Toll-tally transformed: How technology can bring tolling into the 21st century
Covid-19 brought the world to a standstill in more ways than one. As the daily commute became a thing of the past, this saw a notable change in the daily grind on the world’s roads with a reduction(1) in traffic. However, the road networks around the world are still dealing with a population around 1.4bn cars(2), and despite the clamour for a more flexible working environment, any reduction in traffic levels has proved to be only temporary(3).
With global congestion becoming a major issue(4) and two thirds (68%) of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050(5), city traffic is set to become even more overwhelming unless something is done.
The evolution of tolling
For centuries, tolling has most commonly been employed to collect payments for intercity routes, and whilst this has traditionally operated via cash, the implementation of new technology has seen toll stations come a long way in recent years.
In Mexico, Thales operates a 30% market share, with its high-tech mega-toll station in San Martín consisting of an impressive 38 lanes, allowing integrated real-time management of toll collections and automatically identifying the type of vehicle (truck, van, car, bike etc) through optical and in-ground sensors to improve traffic flows.
In recent decades, the move away from traditional cash-orientated systems has enabled tolling to increasingly move from “inter” to inner-city, as urban areas around the world strive to reduce congestion and improve sustainability.
As well as helping to reduce the numbers of cars on the road, this has also helped generate revenue for cities. The total tax/charge revenues from road, rail and inland waterway transport in the EU28 amount to €370 billion(6) for 2016, with cars supplying the majority of this.
Creating a free-flowing city
According to McKinsey(7), the most pressing dilemma for private transportation within cities private transportation is balancing affordability and efficiency once road capacity is reached. This is where intelligent mobility comes in to reduce congestion, without increasing the barriers for citizens to use their cars. Each city has its own requirements and circumstances that dictate how they want to control the flow of traffic.
For authorities looking to control entry into a city for example, the traditional toll booth might be the most straightforward way to go. However, it’s clear that the old cumbersome methods won’t suffice in today’s increasingly mobile world and, often leading to higher congestion and frustrated road users - and ultimately lost revenue.
This is where electronic toll collection becomes crucial!
This method allows motorists to pay tolls without stopping and has been developed in a number of different ways around the world. The most advanced is the free flow system, where data is exchanged between a DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications) or microwave / an infrared beacon installed above road level, and a tag or badge in the motorist’s car.
In order to make this work, this system needs a solution, such as Thales' PITZ TM, that can combine analysis of traffic flows with a high performance transactional system to avoid motorists having to stop and in turn clog up the road.
Indeed, congestion charging systems linked to zones within urban areas, has become far more commonplace than traditional in physical toll complexes. This takes electronic tolling one step further by combining DSRC technology (beacons and tags) for regular users with automatic licence plate recognition for occasional users. It enables the first ones to have a seamless daily experience, while creating a simple system to monitor and accurately track visitors or sporadic users.
Supporting new policies
Much like technology itself, the speed at which public policies change means that tolling systems need to have adaptability wired into their DNA.
Take the environment, for example; as COP 26 approaches, sustainability is a key driver for many governments and traffic congestion is seen as a key remit to hit. As such, countries are establishing new laws very quickly, as in France, with the new Law of Mobility Orientation.
The aim is to increase the number of people transported on roads subject to recurring congestion, by promoting public transport and carpooling - and then, allowing a significant time saving for a large number of passengers.
In order for a policy like this to work, an intelligent traffic management solution that organises the priority flows in the city for different types of vehicles is needed. To be successful though, any solution must include technologies such as advanced video analysis and vehicle classification. Fortunately, these solutions, such as Thales’ SAVARI, already exist!
Essentially, the system needs to be able to spot how many people are in a car alongside is it a bus, taxi or bike. Only once this is in place, can cities confidently implement multiple policies that might range from carpool lanes, through to specific public transport policies throughout a city. Systems not only need to benefit citizens by being smooth, but ultimately benefit the city through an accurate payment collection system.
A clean, connected system
While governments are pushing people to use public transport, cars are still set to dominate for years to come. As they look to introduce new systems and hone existing ones to reduce congestion and improve sustainability, they must invest in technologies capable of enhancing the experience for motorists.
It’s important to also remember that, underpinning all of this, must be the ability to harness data at the right times too, from anticipating traffic patterns, to understanding if systems are working correctly.
Getting data analytics right, can also fuel the next generation of investment and future proof mobility systems for years to come.
The evolution of the toll road has been a gradual process, as congestion has built up different countries have adopted solutions to suit their needs. As the world moves forward, the focus must now be on the next stage of evolution: intelligent systems. Not only will these help leaders to deal with congestion, help the environment and continue to drive revenue, but also create an efficient system that provides a seamless experience for motorists too.
(7) https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Business Functions/Sustainability/Our Insights/Elements of success Urban transportation systems of 24 global cities/Urban-transportation-systems_e-versions.ashx