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Tolling Points

Blockchain and the Future of Road-User Charging

By: 
Jacob Barron, IBTTA

One of the key issues transportation organizations are facing when it comes to implementing road-user charging (RUC) systems is what to do with all that data—how to collect it, how to process it, and, most importantly, how to keep it all safe. 

On that last point, one way to ensure data security that seems tailor-made for road pricing can be found in the form of blockchain technology—the oft-discussed, rarely-understood way of organizing data that could help toll operators institute RUC systems and increase interoperability all at once.

So what is blockchain? Think of it as a ledger that everyone on a particular network has access to, recommends Kevin Ko, a data architect with Milligan Partners. Ko and some of his colleagues led an IBTTA webinar last month on the ins and outs of blockchain technology and how it can be useful for tolling operators.

A block, according to Ko, consists of three things: the data in the block, the hash of the block and the hash of the preceding block. “The hash is like its fingerprint,” he said. “If you change any of the details of the data inside the block, the hash also changes.” Since each block is also directly connected to the one that comes before it, that means that any unauthorized change made to the data in one block ultimately invalidates all the data that comes after it. 

“This is how a hash makes it very difficult to tamper with the information on a blockchain,” Ko said. “If someone with a powerful computer manages to change the information in a block, and compute all of the following hashes to make the chain valid, they would still need to replicate this change in every copy of the blockchain that exists on the network,” he said, noting that anyone with data in the blockchain has their own full copy of the full chain. “It’s not enough to be able to tamper with one copy of the blockchain in a network with 100 copies. The system would very quickly be able to see that one copy doesn’t match the other 99 copies and immediately determine that the defective copy has been tampered with.”

This is how blockchain technology makes it easier to keep data safe, because it’s very difficult for anything to be changed without the system and every other participant in the chain knowing about it. An example of data that could be protected using this technology could be all the pieces of a financial transaction, like the payment of a road-usage charge. Once the necessary data is collected and entered into the chain, if any details of the transaction are altered in any way, then all of the data collected and contained in the chain after that road-usage transaction is thereby invalidated as well, meaning whoever was managing that information would know right away that something fishy was happening.

To learn more about blockchain and what tolling and road pricing operators need to know to put it to good use, watch the entire recording of IBTTA’s blockchain webinar here.
 

Newsletter publish date: 
Monday, December 6, 2021 - 11:45

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