What can we expect to see happening in the world of road tolling, user charging and pricing schemes? This article presents the views of several policymakers, users and operators. A common thread is the belief that governments are expected to retain the primary responsibility to provide safe, reliable and efficient mobility for passengers and goods, because a good transportation infrastructure is so critical to economic growth. A central constraint is the funding of this infrastructure: traffic congestion and long commuting times are frustrating parts of big city living, the social and economic demands for mobility are increasing, carbon emission concerns are escalating, and the burden to build and maintain infrastructure becomes increasingly problematic for government agencies. The toll concession model is a widely used solution to these challenges. It relieves the fiscus of the funding obligation and allows the concessionaire to collect from all road users, local and foreign. In Europe, EU Directive 2014/23 established a framework for toll concessions to provide new services, introduce dedicated lanes for collective use, leverage the interfaces to other transport modes, develop facilities for autonomous and electric vehicles, and implement electronic (free flow) toll collection (ETC). In short, an incentive to innovate.
The operating costs of toll stations manned by humans are a constraint for toll operators, besides the inherent inefficiencies and risks. Simple economics suggest that, like in many other industries, automation is going to touch and change road tolling in unavoidable ways. Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) is still a cost-effective solution for tolling and collections, congestion charging, parking control and a host of other applications, and is foreseen to remain the platform most widely used by toll operators. But, the growing sciences of communications, video image capture and artificial intelligence (AI), in concert with Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), smartphone technologies and on-board computing, will eventually replace tags to collect charges. And, these new capabilities can classify vehicles, perform traffic counts, enhance law enforcement, introduce emission- and per-distance
charging, and conduct security and safety surveillance. The lower cost, flexibility and real-time versatility of these solutions will enable the more widespread use of dynamic pricing models
Developments in Information and Communications Technology (ICT), automation and AI are rapidly propelling the world’s road tolling industry towards a critical goal – to make tolling ‘invisible’. Users do not have to slow down or stop at gates, monitoring and enforcement happen in free-flow mode, and the operator is enabled to offer better services – and more efficient facilities. At least in theory, as we have discovered in South Africa, this vision should make road tolling more acceptable.
The commentators agree that, as automation and advanced ICT solutions penetrate and transform their industry, several imperatives become apparent:
- Protection of individual road users’ right to privacy of their data, movements and transactional information;
- Security of the road user charging system across its complete value chain – from its edge devices, network and communication channels, to the authorization for data access, encryption, transmittal and storage;
- Compliance with international on-line payment and data security standards.
Road tolling, meaning to charge users for a utility, has become an effective mechanism to sustain and develop the infrastructure we so desperately need to build vibrant communities and economies. ICT, automation and AI are going to change the face and soul of this world in fundamental ways – for the better. But, as with all things, not without its pitfalls and risks.