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Tolling Points

Future Promise Meets Practical Expectation at IBTTA Technology Summit

By: 
Patrick Jones

There were moments during IBTTA’s AET, Managed Lanes & Technology Summit in late April when the shining promise of tomorrow’s technological progress clashed with the practical, day-to-day expectations that drive today’s highway transportation.

Randy Cole, Executive Director of The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission, traced the speed at which previous advancements in transportation technology have emerged—from railroads, to automobiles, to air travel. He made an impassioned case for connected and autonomous vehicles, pointing to the growing population of individuals who have conditions that prevent them from driving cars. In the United States alone, we’re talking about 55 million aging drivers, 45 million economically disadvantaged people, 36 million people who are developmentally or physically unable to drive, and seven million blind adults. The point: that’s a lot of people who could benefit right now from automated or autonomous vehicles. What happens, for instance, when Randy’s developmentally disabled 10-year-old daughter turns 16 and is left behind without driving privileges while all her friends are getting their driver’s licenses. Wouldn’t it be great if he didn’t have tell his daughter as she approached 16, “your freedom is restricted because you’re not allowed to drive”?

In a dramatic contrast, Alex Roy, Editor-at-Large for The Drive, took to the keynote stage to extol Americans' love affair with the automobile and their desire to maintain a sense of agency in the age of autonomy. Alex presented himself as the very personification of the values surrounding Randy Cole’s daughter as she grows up: that cars in America have come to represent freedom, identity, self-expression, status, who we are, and what we wish to become. For the particular groups of Americans on Alex’s radar, it’s anathema to become what he called “passive spectators” in autonomous vehicles.

Yet another dimension of this important conversation came from a participant who approached me at a coffee break. "I am hearing way too much discussion of autonomous vehicles, which is a very shiny future possibility, at the expense of addressing problems I have today!" she said. For this participant, the discussion of automated vehicles is a distraction from the challenges and opportunities toll operators face today.

Yes, it’s fun and exciting to ask these questions about automated vehicles: Will there be more or fewer vehicles on the road? Will we have higher or lower VMT? How will we collect tolls? In addition to being autonomous, will these vehicles also be connected, electric and shared? Etc. But how about addressing the real concerns that toll operators have today. How do I lower my risk of a cybersecurity breach? How do I operate a continuous access managed lane facility and collect the proper toll from all customers? How do I improve my back-office operations? What business rules will I need to be interoperable with distant toll agencies whose customers are appearing more frequently on my roads? 

We didn't resolve any of these debates in Charlotte. We did provide a healthy forum for these and many other important issues, thanks to the planners, speakers, and moderators who provoked our thinking. It was an outstanding first meeting of the year for IBTTA, and we look forward to many more. All the approved presentations from the Charlotte Summit now appear on IBTTA's website, and please click here for the complete calendar of upcoming IBTTA meetings.

Patrick Jones is Executive Director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

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