Most US tollers join procurement of license plate toll hub to improve all-electronic collection

October 22, 2010
By Peter Samuel

Most of north America's tollers have agreed to participate in developing a hub to clear license plate tolls - a key step to improving the reach of all-electronic tolling (AET). At least 37 toll operators including the biggest - MTA B&T, NY Thruway, New Jersey Turnpike, Illinois Tollway, 407ETR, Florida's Turnpike, Pennsylvania Turnpike, Harris County Toll, North Texas Toll, Ohio Turnpike, Oklahoma Turnpike, Bay Area Toll - are cooperating to develop a "License Plate Interoperability Hub" (LPIH). see list at bottom of this report

A procurement is underway for contracts with up to three hub operators for a six month (3 month plus 3 months) pilot program intended to be developed into a permanent method for clearing toll transactions based on license plate imaging. The License Plate Interoperability Hub will directly address the greatest challenge of all-electronic tolling - how to collect from motorists not equipped with a local transponder.

The procurement is being organized by the Alliance for Toll Interoperability (ATI), a cooperative of most north American tollers formed specifically to advance efficient out-of-area  toll collection. ATI was sponsored by North Carolina Turnpike's then operations director JJ (Jim) Eden because that state with an ambitious tollroad development program is awkwardly located right between the Sunpass group (Florida) and the E-ZPass group. It also gets some traffic from Texas and neighboring states to the west.

North Carolina Turnpike will for the time being contract with operators for the license plate hub on behalf of the whole ATI membership.

Chairman of ATI is longtime director of operations at the Oklahoma Turnpike, David Machamer.  JJ Eden - now with Aecom - is chief executive of ATI.

ATI ran a Request for Information in October 2009 which received a good response from potential hub operators. As a followup on that ATI is now issuing the Request For Proposals (RFP).

Part 1 is the Selection of the Interoperability Network Pilot Program (INPP) Operator(s).  ATI plans to select up to 3 qualified vendors to open and operate the program for a six months with a handful of ATI members.

Part 2 is the selection of the HUB Operator on a three year contract. 

The selected firm will be evaluated after the successful completion of the pilot program portion of the RFP. The RFP will contain a request for prices and a best and final offer (BAFO). 

This contract is envisaged as being for three years of operation - picking up all tollers that want to take advantage of the service.

The RFP is at the stage of a final draft RFP document that is out for vendor review and comment.

The comment period started Oct 15 and now goes to Wed Oct 27 (it was initially earlier.)

The draft RFP document is 79 pages in length and lays out in detail the requirements, procedures and scoring rules in a thoroughgoing fashion in suitably legal language.

Proposals are due by some time next month, with presentations in December and selection of the hub operators in January with a view to operation starting March 1, 2011. Anyway that's the schedule in the draft RFP.

The draft emphasizes that business rules will be at the heart of the Hub operation but that an "overriding goal" is not to impose inessential business rules. A danger is perceived of the hub becoming a cumbersome behemoth if a lowest common denominator approach leads to every variation in business rules being adopted for the HUb. In addition the hub arrangement must leave participating tollers free in applying their own set of business rules.

The Hub will not change regular electronic tolling or license plate tolling  for those vehicles matching an account held by the toller internally. It will come into play at the point where tollers presently have to go out searching other databases for owner details - see chart nearby.

Operations are described in the RFP:

"Pilot Hub operation will include daily exchanges of transactions, valid license plate lists, reconciliation files, and correction files. The PHOs (Pilot Hub Operators) will set up the pilot License Plate Interoperable Hub to be hosted off-site with full backup.  It is expected to include all hardware, software, connections, and data conversion without charge to ATI or test participants, to allow the ATI participating agencies to send data and receive license plate files and transactions.

"The PHOs shall be responsible for performing and reporting on regular operational tasks:

1. Download daily, files or file updates, of license plate data from participating CSCs in order to maintain a current customer database. Proposer shall also allow for web service near real time approach where applicable.

2. Receive daily license-plate-image based transactions,

3. Match and route license plate image transactions to the proper Home Agency CSCs.  

4. Provide daily reports of the results of license plate lookups submitted, either as: (a)     Successful matching against pilot LPI Hub, or (b) Unsuccessful matching against pilot LPI Hub and reason for unsuccessful match, i.e. no match, incomplete file, etc." end quotes

The system has to be scalable for future expansion so it can serve as many as 500 toll operators.

It has to operate 24/7.

Data is the property of ATI. All work must be done within the US to allow adequate security.

Privacy of customers has to be protected by meeting bank payment (PCI) standards of confidentiality about transactions.

see http://www.tollinterop.org/

Inquiries: "J.R. Fenske" <jr.fenske@tollinterop.org>

BACKGROUND: All-electronic or cashless tolling depends mainly on transponders (also known as electronic 'tags' or 'passes') that can be read by an overhead RF (radio frequency) 'reader' for motorists enrolled in a local or grouped plan such as E-ZPass, TxTag, SunPass (Florida) or FasTrak (California).

But those vehicles without transponders or with transponders that cannot be read by local radio frequency readers have their license plates photographed.

The challenge is to get accurate names and addresses of the vehicle owners from the license plate images, and to bill, and collect on them - the task to be assigned to the hub operator or operators.

TOLLROADSnews 2010-10-21

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