Ed CDMSmith Regan's embrace of 6C as key to IOP & slim new E-ZPass exec highlights of big IBTTA/ATI confab in Atlanta
By Peter Samuel
2012-07-26: The amazing slimdown and rejuvenation of E-ZPass Group executive PJ Wilkins was the major topic of conversation in the breaks at Atlanta - a lot of us are jealous of his trim new figure - but the policy item that seemed to generate the most buzz was CDMSmith Ed Regan's advocacy of cheap 6C sticker tags as the most feasible technology route to national toll interoperability by the 2016 Congressional deadline. Along with image based or i-Tolls via license plate cameras.
6C sticker tags' price of about a dollar apiece is one of their huge attractions as the centerpiece of north American interoperability. You could issue a 6C sticker tag to each of about 50 million tollroad users around America for about $50 million.
Only about a quarter of the tollers in North America currently have the multiprotocol readers (MPRs) needed to read their existing transponders as well as 6Cs. Few in E-ZPass country or California have such readers but they are increasingly in use in the South.
All the major manufacturers Kapsch, Federal Signal and TransCore have MPRs. If 5,000 were needed nationwide at around $8,000 each that would be another $40m.
National IOP at cost of a modest IC or bridge
On that basis national interoperability in electronic tolling would be about a $100m expense in hardware - about the cost of a medium sized interchange or bridge. Way less than a major piece of civil engineering such as a new highway or bridge or tunnel.
A bigger challenge than cost would probably be other aspects such as design, testing, communication and legislative authorizations needed to make the change.
OmniAir is heavily into testing and certifying 6C systems. But for the quick interoperability mandated by the MAP21 law the testing will need to be of two transponders, not just 6C as such, but 6C transponders working alongside E-ZPass, alongside SunPass (6B,) alongside TxTag (6B,) and alongside FasTrak (California Title 21) - whatever the main transponder happens to be in a particular region.
They have to allocate timeslots during each vehicle pass to read the different protocols. Some multi-protocol readers using two channels already - old Allegro/ATA protocols in one channel and a sticker tag usually a 6B/Sego for example, others 6B and 6C. Unless the old ATA and Allegro transponders could be gotten completely off windshields by the time the 6Cs showed up they'd have to try to read three protocols. Some readers can do that, but the more they have to read the greater the likelihood they's have a lower overall read rate accuracy.
Testing has to find out how much lower, and whether it's significant.
Back offices will of course have to change, sometimes radically, with new arrangements made for data interchange.
A number of speakers addressed this.
Tim McGuckin of OmniAir detailed the electronic payments standards (EPSNIS) they have designed and their flexibility in working both peer-to-peer (like much of E-ZPass) or hub as worked in Virginia, Florida, Texas and California, as well as in the cross system and multi-hub interoperability being done through the Alliance for Toll Interoperability (ATI.)
The Atlanta conference saw heavier E-ZPass participation in the discussions and reports of major moves by the E-ZPass Group to encourage interoperability. The E-ZPass Group website now gives easy access to previously confidential test plans, file specifications, operating and reciprocity agreements and policies via their website:
Different file formats and business rules
There are complexities of different file formats and business rules between toll agencies. Some harmonization may be needed, but it was notable that several speakers at the conference demonstrated they are capable of devising systems and arrangements that accommodate differences.
Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire each have very different ways of handling late payers and violators, but nevertheless have reached agreements which allow them to support one another in collecting tolls and pursuing violators across state lines - mostly image based or i-Tolls.
Estimates varied but currently with tollers operating on their own a majority of violations pursued across state lines never get paid.
Some put the never-paid proportion at two-thirds, others higher.
The ATI hubs are designed to take on this challenge. They are able to handle different file formats and business rules, and even on their present scale have been collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars of toll bills that previously went uncollected
Paul Leghart of CS in a presentation showed how in their ATI hub they've already successfully implemented a system which simply accepts all the existing formats, translates them to a common format or interface control document (ICD), processes them by batches, makes fund transfers and reports, and then re-translates to the tollers' formats.
"Conversion of formats is not an issue. The concept of using a mediation layer comes
from the telecom industry," Leghart said.
And they can do it realtime through web connection or by file batches.
Following banking, telocs' IOP
He pointed out that the banks, credit cart companies and mobile phone companies have all managed to achieve interoperability with similar challenges of different technologies, different business rules and different formats.
Leghart: "If the banking, credit card, and telecom industries did it. Why can't we?"
They even managed to think through how to abide by an Oklahoma state law that prohibits sending license plate data outside the state. It was made a matching hub.
He notes that all the participants in the ATI hubs demonstrated the workability of clearing houses: "A big win of the ATI Pilot was confirming that a migration path is possible."
A number of speakers said there will be difficulty breaking from the culture of "owned customers." And there will be reluctance to turning over toll collection to specialist financial institutions that may be able to collect tolls far more efficiently than individual tollers in the age of all-electronic.
Important participants were from state motor registries - Neil Schuster the president of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and Michael Robertson head of the state motor registry in North Carolina. Both said license plates in many states are a mess and often more about satisfying a demand for personalized or 'vanity' plates and making money for the state than they are about identifying vehicles.
Motor vehicle registries
Many motor registries rely on early computer technology - very old IBM mainframes and programming in COBOL. Lookups can take weeks. System changes can be difficult and expensive.
Tollers need to get to know motor registry officials and their capabilities, was the theme of one session.
North Carolina's MVA chief Michael Robertson expressed enthusiasm for the 3M company's proposal for a large readable infrared barcode superimposed on license plates that would use a full North America numbering system: "It's an excellent idea which would solve most of our camera (reading) problems."
But he was doubtful that the IR barcode could be implemented quickly because of the difficulty of getting state legislatures to authorize it.
COMMENT: it was an excellent conference with some 500 attendees. It was organized by Dave Kristic head of E470 with the support of large cast of planning group members and IBTTA staff. The follow-on ATI conference on the Wednesday worked in well too.
Both IBTTA and ATI will be publishing some of the materials on their websites. ATI also has a DVD on their technology demonstrations.
A sour note for us was IBTTA executive director Pat Jones' hostility to media coverage. His opposition to our presence outside formal sessions provoked several angry confrontations about which we'll report separately - editor.