First publishedin ITS International
Into the future: the industry has to drive the debate, actively participating © Anyaberkut | Dreamstime.com
The future of mobility is a complex and changing topic. The IBTTA’s Bill Cramer finds the tolling industry is asking new questions – and finding some surprising new answers
The massive wave of innovation sweeping the global transportation sector is driving new consumer choices and industry business models. Nowhere is that evolution faster or more obvious than the tolling industry, where a strong history of rapid technology adoption has positioned agencies and suppliers at the forefront of change.
By the time the latest wave of technologies like connected and autonomous vehicles (C/AVs) and Mobility as a Service (MaaS) began to hit, change was already a part of the DNA of an industry that has largely completed the mammoth transition from cash-based to all-electronic tolling systems.
That pioneering spirit is at the heart of the Driving the Future of Mobility theme selected by Chris Tomlinson, executive director of Georgia’s State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA), the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) and interim executive director of the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority (ATL), for his year as president of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA).
And it was the focus of the programming for IBTTA’s Annual Technology Summit this March in Orlando, Florida, an emerging hub in its own right for transportation and technology innovation.
“Anyone who works closely with technology knows that the only way to keep up is to stay ahead,” says IBTTA executive director and CEO Pat Jones. “That’s doubly true in tolling, where technology has driven every major innovation we’ve seen for as long as anyone on our board can remember - whether it’s been on the roadway, in the back office or in the executive suite.”
The future is happening now
For Tomlinson, the future of mobility begins with a new, much broader vision of the tolling industry’s role and mission.
“I like to remind people that we’re not tolling for the sake of tolling,” he says. “Either we’re doing this to help finance transportation projects or other infrastructure, or we’re doing it to manage demand and help move people through a corridor more quickly or reliably. But there’s always a reason for it. Tolling is a mechanism, and all of those reasons add up to mobility - trying to get people from where they are to where they want or need to be.”
With new technologies converging soon on a modern roadway near you, Tomlinson sees an opportunity for tolling agencies to “figure out how we bring our expertise to help the greater transportation sector of which we’re a critical part”.
If ‘why?’ is the most important question for any product or service, Tomlinson says the last decade of managed lane development has brought the tolling industry a new, expanded purpose - and now, its answer is evolving again. “We went from just financing and paying for operations as the primary purpose behind tolls, to leveraging tolling to help manage demand and move people more efficiently,” he says. “Now, I think the new ‘why’ is how the advances in intelligent transportation technology pioneered in tolling and our long-term planning outlook can help propel the greater transportation sector forward in these rapidly changing times.”
More driver than passenger
Tolling agencies typically project traffic and revenue 20 to 30 years out, he notes, but now those calculations must take AVs and the sharing economy into account. So far, there are multiple, conflicting views on whether fundamental changes across the system will boost demand or drive it down.
This is a signal for tolling professionals to shift into high gear. “I really don’t think it’s in our industry’s DNA to wait and see,” Tomlinson says. “We’ve had to innovate to do all-electronic tolling, and to toll under very adverse conditions. Our new ‘why’ has to do with how all these changes in the transportation sector will affect tolling. We’ll want to be more in the role of the driver, helping to steer the conversation and actively participating, and less in the role of the passenger, waiting and seeing which way the winds of change blow us.”
With the pace of change accelerating, he adds: “We have to be proactive about being engaged and having a say in our own destiny.”
When it comes to revenue projections, the tolling sector must take the effect of the sharing economy into account © Corepics Vof | Dreamstime.com
Shifting scene for mobility
Tomlinson’s focus on the future of mobility was at the heart of the discussion at IBTTA’s Annual Technology Summit. Key participant takeaways included:
• The shift from managed lanes to connected networks, with panellists and participants looking at building partnerships and synergies to link adjacent managed lane facilities
• MaaS establishing itself as a basic expectation for a growing millennial demographic, many of whom see little need ever to acquire a driver’s licence
• The shift from internal combustion to ‘smart’ cars and cities, with connected, autonomous, shared and electric (CASE) vehicles already transforming the way many highway users live, work, and travel
• Technology companies rapidly transforming the average vehicle from a car with technology to a sophisticated IT system that happens to have wheels attached
• A sweeping technology revolution that is reshaping every aspect of a tolling agency’s day-to-day operations, from the roadway to the back office
The future of mobility is a wide-ranging and fast-changing topic. That’s why Tomlinson created IBTTA’s new Emerging Technologies Committee - with a structure that is flexible enough to accommodate the unknowns, as well as the knowns’, on the industry’s immediate horizon.
Where rubber hits road
“The committee is set up as a forum to explore and discuss all of these different trends and see where they overlap,” he explains. “We didn’t want to get on the road of saying ‘let’s create an e-scooter committee and a shared services committee and a blockchain committee’. We wanted to be able to spot the trends, distinguish them from the fads.” And crucially, to discover how they interact and where they’ll matter most - on the tolled facilities where the rubber literally hits the road.
The association’s Council of Platinum Sponsors has been making its contribution, as well, with working groups on topics like MaaS and cybersecurity. And IBTTA is learning from its members’ experience, distilling the most promising industry practices from projects like these:
• The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s successful effort to deliver multimodal mobility along its MoPac Express Lane, with 11 miles of variably-priced express lane available at no cost for bus rapid transit
• Tomlinson’s own agency’s embrace of managed lanes, with four projects (and four more in development) serving vehicle, van pool and transit customers to reduce congestion through some of the busiest urban corridors in the US
But with massive change sweeping transportation and tolling, Tomlinson points to the customer as the one essential factor that remains the same - and must always be at the centre of every tolling agency’s strategy and planning.
It’s (still) all about the customer
“At the end of the line there is a customer, a commuter, a motorist. There’s a person trying to deliver some results,” he continues. “So when we look at new technologies, we need to be careful to never forget the end user or consumer for these services. As long as we keep them in mind, they’ll always provide us with the proper compass and indicator of success.”
Through that lens, Tomlinson places tolling squarely at the centre of the multimodal transportation system customers need and expect.
“We are part of the fabric of a transportation system that relies heavily on technology,” he says. “And in this day and age, with technology driving changes across our sector, I believe our industry’s experience with being nimble and embracing new possibilities will help us serve the greater community of customers and partner agencies.”
He says that’s all the more reason for tolling agencies to be at the table as the US Congress begins mapping the future of transportation funding, while communities look for multiple ways to deliver the reliable, safe mobility citizens need and deserve.