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Tolling Points

Four Takeaways from IBTTA’s Summit on All-Electronic Tolling, Managed Lanes, and Interoperability

By: 
Bill Cramer

IBTTA convened its 2015 Summit on All-Electronic Tolling, Managed Lanes, and Interoperability in Miami in July, at a time when technology is transforming toll roads and the customer experience they deliver.  To view presentations and read an Executive Summary of the Summit, please click here.

“We’re meeting the challenges of our communities and our daily commuters every day, providing better mobility options for everyone,” said IBTTA President Javier Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority. “What we provide are practical, innovative, financially sustainable, tangible solutions that become catalysts to our companies and our communities.”

Here are four takeaways from one of the most popular and dynamic transportation conferences of the year.

1. Projects Got Complicated. (And Agencies Stepped Up.)

It’s tough to deliver efficient, reliable mobility in crowded urban corridors. It’s even tougher to upgrade a road or build new capacity when commuters still need to use those corridors to get to work every day.

It’s a good thing the tolling industry is comfortable with complexity. The Summit heard about projects that demonstrated creative ways of:

·       Keeping congested corridors flowing during major construction projects;

·       Helping customers navigate different types of lanes, safely and at high speed, when routes and access points are in flux;

·       Coordinating multiple projects, vendors, and jurisdictions toward a single goal; and

·       Earning public support and confidence by ensuring that a project runs efficiently from its first day of operation.

2. All-Electronic Tolling: The Customer Comes First.

Not too long ago, all-electronic tolling (AET) was an edgy, new technology. But times change quickly. Today, the industry knows enough about successful conversions that experienced practitioners are helping the next generation of AET operators find their way along the learning curve.

An overarching conclusion is that the customer comes first. “The product is the road, and we must make sure the environment and the experience are good for the customer so they’ll return,” a panelist said. “It’s not just about asphalt and bridges. The highway is also one of the largest gardening companies in the country.”

Another agency found that its customers grew to love its “drive now, pay later” video billing system. “Consistency is key,” a panelist said. Over time, congestion has decreased, accident rates are down, travel times have improved, and the agency has seen 5% annual growth—partly because of new facilities, partly due to the efficiency of AET.

3. Building Our Way Out of Congestion

For years, transportation planners, advocates, and policy-makers have repeated the mantra that urban corridors can’t build their way out of congestion. With more than two dozen express lanes in operation across the United States, tolling agencies are putting a new twist on an old solution.

State and federal programs in the United States all focus on adding capacity to ease congestion, so the real message is to “do it in a different way,” said one session moderator. “You have to use technology. You have to use innovation. You have to use your intellect and your ideas to come up with new ways to build your way out of congestion, not the old way.”

Panelists and participants discussed a number of projects that integrate multiple transportation modes, including rapid transit, in managed lane corridors.

4. Interoperability Exceeds All Expectations

With U.S. tolling agencies pushing hard to meet a July 2016 deadline for nationwide interoperability, and European agencies progressing toward regional interoperability across several countries, participants paused to review the industry’s monumental efforts to make this a reality.

In the U.S., the E-ZPass Interagency Group began with three states in the 1980s, and early proponents figured they’d be “wildly successful” with a million customers, a panelist said. Today, E-ZPass covers 26 agencies in 15 states, has just over 28 million devices in service in all 50 states plus Puerto Rico, and has added new transponders at a rate of two million per year over the last four or five years, not including replacements. In Florida, there are more than 5.1 million SunPass accounts and thousands of individuals are signing up every month. SunPass can be used in neighboring states such as Georgia and North Carolina. Soon SunPass will work in cooperation with a number of states west of Florida. Regional networks across the U.S. are growing.

“This didn’t happen just because of a stroke of the pen in Congress or in the White House,” a session moderator noted, referring to the industry-wide push to harmonize systems and technologies. IBTTA members have been thinking about interoperability since 2008, and the biggest success factor has been “the efforts of this organization and its members pushing forward to get a solution, and have something that is viable and successful.”

For more insights on all-electronic tolling, managed lanes, and interoperability, download the summary report of IBTTA’s Miami Summit.

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