Manchester, UK seeks IT-slinger: £235m for number-plate-and-fines system to clean up vehicle emissions

Contract could be repurposed kit and services to support 'other uses' besides clean air...

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The transport authority for Greater Manchester in northwest England is seeking an IT systems maker to help build a clean air zone scheme and fine drivers of prohibited vehicles in a deal which could be worth up to £235m.

The project involves building systems for number plate recognition (ANPR), managing payments of fines and managing a database of vehicles’ status under emissions regulations.

The government has told local authorities across the UK to reduce harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels. This follows a direction under the Environment Act 1995 to undertake feasibility studies to identify measures for reducing NO2 concentrations to within legal limit values in the "shortest possible time".

Transport for Greater Manchester, the public body responsible for co-ordinating transport services in the area, is working with local councils to create an enforceable Clean Air Zone (GM CAZ) within 10 Greater Manchester local authorities, but excluding vehicles on main roads.

A tender notice said: "The GM CAZ will apply to vehicles whose movement is detected within the zone and charges will be applied to certain categories of non-compliant vehicle not covered by an exemption as defined within the Clean Air Zone Framework and GM's Clean Air Policy."

The services up for tender range from vehicle detection and processing, including mobile automatic number plate recognition and other cameras, controllers and data connections as well as a communications network. It also requires a system to enable the application and operation of the GM CAZ Scheme business rules. Data from the field needs to be integrated with a "vehicle compliance checker" as well as a customer payment portal and centralised vehicle database, which is set to come from the government's Joint Air Quality Unit.

Transport for Greater Manchester also needs a supplier to build a "penalty enforcement service" including the implementation, configuration, testing and operation of a service to enable the compliant issuance and administration of charges and the case management of any outstanding fines, penalties and any charges.

The potential contract, which runs for three years with three options to extend for a year, could also re-purpose the operation of the field equipment and services to support "other uses" in addition to the clean air.

But it could all be dismantled in a few years. Judging by the wording, it imagines the system will be operational until at least the second half of 2026. But if vehicles in Greater Manchester clean up their act and demonstrate two consecutive years' of compliance with the legal limit value for NO2, and the authority is confident the trend will continue, then the "authorities can together seek the agreement of the Secretary of State to suspend the charging scheme order and commence the decommissioning of the GM CAZ", the notice said.

Those concerned about personal privacy may caution against greater use of ANPR without commensurate security measures. In May, The Register revealed that Sheffield City Council's ANPR system exposed 8.6 million records of road journeys made by thousands of people. The system's internal management dashboard could be accessed by simply entering its IP address into a web browser: it required no login details or authentication.

The Reg is sure Transport for Greater Manchester will keep itself clear of such weaknesses. ®

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