing hot potato to local level where financial hard pressed local authorities will see road pricing schemes as necessary evil. Oh, and don’t take it for granted that motorcycles and scooters will be exempted.

Meanwhile on planet intelligent speed adaptation (ISA) things are moving apace. ISA yes the device that is capable of slowing vehicles down regardless of the driver’s wishes. Remember all the hoo-ha in the biking press four years ago. All the stuff about motorcycling being fun and freedom and control, your hand on your throttle, your decision not theirs. Well folks I’m sure that you will be delighted to know that both Transport for London (TfL) and Lancashire County Council have commenced field trials of ISA systems and you’re paying. In London’s case it’s around £1.5 million and in Lancashire’s case a mere £848,850.

ISA is of course justified because it will reduce road crashes but is this really the case, is it the whole truth. Have you heard the electricity anecdote? When Gladstone was British Prime Minster, he visited Faraday’s laboratory and asked if some esoteric substance called `Electricity’ would ever have practical significance. Faraday responded “One day, sir, you will tax it.”  

Supposing road pricing and ISA were combined. Controlling vehicle speeds reduces congestion and allows more vehicles to use the same road network. Reduce speed increase vehicle volumes. No needs for Government spend on road network expansion and improvements. Even better the vehicle owner pays all the costs for the in vehicle technology. The Governments contractor pays for all the infrastructure and back room costs, for a cut of the cash income of course, while the Government pockets the rest. No surprise then that the same companies involved with road pricing trials are also involved with ISA.

But I ride a motorcycle I’m exempt from all this road pricing and congestion charging stuff. True, but you are not riding a motorcycle or scooter you are riding an income stream. TfL have been conducting trials for the next generation of congestion charge technology. Its bye bye to the automatic number plate readers presently used and hello to the radio frequency identification (RFID) systems. Nice little box in the vehicle tells the mainframe where you and how much to charge, nice picture of violators from road side digital camera.

Won’t fit on a bike though.

Well actually the e-tags that TfL tried worked well on motorcycles, you just have to carry it in your pocket and as if by magic you’re an income stream.

That’s one future then, 30mph everywhere and paying for the privilege.


1) So when exactly did we get asked if we wanted any of this?

© Back Roads Rider 2009

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    September 30, 2009 11:12 pm

    I thought MCN had concluded that these trials weren’t continuing. I had read about a year ago that the TFL had concluded that the ISA system was dangerous. Perhaps it seems really serious about it all…

    Quoted directly from the ISA motorcycle trial

    “In terms of attitudes, perceptions of usefulness increased after experience of the ISA functionality in comparison to opinions expressed before exposure to ISA. However, satisfaction ratings were more varied with the Assisting ISA systems being judged significantly less satisfactory than the Advisory ISA or the Information system. Attitudes regarding the impact of ISA on riding indicated negative perceptions to “Joy”, “Overtaking” and “Accident Risk”. However, a positive perception to “Traffic safety” suggests that ISA has aspects that counterbalance these negative responses.”

    I guess this system stops you braking the highest speed limit, which is agrueably justified* *However, I think on many roads the speed limit could actually be increased, though on others decreased, the reduction shouldn’t be a pay privilege, as we already have to pay road tax don’t we.

    • backroadsrider permalink
      October 1, 2009 12:01 am


      Thanks for your comment. I’d say that the ISA system for bikes is suspended at present. It’s not gone away. The trials on other vehicles are funded and proceeding.

      Obviously my main thrust in this piece is the charging of bikes and scooters and how easy it will be to transfer the technology for changing from cars etc to bikes.

      I rode the ISA bike and engaged in conversation with the development engineers. The software that had developed was sound and worked well. However they had been unable to sort the hardware in particularly successfully controlling the throttle. As one of the engineers said to me: “if we can get a political decision to go ahead with this”, he then named a major Japanese motorcycle manufacturer, “could sort the throttle control in a week and add the sensors needed to ensure any issues relating to stability and power control were sorted”.

      So I’m saying it’s not going to happen tomorrow but in 5 years time it may well. All the drivers relating to safety and the environment etc. The human race loves technology and we do things well, just because we can, not necessarily because we need to.

  2. Dave permalink
    October 1, 2009 3:57 pm

    It will be interesting to see whether ISA goes mainstream. ISA has the potential to ensure that no one ever speeds again, however how will they fill the hole left by speeding fines? It is surely only a matter of time before insurance companies start offering substatial discounts to vehicles fitted with ISA (there are already companies offering young drivers discounts and benefits if they have a ‘blackbox’ in their car produced by Greenroads – Staffordshire county council are running an extended trial at the moment…) so they may never actually become compulsory.
    There will come a point when someone in the Exchequer realises that encouraging everyone to use public transport or cycle is counter productive to investing in road pricing schemes and anti speeding technology. Surely the sums can’t add up – we’re going to make £xbillion per year from road pricing as long as the cycling strategy fails and public transport use remains static and everyone carries on getting caught speeding…

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