[Warning: Long post ahead]
I fully agree with Smivs here that we are looking at two distinctly different issues: One is the torus drive and I have to say I agree with his point of view and fail to see what the big deal about it is. I never thought of it being a problem in the game until it started being discussed specifically as such in these forums. The other issue is how to make the players stop avoiding the space lanes, effectively exploiting a design issue in the game, which originates from the simple fact that Oolite is not player-centric like its predecessor was.
I will not discuss the torus issue here, but I would like to offer for consideration a proposal that could deal with the lanes problem, at least to a certain extent. For those interested in the background story, keep reading, otherwise jump to a few paragraphs further below where the actual proposal is discussed.
--- Background story start
It all started with the Xevera Incident of 3120 AD. Until then, the space lanes as we know them today did not practically exist and ships were flying freely within any GalCop planet's system space with minimal control. The activity that gave birth to the incident was essentially a coordinated pirate attack on Xevera's Dodec-1, orchestrated by criminal masterminds resident in the system, in collaboration with pirate factions of a few of the anarchies present in Xevera's immediate vicinity. The objective of the strike was, apart from the obvious one of obtaining material profits by looting an entire station and any ship that might be docked at the time of attack, demonstrate that GalCop was not the oh-so-powerful organization that it was thought to be, and to send the message to all parties involved who the real Powers That Be were and effectively take a first step in breaking-off GalCop authority.
Xevera Traffic Control did notice what appeared to be certain ship groups arriving at the station's vicinity from unexpected vectors, including vectors from the planet's direction, when normally the bulk of the traffic was supposed to be coming in from the witchspace beacon direction. What they were seeing were ships designated as Clean; what they did not know was that these ships were in fact either stolen, had their IDs hacked or were pirates who had their record cleaned by deliberately staying out of activity (dropping slowly their legal status), in preparation for the strike. The station did put Vipers on readiness and that is what most likely saved them that day, but they were not really prepared for the near-simultaneous sudden barrage of fire opened by all those ships that appeared to be just traders coming from unusual directions.
The battle that followed is still remembered to this day. The GalCop patrols fought with unprecedented bravery and any and all vessels docked or in the aegis of Xevera at that time joined in on their side without second thoughts. Many were lost that day, but at the end the pirate attack was pushed back successfully. The result was exactly the opposite of what the pirates had thought/wanted and established GalCop as a Protecting Force of any system that belonged to it and raised its image to guardian angel status - that was back in the days before its decline of course. It also demonstrated the dedication and resolve of the GalCop Police pilots, giving them a kind of hero recognition across all GalCop systems. The survivors of the pirate groups who participated in the attack were brought under trial for multiple charges of Piracy and Murder and were punished in an examplary manner.
However, and despite that general happy ending, this event clearly demonstrated the lack of control in GalCop space and the need to establish a regulation that would guarantee the safety of the system and all lawful vessels travelling within it. It was immediately obvious that there could not possibly be resources available for patrolling entire systems and therefore, with the GalCop Anti-Piracy Act #A36/2345 of 3120 AD, what we refer to as space lanes today, were established.
--- Background story end
The Anti-Piracy Act #A36/2345/3120 establishes an area of space that looks like a cone, with base of approximately a three scanner units centered at the witchspace beacon, which converges to a point behind the station towards the direction of the planet, as we approach the station aegis. It states that all vessels entering a system must comply with remaining in this zone during the travel to the station. Exiting the space lane is permitted, but any ship that re-enters it must either a) be in posession of a specific Lane Re-entry Permit, which can be obtained at any GalCop station for a hefty amount of cash or b) return to the withcspace beacon and re-start their approach from there. The Act clearly states that any vessel that attempts to enter the space lane from locations other than the withscpace beacon entry area or without transmitting an LR Permit signal at the moment of entry, will be treated as attackers of GalCop space and be dealt with accordingly. The station itself will be issuing warnings to any vessels moving inside the lane, but close to its border with, let's call it "outer space" and there is going to be a certain tolerance for vessels which just exit by mistake and re-enter immediately, but the exact amount of that tolerance is basically left to the discretion of Station Traffic Control.
So, this is basically it. Why I think it's a reasonable proposal:
1) It does change the way the game is played, but it does not change the mechanics of the game as we currently have it. The lanes as we know them do not have to change (maybe spray a few pirates in the outer zones for effect).
2) The player is not restricted in their choice to leave the lane if they so desire. There is no handwavium saying "no, you cannot leave the lane because you're gonna explode". If the players want to leave the lane, fine, but the station can be approached legally only from within the lane and they can arrive and dock at the station from the outside, but they will have to deal with the Offender tag that they'll get for attempting that stunt.
3) It does not prohibit re-fueling from the sun or hermit-tourist runs, provided that the protocol for lane re-entry is followed.
4) Acquiring LR permits could be a nice money-sink for when you have those hundreds of thousands of credits with nothing to do with them.
5) I am pretty confident that all this could be OXPed even right now, which means that we could possibly test how it works in the game and, maybe adopt it if we are happy with it or can it completely, if we are unhappy with it. Hopefully I am not mistaken in thinking that no core code changes are needed.
Thoughts? Would you accept GalCop Anti-Piracy Act #A36/2345/3120?