New technologies presented at Alliance Toll Interop in Raleigh NC
By Peter Samuel
2012-07-01: Steve Andriuk operations chief at Miami Dade Expressway is all muscle and heft, not the kind of guy you'd cross in a bar. From within that hulk he's a rumble or a roar. When it comes to discussing how some of the third party toll payment providers to rental car companies treat car renters, he roars. The lack of customer information he says has the Florida state attorney general investigating fraud, and the basic charge he calls a ripoff and highway robbery.
This from one of the more memorable moments in a day and a half of presentations on new technologies for toll collection held at North Carolina Turnpike facilities in Raleigh NC last week by the Alliance for Toll Interoperability.
There's general agreement among operations people that the surprise of an unexpected charge for $25 from a third party and the customer angst it generates - although not within the direct control of the toller - is so damaging to the reputation of tolling, there's a real need to look for new technologies and new ways to charge the occasional user.
In a place like Andriuk's Miami whose beaches, nightlife and conventioning attract people from around the world and where the tollroads run by the major international airport, this is a big issue. As much as a quarter of their business at times comes from visitors.
Visitors driving in often have E-ZPass, Texas, Oklahoma or other out-of-state electronic toll tags and until interoperability with DSRC (transponders-readers) is achieved there are cameras to image license plates or staffed or coin machine cash lanes. The cash lanes will be gone completely in Miami within about two years. On present plans it will be transponder-on-the-windshield (tag) or license plate imaging.
3M license plate barcode
Greg Florin a business development manager at 3M described progress in imprinting a barcode on license plates that he said in tests makes a "dramatic improvement" in camera accuracy as compared with current optical character recognition. The company has written a barcode that would allow every license plate in North America to be given a unique number, getting around the problem of state differences, stacked characters, framing and 'vanity plates.'
The barcode would be imprinted just out of visible light range in the infrared (IR) part of the spectrum, so it could coexist with the existing alpha-numerics and special graphics. 3M has designs for a large barcode that covers almost the entire plate and a compact one with its own space on the plate. The smaller one probably needs high resolution cameras, but Jim Kennedy of INEX a leading camera supplier says within the several years it will take to get barcodes adopted most of the cameras will be hi-res anyway.
Florin says 3M isn't committed to either format and is seeking reaction to their proposals. They've been working most closely with Federal Signal Technologies PIPS camera unit, but propose that the barcoding will be open to all license plate reading companies.
3M already makes most of license plates already, or supplies the materials and machinery, so it has a network of relationships with state and province motor registries. If anyone can sell a more advanced license plate it's probably 3M.
Better readability of barcoded license plates is probably best sold for its value to law enforcement, but as a side effect it will likely make for big improvements in license plate tolling.
FOLLOWUP: 3M's director of business development Greg Florin commented on this: "you mentioned the primary beneficiary of the barcode would be law enforcement. Certainly they could benefit. However, we see the toll industry as the stakeholder who could benefit most from the barcode. Improving the confidence of license plate reads (as the barcode provides) and thus reducing the manual review of license plate images will improve the efficiency of processing license plate images and reduce the resources toll agencies expend on license plate image handling. Also, in terms of interoperability, license plates are tops as every vehicle should have a license plate."
Mobile phone toll payment
Meanwhile there are motorists without a transponder who don't want to have to respond to a toll account in the mail. They'd like to pay and be done with it. And they have 'smart phones' they use for emails and increasing for a range of other transactions on the go via 'apps.'
At least three companies are rolling out mobile phone/tablet apps for paying tolls. Neal Belitsky's American Roads Technologies (ART) has been in the business longest on his own pikes - three in Alabama and the Detroit Windsor Tunnel.
With lots of American patriotic graphics and red white and blue and stars it first launched Freedom Pass Mobile that works with a toll payment machine in a toll lane. The motorist stops and holds the smart phone and its QR barcode up to a reader a few feet away. The toll payment machine can be set up to take a self swipe bank card or to read a proximity card. That has been in use several years at American Roads bridges and the DW Tunnel.
More far reaching potentially is FreedomPass Open ™ which uses the mobile phone's mapping function to download toll zones to allow payment of any tolls the motorist wants to set up in the app.
Belitsky says the app can be licensed or sold to any roller who wants to offer it as an option. The company doesn't want to get in the transactions business itself but will provide technical assistance to incorporate it in the the toller's toll system and provide help as required. Apps are available for all major operating systems including iPhone, Android and Blackberry, as well as the iPad, laptops and desktops.
He claims sufficient accuracy to work in toll managed lanes as well as multilane tollroads.
A different approach is being used by Drivewyze a mobile payments service of Image Sensing Systems of Louisville KY. Their toll payment is a spinoff from their work for weigh station bypass for truckers. They too use the mobile phone's mapping function to set up payment points. But the major difference is Drivewyze takes responsibility for the actual transactions, paying the toller on behalf of the motorist.
They weren't at Raleigh but another mobile phone toll payments system is PToll being rolled out by BancPass led by Glenn Deitiker, a toll systems veteran in Texas. PToll works in with toll hubs and just announced its embrace of OmniAir's electronic payments services standard EPSNIS.
Also new was the suggestion ultra wide band (UWB) offers a low cost alternative to DSRC and GPS. 12ft high antennas a mile or so apart along any road corridor work in with very cheap 6.25GHz active tags in the vehicle that transmit an identifying code 8 to 16 times per second. The system computes the vehicle location to great accuracy so, for example, toll managed lanes alongside free lanes could be serviced.
This is a spin off of UWB tracking systems available inside hospitals for tracking all kinds of items and in use for managing robotic vehicles by the US military. The proposer is American Biomedical Systems of Oklahoma City.
ISO 18000 6C
Bruce Roesner a consultant to Sirit spoke for the superiority of the 6C sticker tags for tolling purposes. They cost as little as $1.50 each but work better, he said - in terms of read rate accuracy - than most other tags.
Only the E-ZPass Group protocol tags work as well as the 6Cs, but - this is our observation - they cost five times as much.
Roesner said the only problem with the 6C he's found in testing is the failure of tags without IR screening to function in bright sunlight. He said the vulnerability to sunlight is easily prevented by building in a cheap IR screen or film in the sticker, but this problem has not yet been addressed in standards.
Sirit 6Cs contain this IR screen but the huge REPUVE (Mexican motor registry) contract was apparently fulfilled by Neology with unscreened tags.
http://www.abgi.net (not functioning)
The powerpoints used - and we have mentioned only about half of them - are promised on the Alliance for Toll Interoperability's website about mid-July: