Transport for London seem to be testing some more advanced Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras, controversially ahead of the actual decision to proceed with the proposed westward extension of the London Congestion Charge zone.
Thanks to the C.N.U.T. - Congestion charge Nefarious Underhand Tax for drawing this Evening Standard article to our attention:
Trials for super-spy cameras By David Williams Motoring Editor, Evening Standard 17 June 2005
Secret trials of cameras for the extension to the congestion charge zone are under way.
Powerful new digital cameras are being tested at two sites.
They can read thousands of number plates in minutes
Officials say the trials are vital to ensure that if the westward extension is approved by Mayor Ken Livingstone, the new cameras are ready to go.
But critics say the scale of the trials suggest the extension is poised to proceed despite widespread opposition.
Critics question why the trials are going ahead when the decision on extending the zone will not be made until September.
They say the earliest it can be rolled out to Kensington and Chelsea is 2007 - by which time the technology could be dated.
One Transport for London (TfL) insider said: "The extension-might not have been approved but it looks as though it is going to go ahead. These are heavy-duty trials. It seems it is being steamrollered through."
[see photos below]
The cameras have been installed in west London on the A312 Hampton Road West near Apex Corner and on Commercial Street in east London, between Wentworth Street and Pomell Way.
Note how neither of these Automatic Number Plate recognition camera test sites is located in the actual Westward Expansion Zone, in Kensington and Chelsea, which seems to be a sneaky way of not consulting the local residents and commuters.
They are more powerful than the CCTV cameras enforcing the ?5 charge - soon to rise to ?8 - in central London. Officials are testing accuracy as the cameras read thousands of number plates in quick succession; they are said to be highly impressed.
The units use digital technology instead of the analogue system in the existing zone. They are more accurate and are not affected by the weather. Insiders say they can zoom in with far greater clarity than any previous-traffic camera, and they are believed to be able to read foreign plates.
TfL insists it has no plan to charge for motorcycles but the devices are better at reading the square plates on two-wheelers.
The cameras are linked to computer software that analyses images quickly.
It will reduce the time officials spend visually scanning images of number plates, to check that the computer has correctly read them.
It is not "officials" who do this, it is private sector employees of Crapita plc, which earns as much revenue from its cut of the Fixed Penalty Notice fines as it does from the £5 daily charge itself - a financial disincentive to provide proper levels of customer service and to run the scheme fairly and compassionately. The system design for the orginal Congestion Charge Scheme is flawed in so many ways, especially the reliance on centralised processing of the images, which leads to lots of potential privacy and security problems.
A TfL spokesman insisted that no decision had been made on extending the congestion charge westwards.
He said: "We started the procurement for the western zone should it get the go-ahead, and we are seeing what technology is available. We have to make sure it works in practice."
TfL confirmed the cameras were filming, but all images were deleted immediately."
The usual Transport for London weasel words.
Just as with the controversial existing London Congestion Charge scheme they claim not to store theimages of number plates and vehicles/drivers. Note how they do not say anything about the number plate, time, date and location logfiles, which are produced after the ANPR equipment has done its image recognition. How long are these logfiles retained for ? Are they anonymised or are they looked up on the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency database ? Who has access to this data ?
|Click on the images for a larger version||West London test site: Hampton Road West near Apex corner|
|Three sets of cameras. The rightmost set is just a pair of forward and backward facing traffic cameras|
|First set of Automatic Number Plate Recogintion cameras, with Siemens marked on the housings|
|Second set of Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras. The top most object on the pole is a wind speed monitor. The top two cameras in rectangular housings have infrared (Light Emitting Diode ?) spotlights mounted under them. The leftmost camera housing either has a blanking plate and might contain the image processing computer or it just might be temporarily non-functional|
|There are no obvious pavement side control cabinets as with the existing Congestion Charge system.|