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China’s car-tracking scheme could mean fuel-guzzling cars pay more to fill up

Wed 9 Mar 2016

China’s southern city of Shenzhen, traditionally a test-bed for government technological and infrastructural experiments that are later rolled out nationwide, has trialled a car-tracking scheme which has been mooted not only as a model for the driverless traffic of the future, but also a means by which cars with higher fuel consumption could be charged more for petrol.

China’s state-owned Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASC) announced in a statement today that the real-time tracking system had been issued to 200,000 vehicles within the city, which has a population of 7 million, and that if successful the scheme would eventually be rolled out to all vehicles in Shenzhen.

The trackers installed in the trial use the same kind of radio-frequency identification (RFID) which occasionally comes into controversy when applied to financial infrastructure, in concert with traffic monitoring devices on the roadside. CASC’s statement says that the scheme would help pave the way for data streams usable in ‘smart traffic applications’, as well as making the production of falsified licence plates more difficult.

Despite the inevitability of such intensive real-time data-sharing to facilitate the driverless future, privacy advocates are likely to be alarmed by the sweeping scope of the tracking scheme – particularly in the light of the Chinese government’s new regulations requiring all active internet users to provide their real names rather than pseudonyms – a law that went into force at the beginning of this month.

The deep level of monitoring and regulation that the Shenzhen scheme makes possible is likely to also facilitate a range of other regulatory proposals mooted this week in Beijing. On Monday Wang Fengying, general manager of Chinese car manufacturer Great Wall Motor, proposed a novel and incremental system of levies and fees for car users based on how much they drive, among other considerations.

Wang also proposed that such a sophisticated system could be used to force cars which use more fuel to pay more for petrol, thus rewarding more economical models.


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