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Tolling Points

Truckinginfo Post Shows Pathway for Freight Industry to Embrace Tolling

Bill Cramer

Any salesperson knows they’ve made a significant advance with a prospective customer when the conversation shifts from “if” to “how”.

It’s the moment when the prospect stops thinking about whether they’re going to buy and starts working out when to make the purchase, or how they can best adapt the product or service to their needs.

It’s an all-important milestone in the effort to build a real, enduring partnership between vendor and client. And judging by a recent post on Truckinginfo, the website associated with Heavy Duty Trucking magazine, the surface freight industry may be getting close to that pivotal moment.

Tolling That Meets Truckers’ Needs

Many of the most successful business relationships are about taking a broadly-available service and tailoring it to the needs of a specific customer group. So, it’s no surprise that the Truckinginfo post came from Andrew Johnson, chief marketing officer at HELP Inc., an IBTTA member organization that provides prepass services to more than a half-million commercial vehicles.

Johnson’s livelihood is in trucking. His service includes tolling. So, who better to make the match?

“While tolls could help fund projects and compensate investors, the real, long-term effects on our transportation system and the movement of goods is unknown,” he writes. But to Johnson, that’s a reason to dig into the details, not to walk away.

“Transportation operations should prepare and continue to consider costs of routes as the tolling trend continues,” he continues. But “part of this strategy may also include tolling service providers that can help streamline payment and reduce toll fees through volume discounts,” since “tolling service providers can often negotiate lower costs with toll authorities and provide one, consolidated invoice to carriers.”

In other words: Here’s a pathway to embrace a funding and financing option that will keep America’s trucking fleet moving safely and efficiently, while holding out for the price deals that any volume customer has good reason to expect.

Big-Picture Challenges

Equally important in Johnson’s post is his reminder of the big-picture challenges facing truckers, and the rest of the surface transportation community.

He points to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s projection that by 2045, America’s population will increase by 70 million, its economy will grow 115%, to $36.7 trillion, and its freight volume will grow by 29 billion tons, or 45%.

He cites the warning in the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card that the country’s roads are already “crowded, frequently in poor condition, chronically underfunded, and becoming more dangerous. More than two out of every five miles of America’s urban interstates are congested, and traffic delays cost the country $160 billion in wasted time and fuel in 2014.”

Moving Freight Forward

Johnson cites DOT again when he points to tolling as a way out of the funding logjam.

“Not only can tolling be used to generate revenues to fund the construction of new highway capacity and to maintain existing capacity,” DOT’s Beyond Traffic report stated, “it can also be used to manage congestion.”

It’s nothing short of remarkable to see these arguments show up, clearly and cogently, in a trucking industry publication. For many years, IBTTA has been hearing from individual truckers and shippers who value the time they save and the reliability they gain by using toll roads. But their industry often opposes tolling, largely based on old memories of tolling operations that were far less efficient, creating long wait times to pay their toll as opposed to today’s all-electronic systems that keep the traffic flowing and reduce congestion.

Johnson’s column is a great measure of the change that is in the air.

It doesn’t mean that the change can or should happen overnight. Moving from “if” to “how” doesn’t always mean the customer is happy with where they’ve landed. (Though they may soon be.) Every individual trucker and trucking organization will make the transition at their own pace, and in their own way.

But that’s why organizations like HELP Inc. and Bestpass play such an important part, telling the story more widely and giving truckers a practical picture of what tolling solutions can look like for them.

For a deeper, wider dive into the Futures of Transportation, download the summary of IBTTA’s Transportation Visioning Summit.