This week we enter what are for me uncharted waters; though in reality they are thoroughfares that have been extensively navigated. My constituency duties have required me to understand the world of satellite navigation.
One of the roads in the constituency has been relegated from the Premier Division to the First Division in the Highway League. The A339 from Newbury to Basingstoke used to be a road of national significance and was looked after by the Highways Agency. Following the construction of the Newbury Bypass, it was stripped of its status, and handed over, with no endowment, to Hampshire County Council. Traffic from Oxford to Basingstoke is now meant to go on the A34, A303 and M3, and the route is so signed. It is not meant to go on the A339, and those who live along it are distressed that the volume of traffic has not fallen but risen.
Enter Satellite Navigation, the system that directs drivers through fast-flowing rivers. I summoned one of its players to my office in Westminster. (I am familiar with satnav as the last car I bought arrived with it plumbed in. I get on well with my navigator, a lady from the Home Counties. I believe her to be married with a three year old son, because there is a hint in her enunciation that she is used speaking to someone with limited intelligence, prone to disobedience.)
I showed Mr Satnav to a chair, saying “You have arrived at your destination. Your route guidance system has been switched off.” He smiled weakly. It turned out he was the wrong person to speak to; his company plotted the roads. The company I needed was the next one up in the chain that planned the routes. So I tracked down a big wheel in the dominant company in the business and spoke to him. Let us for the sake of argument call him Mr Tom Thomas.
In the course of our conversation, in which he explained the problems of doing what I wanted him to do, he used an adjective to describe the UK road network. I have never heard used before.
It was “dynamic”. What Mr Thomas meant by dynamic was that local authorities sometimes made streets one way; turned them into bus lanes; banned right turns and put up No Entry signs. For the motorist, this is boring and explains why the network is often static. For the Satellite Navigation Industry, it represents dynamism.
It was not possible for satnav to reflect the priorities of the Highways Agency and stop sending people down the A339 until every country in the EU came up with an agreed road hierarchy in a common electronic format. As the European Parliament has been unable to agree for 40 years where its Headquarters are, we will have to wait a day or two for Mr Thomas’ dream.
But in the course of our conversation, a solution to the A339 problem appeared. Soon, your satnav route will be based on realtime information. In other words, it will use actual traffic speeds on the roads in question to direct you to the quickest route to your destination. Were those who live on the A339, for example, to drive extremely slowly along it, depressing average speeds, Mr Tom Thomas would then direct the traffic elsewhere. You read it here first.