A little off message today, but (eventually) topical.

Britain’s ancient roads have carried people and livestock for centuries. But it was the engineering skills of the Romans who transformed our road transportation system. In the first 100 years after their invasion in 43AD they built at least 8000 miles of road so even the most remote hamlet was never more than 10 miles from an engineered road. With the Roman withdrawal in the 5th century, no hard roads were built until the 18th century. People made do with what the Romans had left, bridges collapsed and surfaces disintegrated.

As trade developed in the 16th century travel was a dangerous and expensive procedure. The poor state of the road network limited trade and the economy. Many roads were impassable in the winter and travellers were subject to frequent hold-ups by highwaymen. To address this in the 17th century the local parishes were made responsible for the upkeep of roads in their parishes. The locals were required by law to give 6 days free labour to work on the roads. This was inefficient and in many cases not done at all.

By the end of the 17th century it was apparent that another method was needed. The obvious answer was to charge road users and the money used for highway repairs. The use of tolls and turnpike roads was slow to catch-on and it was not until the middle of the 18th century that the system came into its own. Long distance journey times were slashed (e.g. Norwich to London from 50 to 19 hours). However charges were very unpopular. Many people avoided the tolls and numerous attacks on toll keepers made it a capital offence. But by the end of the 18th century turnpikes were accepted and generally used.

Today, London’s congestion charge zone doubled in size with a westward expansion coming into force. The £8-a-day road toll scheme now takes in most of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea in west London.

West London residents are planning a demonstration against the new charge later on Monday. They believe it will damage businesses and cost residents hundreds of pounds a year. “Surveys indicate that of all areas adjacent to the zone, congestion is most intense in the west where there are severe delays throughout the working day.” A spokesman for the National Alliance Against Tolls said: “This extension of the charge zone is a lose-lose situation for Londoners. It will increase congestion everywhere else including the existing zone.”

Also, the UK government is running an on-line petition which has 1,600,000 signing-up to oppose the govenment (Government has a tough job!):

The idea of tracking every vehicle at all times is sinister and wrong. Road pricing is already here with the high level of taxation on fuel. The more you travel – the more tax you pay.

It will be an unfair tax on those who live apart from families and poorer people who will not be able to afford the high monthly costs.

Please Mr Blair – forget about road pricing and concentrate on improving our roads to reduce congestion.

And how does all this relate the Lean Six Sigma? It raises the question, “How do you improve a situation where the improvement you believe inis diametrically opposed to the customer’s view?”

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