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Tolling Points

IBTTA Annual Meeting Panelists Agree that Technology—Particularly Telematics—Will Be Key to the Future of Mobility

By: 
Jacob Barron, IBTTA

Today, it’s nearly impossible to do anything without leaving behind a digital footprint. Even tasks or actions that have always been thought of as comparatively analog now involve the creation of some piece of digital data.
 
Driving a car used to mean turning a key, hitting the gas and going wherever you wanted to go. Now you enter the car with a wireless key fob, you connect your phone to the console to listen to music, the car itself communicates information to other cars on the road, while recording how fast you go, how hard you press the brakes and how far you travel.  Whereas you formerly had to stop and hand your cash over to the toll attendant, today the toll transponder on your windshield lets toll facility operators know you’ve passed a toll point, then deducts money from your account and pays the toll for your use of the roadway.
 
Every industry has been impacted by technology over the last several decades and tolling and transportation is no exception. Despite the electronic revolution already seismic shifts in the industry’s recent history, technological advancements are poised to dramatically change the way motorists travel and pay for their use of roadways and transportation systems in just the next few years.

In the opening panel discussion at IBTTA’s 89th Annual Meeting & Exhibition, a group of industry leaders all agreed that technology will continue to remake the idea of mobility as we know it in the years ahead. How the tolling industry thrives through this new future will depend on how well it can collectively harness all the data that’s being generated by vehicles and their drivers, and use it to create new value for motorists and travelers on the roadways.

“We’ve got to make tolling for consumers easier and by doing so it’ll be a lot easier to price roads by the mile,” said panelist James Madaffer, former commissioner of the California Transportation Commission. “The idea of a transponder in a vehicle is the most basic, but I really think, as we move forward technologically, it's the use of in-vehicle telematics,” he added, noting that the future tolling industry must make better use of all the technology that’s already in today’s vehicles—collecting data and using it to better plan and manage transportation systems and assets to create a better mobility experience.

The pandemic offered a stark lesson about how the industry’s current models for planning and predicting traffic might be in need of updating.

“We saw a huge drop off in traffic in March and April of 2020,” said panelist Chris Tomlinson, executive director of the State Road & Tollway Authority in Georgia. “But the traffic became very different. By November 2020, freight traffic had increased to over 105% of what it was before,” he added, noting how COVID and the continued ubiquity of delivery trucks and vans on the road disrupted his agency’s efforts to plan for the future. “What we thought was a commuting road now has bi-directional congestion,” Tomlinson said. “The fact that we planned for what future commute patterns would look like has been turned on its head.”

To improve planning for the future, Tomlinson observed that “telematics is going to be part of the answer” and that this is something that will change the composition of the toll industry as it’s currently understood.

“We need to start mining and analyzing this data,” he said. “We're going to see more job titles in data science and we're going to have to work with traditional government to get realistic about what those skill sets cost.”

Newsletter publish date: 
Tuesday, October 26, 2021 - 15:45

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