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Tolling Points

Greta Thunberg Is Asking the World a Question. Tolling Has Part of the Answer.

Bill Cramer

Sixteen year-old Greta Thunberg has become the face of a global movement, galvanizing public concern about the climate change into a call to action with millions of voices.

Thunberg is the first to insist that the mounting phenomenon we’re witnessing is about more than just one very vocal, courageous person —it’s about everyone getting onboard. For the tolling community, that means recognizing how deeply the impacts of climate change touch our customers, the facilities we operate, and the communities we serve.

The Search for Climate Solutions Transforms Mobility

When Superstorm Sandy swept through parts of New York and New Jersey in 2013, one big takeaway was that highways—particularly tolled facilities—were the most basic cornerstone for disaster response and recovery. They were the lifeline that brought evacuees to safety. They were one of the first pieces of infrastructure that had to get back up and running, so that emergency personnel and materiel could reach the areas that needed them most.

But that’s just one essential part of a bigger picture. The quest for climate solutions is triggering massive disruption and lightning-fast change in technologies and systems that may have been static for decades, but are now scrambling to adapt—or struggling for market share.

One of those shifts, positions tolling and other forms of user financing as a critical option to pay for the roadway infrastructure our communities need.

In the United Kingdom this week, The Telegraph is reporting that governments stand to lose billions in revenue as drivers shift to electric vehicles. “Fuel duties raise £28 billion pounds ($35 billion)—almost 4% of total government receipts—and all of that will disappear in coming decades unless action is taken,” the paper writes, citing a study released last week by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

How fast can it happen? Popular wisdom (at least some of it) puts the turnaround point decades away. But popular wisdom has been known to be wrong.

Earlier this year, French banking giant BNP Paribas warned that increasingly affordable wind, solar, and electric vehicles were crushing oil on price and efficiency—so that gasoline would have to be available at the low, low price of $9 to $10 per barrel, diesel at $17 to $19, to have any hope of competing. (Pro tip: The price of benchmark Brent crude oil stood at $59.09 yesterday.)

“This isn’t a future scenario, but happening right now,” stressed tech analysts Tom Rand and Mike Andrade, in a recent post for the Toronto Globe and Mail. “It will take time to build an equivalent scale of infrastructure, of course, since the fossil fuel folks have a multi-decade head start.” But already, “every dollar invested in renewables generates more than five times the motive energy for our cars and trucks than the same dollar spent on gas or diesel.”

Climate Solutions: Tolling Delivers

IBTTA members are already on the front lines of the response to climate change.

In Colorado, the E-470 Public Highway Authority won IBTTA’s 2013 President’s Award for Excellence for the Solar Powered Toll Road, a 17-mile stretch of highway where the agency installed solar photovoltaic cells to power 18 ramps, several toll plazas, a main support site and its own headquarters office and data center. With a fixed electricity price of just 6.2¢ per kilowatt-hour, compared to a going rate of 11.5¢ as of April 2014, the project saved the tollway and its customers an anticipated $1 million over two decades while avoiding 24,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

In Italy, Autostrade Per l’Italia S.P.A. earned the 2014 Toll Excellence Award for toll operations, maintenance and engineering with a winter operations project that boosted efficiency and effectiveness in a region facing more erratic, less predictable climate conditions. The three-year project eliminated traffic gridlock due to snow, cut winter maintenance expenses by 75% and salting costs by 20%. And it reduced the number of situations in which customers felt they had insufficient information from 69 in 2010 to six in 2013.

And now, the response to climate change is pointing back to a fundamental question that the tolling industry was built to answer: How we do we pay for the mobility we need and want? In this case, against the backdrop of climate impacts, technology disruption, and market competition gradually driving gasoline and diesel vehicles off the roads?

Tolling agencies are all set to answer that one. We’ve been training for it all our lives.

Newsletter publish date: 
Tuesday, October 8, 2019 - 11:30


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