Digital Transformation for Toll Road Authorities: Past • Present • Future
Millions of people use toll roads every single day, and yet it is unlikely that many of them actually know how electronic toll road collection works. The tolling system seems simple at first glance, but behind the scenes, there are a lot of moving parts that make it all happen. In the past, technology and digital transformation hadn’t spread into the toll road industry much. Let’s take a look at how toll road systems have changed and which emerging technologies are impacting the industry now.
The original toll road systems were individual booths equipped with operators who collected payments manually and then raised a barrier. This collection system was rudimentary as it required a lot of time to process the payments. It also cost a significant amount to operate and maintain the physical tollbooths, which ultimately slowed traffic down and increased the number of traffic jams.
To simplify the process, new automated systems were implemented, allowing drivers to insert money themselves into the machines and take their own receipts. In this case, traffic congestion decreased, but the process still wasn’t perfect.
In 1959, Nobel Prize winner in Economics, William Vickrey, invented an electronic toll system similar to the one used today. This system worked by placing transponders in every car and sensors planted along the toll road, transmitting signals as the cars passed each sensor. Cameras and antennas, usually out of sight, are hidden above the road and collect electronic fees from each car that passes through via the transponders. The fees are determined by several parameters: number of axles, car type, height, road infrastructure and road location (city or farmland). This was really the beginning of the cashless payment processing movement in the industry, slowly phasing out physical toll booths.
The next advance was license plate recognition, used to track vehicles without transponders. Cameras at various points along the toll road capture pictures of the front and back of a car and later find a match of the registered plates in the Department of Motor vehicles to charge the fee. Powerful software enhances image recognition which creates a clear image that leads to an accurate image and license plate identification. If cars don’t have transponders attached, mobile applications can help drivers pass the toll roads without stopping, by entering car details, payment, and location. Mobile apps are a good option for payment processing and assessing tolls.
Modern toll roads often utilize a combination of these systems—operators, automated systems, and electronic toll road systems, but it certainly brings more value and benefits to those organizations that are implementing digital toll road solutions and makes payment processing more efficient and simplified. The traditional systems are being improved by adding additional functionality to systems able to monitor and support non-stop, cashless payment transactions.
Using GPS, it may be possible in the future to charge tolls without any physical installation of gantries or special sensors along the toll road. Moreover, the trend of the “connected” car—where the car is connected to a variety of devices that accumulate real-time information on different travel parameters—may be a large part of toll road technology in the future.
The adoption of new technology in the toll road industry should be closely connected to the overall business strategy of the adopting organization in this industry. As technology continues to evolve, it is essential for technology executives in the industry to be informed on these emerging technology trends and understand the impact on this industry.
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