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Is This the Next Generation of Tolling?

Bill Cramer

Casey Emoto is Deputy Director at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) and Co-Chair of the U.S. Transportation Research Board Committee on Managed Lanes. Richard “Trey” Baker is a managed lanes consultant with WSP USA and Chair of TRB’s Committee on Congestion Pricing. Both working groups will be meeting during the IBTTA/TRB Joint Symposium on AET and Managed Lanes, July 16-18, 2017 in Dallas. In this interview with Tolling Points, Emoto reviews the technology issues that both organizations are working on and looks at the symposium agenda through a TRB lens.

What are the most important technology interests that TRB and IBTTA have in common?

CE: A very important topic to both TRB and IBTTA is the rise of transformational technologies such as automated and connected vehicles, and how these technologies could affect the way we provide mobility solutions to the traveling public. What do these technologies mean for how commuters get travel information, how they make decisions about how they will travel, and how tolls are collected? The system as a whole will need continued investment in research and development as the application of transformational technologies continues to evolve.

TB: The technologies themselves receive a lot of attention, but from a research perspective a key question is how they will affect consumer response to pricing. If people can do other things while commuting in an automated vehicle, like check e-mail or talk on the phone, will they be as inclined to use a priced facility that offers travel time savings and travel time reliability? Will it be as important for them to get to their job on time? Another key question is how agencies, including toll road operators, can benefit from connected vehicle applications that enable more refined system management.

How do you see agenda items from your committee reflected in the symposium program?

TB: The Dallas/Fort Worth region is a leader in the exploration and deployment of innovative managed lane systems. Their network is significant and presents numerous opportunities for lessons learned on communicating pricing information to drivers and the impact of dynamic pricing on traveler behavior. The Congestion Pricing Committee is also very interested in how pricing technologies affect drivers’ utilization of transportation infrastructure.

CE: The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) recently published Research Report 835 (RR 835), Guidelines for Implementing Managed Lanes. This is a document with much of the latest thinking on planning, designing, implementing, deploying, operating, and maintaining managed lanes. The symposium agenda has presentations on all aspects of managed lanes that will help further our thinking and add to the material in RR 835.

Technology deployment is already advancing at a rapid rate, but tolling agencies are always looking ahead to the next generation of ideas and systems on the drawing boards. What do you expect to see as the most promising developments over the next two to five years?

TB: We are seeing increased interest and gradual development in three areas with potential to reinforce and enable one another and drive long-term changes in transportation infrastructure: automated and connected vehicles, the emerging shift towards shared economy and mobility-as-a-service models as an alternative to individual vehicle ownership, and the emerging interest in road usage charges that would serve as a funding alternative to fuel taxes.

CE: Continued acceptance of transformational technologies could help to normalize the discussion on the role of tolling as another tool for improving mobility. The broadening mix of private partners staking their claims as mobility solution providers could result in a wider mix of payment methods, so that paying a roadway toll is just another one of those transactions. We may also see changes in the way tolls are collected, with the continued deployment of smart and mobile technologies.

This is the first time the TRB and IBTTA have co-organized an event. What benefits do you see in this partnership?

TB: The Congestion Pricing Committee brings together practitioners and researchers, academics and consultants, engineers and economists. And as part of the National Academy of Sciences, TRB is intimately tied to national transportation policy. IBTTA members stand to benefit from exposure to a broad and diverse range of perspectives and insights they may be able to incorporate into their operations. TRB attendees benefit from being exposed to leaders in the development, operation, and management of innovative tolling systems. IBTTA members’ experience with new technology and data systems while meeting roadway user demand can be invaluable to the research community. 

Is there anything you’d like to add?

CE: Speaking of transformations, there is a need for transformational policies that change the way tolling happens. The implementation of large in-field toll collection infrastructure must make the transition to software- and application-based methods that are more customer-friendly. But this will require standardization of the data behind tolling systems. That’s one of the reasons for VTA’s interest in developing standards for toll data. We’ve developed an application based on open source code to make our real-time toll rates available on the web, working with our system integrator, TransCore, and entities such as Sidewalk Labs, Apple and others.

This work only succeeds when we keep the customer in mind. We developed our application because customers wanted the ability to see toll rates across our system, from wherever they are. Imagine what the roadway environment could look like with onboard tolling systems or applications on mobile devices, especially with the advent of driverless vehicles. This sort of future could have tolling systems that cater to tolling by vehicle miles traveled, by type of vehicle, or depending on congestion level. It just might be the next generation of tolling.

Sign up before it’s too late! The IBTTA/TRB Joint Symposium on AET and Managed Lanes takes place July 16-18, 2017 in Dallas Texas.