For city governments, the phrase “congestion measures” calls to mind complex zoning, new signage and staff or traffic cameras to catch those who don’t fancy paying the charges. But last week, researchers from MIT unveiled a congestion scheme that sounds like it could work without any of these unattractive features.
The Roadrunner system uses devices clipped to cars’ dashboards to issue a digital “token” whenever a car enters an area that’s been marked out as congestion-prone. Once it’s given out a certain number, no one else can enter the zone without a fine until someone leaves.
This feature would, of course, be relatively unhelpful by itself, but the device also gives you voice directions – to help you avoid gummed-up areas in the first place, or navigate around an area that’s already full.
Jason Gao, one of Roadrunner’s creators, says another strength is the lack of infrastructure needed for the system to work: “You could [try it out] for a month… then change it without having to dig up roads or rebuild gantries [signage].” This means city authorities could change congestion zones to fit the busiest areas of the city, rather than setting up permanent zones and hoping traffic patterns don’t change enough to render them irrelevant.