E-ZPass Group PJ Wilkins' Unpresented Presentation from Atlanta asks "Do we need to reinvent the wheel?" for interoperability (IOP)

July 31, 2012
By Peter Samuel

2012-07-31: Vying for drama at the IBTTA conference in Atlanta with a reporter's altercations with CEO Pat Jones was a disagreement about the official E-ZPass Group's major presentation. At the first general session Monday "Migrating to Interoperability" (IOP) the programmed presentation by E-ZPass Group executive director PJ Wilkins went unpresented and instead of the audience getting it from Wilkins, CDM Smith's Ed Regan spoke longer than scheduled. And very interestingly he spoke (see our first report) but obviously it was not an E-ZPass Group perspective.

"What did PJ (Wilkins) want to say?" was the subject of a lot of conference and post-conference chatter. We've got a copy of Wilkins Unpresented Presentation in Powerpoint form.

Wilkins' powerpoint makes a bold pitch to Florida, Texas, California and others outside E-ZPass to adopt holus bolus the E-ZPass Group's business rules, file specifications, and clearing arrangements - if not their front end reader-transponder technology.  Plus any new equipment used has to be rigorously tested for compatibility and meeting E-ZPass Group standards of accuracy, is a major theme of his presentation.

One of his last slides says the E-ZPass Group has "a proven model that works" with "well established business rules and file specifications that (has) allow(ed) for efficient and accurate interoperability for (the) past 17 years."

Exchanging $2.6  billion in tolls each year it has "robust and accurate reporting capabilities and (a) strong audit trail."

We've got E-ZPass, why reinvent wheels?

Then came his strongest pitch: "When striving for national interoperability, do we need to reinvent the wheel?"

All equipment "must be tested for compatibility" Wilkins said and the body of his presentation detailed the very exhaustive testing that the E-ZPass Group thinks is essential.

Operating and reciprocity agreements are needed to guarantee tolls along with agreed business rules and file specs, he said because financial reporting and audits were essential elements of interoperability. The E-ZPass group is posting details of all aspects of its interoperability on the Group website for others to use.

Wilkins presentation begins saying that interoperability, regional and national "is the single most important issue facing our industry today." This is because the US Congress is looking to legislate it, because customers of tollers are asking for it, and because it can improve traffic operations at toll facilities and make for greater toll collection efficiency.

Surveying the current scene he shows a map with electronic toll accounts: E-ZPass 21m, Florida's SunPass 4m, TxTag 4, and California FasTrak 3m.  The three next biggest after E-ZPass combined (11m) are hardly half E-ZPass' number.

It seems the question is being raised: Why should such relative small fry demand major change in the course of the whale?

The E-ZPass Affiliate Membership program is designed to allow tollers with "dissimilar but compatible technology" to become interoperable with E-ZPass, and to allow use of multi-protocol equipment while encouraging one protocol. North Carolina Turnpike is first up because of its location between SunPass and E-ZPass.

NCTA is using multiprotocol tags and readers, but extensive testing is still needed to establish it will work to E-ZPass Group specifications.

Tests spelled out

The E-ZPass Group tests:    

1. by Plaza Type - Open Road and Conventional Toll Plaza

2. by Vehicle Types - Cars, trucks, trailers, etc.

3. by Lane Position - in lane, straddling lanes, etc.

4. by Vehicle Speed - various speed profiles

5. by various Transponder Mounting Positions

Equipment is tested in the plaza:

1. multiple adjacent lanes

2. under a canopy

3. bumper to bumper

4. stop and go

ORT Testing is done:

6. Multiple adjacent lanes

7. bumper to bumper

8. stop and go

9. high speed

10. Straddling lanes

Standards

Performance standards for reader-tag are laid down: read rates of 99.9%, write rates of 99.9% in plazas and 99.8% open road, and lane assignment accuracy of 99.98% in plaza lanes, 99.9% open road.

As for back office operations these are designed the presentation says the goal is to operate E-ZPass to be as seamless to the customer as possible: one transponder and one to account work for all E-ZPass tollers. Inter-agency agreements and policies provide for conformity of files.

The E-ZPass Group's file specifications call for 14 different files for both Toll and Non-Toll (i.e. Parking) applications, major ones being:

- IAG (The Transponder File) which has nearly 28 million records, Includes active and inactive status transponders. It has four status conditions for transponders: Valid,Low Balance, Invalid (Customer account is not good), Lost/Stolen

ICLP - The Customer License plate file has nearly 30 Million Records

ICTX - Transaction files

ICRX  - Reconciliation files

13 customer service centers in the E-ZPass Group connect directly to one another passing files required by the recipient agency. A so-called Managed Frame Relay Network arranges connections and tests.

There is reciprocity testing of file transfer protocols (FTPs) operation to ensure a very accurate exchanges and an audit trail, Wilkins presentation says.

COMMENT: The Alliance for Toll Interoperability in its hubs has been directly tackling the issue of different file specifications and business rules. Its approach has been that it is unrealistic to expect toll agencies to make radical changes to their basic file systems and rules - unnecessarily disruptive and expensive. Paul Leghart of CS in a presentation at IBTTA in Atlanta said his programmers had written code to do the necessary file format translations and retranslations. He said bluntly: "Conversion of formats is not an issue."

see in the middle of: http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/6080

Other ATI hub operators say much the same - that interoperability can be implemented without everyone adopting the same file formats - and they say that the ATI hubs were working proof.

Maybe a compromise lies in a commitment to move to North American standard file specs like those of E-ZPass by say 2020 but to focus in the interim on file translations of differently structured file formats to allow interoperability to be implemented nationwide by 2014 - editor.

OTHER COMMENTS WELCOME FOR POSTING HERE (please email to editor@tollroadsnews.com with COMMENT in subject box)

TOLLROADSnews 2012-07-31

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