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.
This is an update to the original article published in 2019.
Tolling 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.
Toll collection is an important element of highway operations as the toll collected can help fund highway construction and maintenance. Increasingly, manual collection has given way to electronic toll collection, where various detection and payment technologies are used to make collection efficient and less time-consuming.
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)
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 (for example debit card, credit card and recharge card).
Increased use of video and AI
Emovis is another company that has developed various smart toll collection and payment solutions. They include cash-less, barrier-free, roadside tolling using a combination of laser, RFID, video imaging treatment and thermal cameras to track and charge travelling vehicles; pay-by-plate solution using a combination of optical character recognition (OCR) combined with AI learning software to constantly improve the automated car recognition performances; satellite-based pay-per-kilometer solution allowing to record and charge the motorists according to the actual distance travelled on certain roads while ensuring full privacy; cloud-based interoperability platform allowing seamless travel across multiple tolled infrastructures with a single tag; and electronic payment back office covering multiple payment modes (credit cards, debit cards and so on) with full PCI/DESS compliance.
Especially, more and more video-only-based tolling systems are 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 notes 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.
The company has participated in various projects including tolling on the U.K.’s Mersey Gateway Bridge, whereby emovis uses a solution that combines loops and laser detection to trigger both front and rear license plate reading, as well as thermal imaging and laser for classification and vehicle count for auditing purposes.
“We are committed to finding solutions to the mobility challenges of the future. With a forward-thinking strategy, we lead on innovation in the digitalization of road payment methods and mobility solutions through the implementation of free flow toll projects in numerous countries,” Rossi said.
It should be pointed out, though, that the type of toll system and necessary components 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.
Why you should use it
According to Leyendecker, one of the benefits 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 said.
Justin Hamilton, Product Manager at Kapsch TrafficCom
, points 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.
How to select a system
Regardless of the toll solution chosen, Hamilton 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.
Hamilton further emphasizes 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,” Hamilton said.
As an example, Vitronic has a case study in Poland, where in 2021 the government has converted paper ticket payment into a modern GNSS-based electronic payment system. While this facilitates the flow of traffic and toll payment, it also presents a significant challenge to toll handling – the new solution makes it easy to bypass the payment, whether intentionally or accidentally.
To this end, Vitronic supplied 102 patrol cars equipped with its Enforcement Bar – a fully automatic and mobile number plate recognition system (ANPR) that can be installed on top of a patrol car. The solution enables reliable enforcement of toll payment regardless of weather and visibility conditions or vehicle type, allowing the patrol cars to be part of the free-flowing traffic or enforce from the roadside – a fusion of precision and flexibility.