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How electronic toll collection works, and why you should use it

How electronic toll collection works, and why you should use it
Improved traffic flow, reduced traffic congestion and funding for road maintenance are just a few of the reasons more and more countries are adopting smart toll collection systems.
Electronic toll collection (ETC) systems have become more efficient and smarter over the years. Not only are these systems reducing the need for physical installations on roads, smart toll collection systems treat data as an asset, utilizing it to make cashless tolls more efficient and secure.

Nowadays, modern toll systems generally consist of a way to track the vehicle, some identification mechanism and a registration and billing system.

“Tracking is either done through global navigation satellite system (GNSS) or at checkpoints along the tolled road section,” said Michael Leyendecker, Director of Tolling Sales for Europe at Vitronic Machine Vision. “For identification most systems use vehicle-to-infrastructure communication or license plate recognition (LPR).”
Michael Leyendecker,
Director, Tolling Sales,
Vitronic Machine Vision

José Luis Añonuevo, GM of Traffic Management Systems Operations at Indra explained that electronic tolls based on RFID technology can be implemented in a unified way in all road corridors. This works by having vehicles affix a tag (a device that allows charging the toll electronically and in movement) on their windshield, which exchanges a signal with antennas arranged in the toll area. The toll value is then immediately charged the users’s payment of preference (e.g., debit card, credit card, recharge card, etc.).

More and more video-only-based tolling systems are also being used, according to Benoît Rossi, Director of Business Development and Marketing at Emovis; he attributes this to improved optical character recognition (OCR) technology, which is decreasing the need for tags.

Rossi also noted the rise of embedded devices such ODBII devices and connected odometers, as well as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the performance of road sensors.

Camera: The Heart and Soul in License Plate Recognition

The type of toll system and necessary components, though, depends entirely on the requirements of the implementing authority. This includes the road level equipment, sensors and antennas suitable for the classification and identification of vehicles, as well as the software solutions for the connection with banking entities.

Añonuevo added toll solutions usually also include a video surveillance system in the toll plazas, an LPR system and the necessary signaling.

Regardless of the toll solution chosen, Justin Hamilton, Product Manager at Kapsch TrafficCom said there are common necessities which could be sorted into two groups, consisting of hardware and software.

“For both, the chosen solution should be both robust and reliable. There is no one size fits all solution within tolling, so the chosen system will likely be different depending on whether tolls will be applicable to all vehicles or just a particular segment, such as heavy goods vehicles (HGVs),” Hamilton explained.

Ultimately, any system selected will need to find a balance between cost and efficacy. “In order to strike the best possible balance an authority should consider all potential technological solutions and in-vehicle devices, which typically consist of either RFID (TDM, 6C), European Committee for Standardization dedicated short-range communications (CEN DSRC), LPR or GNSS,” Hamilton said.

Leyendecker highlighted the benefit of a smart tolling system is that it introduces a usage-based fee for using the road network. “This is a very just way of refinancing as the user only pays for what he or she consumes. At the same time you often see a shift toward car-pooling or public transportation which has beneficial effects on congestion and emission values,” he added.

Hamilton pointed to other benefits of deploying smart, all-electronic tolling systems, which include:
  • Lower operating costs for the toll charger.
  • Greater ability to link additional services to the tolling system.
  • Lower risk of revenue “leakage,” which is often observed in manual, particularly cash-based, tolls.
  • The ability to set flexible pricing based on traffic levels as a means to influence traffic patterns and reduce congestion.
  • The ability to better understand traffic patterns and identify crash hot spots through the collection and analysis of toll data, leading to fewer incidents and safer roads.
  • The ability to link road tolling and revenue collection with other, complimentary, intelligent transport solutions, such as weigh in motion (WIM) for heavy vehicles, vehicle to infrastructure communication (V2X) and congestion management. Some countries in Asia have even deployed a natural disaster early warning system through the smart tolling network.

Regardless of the system chosen or the roads upon which it will be applicable, Hamilton emphasized that enforcement is crucial. “Without the ability to fully enforce all tolls, both technically and legally, the system will not function at anywhere near peak efficiency. Typically enforcement requires the use of LPR cameras; however, this must also be twined with a capable roadside and back office set-up.”

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