Department of Transportation officials across the United States are looking at solutions to alleviate congestion, improve commute times, and increase safety and efficiencies for major roadways. Many states have turned to electronic toll systems as the solution.
State transportation offices have cited various benefits to updating toll-roads to all-electronic systems that rely on sensor and camera technology. In addition to decreased congestion and reduced car emissions that can be caused by automobiles idling while waiting to pay at the toll booth, electronic toll systems allow for fluid speed, fewer accidents, and savings in both time and money.
Investing in Future Infrastructure
“Electronic highway tolling reduces the operating costs for state Departments of Transportation,” Dave Leone, Senior Director of Product for Highway Tolling Solutions at Raytheon told us. “By maximizing revenues, agencies are able to invest in aging infrastructure that improves the transportation system.”
DOTs across the country are looking at revamping traditional tolling booths for electronic, frictionless options that keep traffic flowing. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s transition to all-electronic tolling from manual toll collections on the Massachusetts Turnpike has been recognized as one of the top transportation projects nationwide, and the first system in the nation to switch to an entirely cashless system, eliminating toll plazas that caused congestion and accidents.
Other state DOTs are taking notice and investing in electronic tolling systems. Maryland, for example, is in the midst of revamping the state’s Bay Bridge toll system to alleviate traffic congestion, especially during months when tourists visit its beaches. By 2021, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority will plan to toll drivers in Manhattan’s Central Business District to alleviate traffic.
Precise Cameras and Sensors Needed
To ensure these benefits for operators, all-electronic toll roads require precise technology to ensure that information is captured correctly, according to Raytheon’s Leone. The company developed and delivered the world’s first all-electronic tolling system on the 407 Express Toll Route in Canada in 1997 and worked with the MASS DOT to convert and replace all manual cash and electronic toll collection systems with an advanced system that automatically tolls vehicles as they travel under a gantry, similar to an overhead sign, while maintaining their speed.
Each of these gantries is designed to capture information from the transponder via a laser and sensor process, as well as capture images of license plates from the vehicles to ensure proper identification for billing purposes. Sensors can also detect the shape and size of vehicles for identity matching. “This level of redundancy is needed,” Leone explained. “Behind the scenes, that content goes through the software business rules in the system, such as building a trip based on the number of toll points a vehicle has crossed and aggregating it into one transaction, before it is sent through the back office to get processed,” Leone continued. “Accuracy is critical in each of these steps to ensure that billing is correct and can be sent out or deducted from the account.”
“We focus on taking the exact right picture, at the exact right time,” Leone said. “Inaccurate images can result in lost revenue, and too many images can result in increased operational costs for our customers”
Creating a Change in Commuter Behavior for Urban Environments
Yet, all-electronic tolling highways are not only to save costs and maximize revenues. Recently, these technologies have been considered to change commuter behavior. Express lanes are popping up in Atlanta, Metro VA, and other areas to change commuter behavior. As rates for the express lanes change, drivers must decide if it is worth it to pay the higher rate to get to where you are going faster or not. “It offers the driver a choice. Those who opt out of paying these tolls might decide to carpool or use public transportation, which also alleviates traffic and congestion and is better for the environment.”
The technology challenges in urban areas are different too. “In urban areas the sensor and camera technology needs to be less conspicuous,” Leone states. Raytheon is developing technology that is the size of a street light, so it isn’t displeasing to the eye of the commuter and can avoid large gantries over the roads in a downtown area.