Collecting tolls has turned to be the most cost-effective way for governments to fund the construction and maintenance of safer, cleaner and faster roads. However, as technology-driven societies evolve, a new mobility landscape appears on the horizon. From the rise of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) to an increasing user discomfort due constant billing mistakes, or even electric cars threatening gas tax revenue, the toll industry is facing several challenges. How will agencies cope with the changing mobility scenario? To secure sustainable revenue, they will not only need to become more efficient but also rethink their business model. Smart technologies, a culture change, and an open mindset will be the ingredients allowing toll organizations to be more responsive, adaptable and transparent.
Improving the customer experience and becoming more efficient
With traffic congestion on the rise, officials have started transforming to help improve the level of service while cutting maintenance costs. In the US, initiatives like All Electronic Tolling (AET) that remove traditional cash toll booths or Dynamic Pricing Systems, which help balance the traffic flow between free and managed lanes are increasingly common. However, toll agencies will only become truly efficient and deliver great customer experiences by leveraging the power of new technologies.
- Machine Learning algorithms can be used to drastically reduce false readings of license plates as well as many other repetitive manual tasks, therefore increasing revenue and enabling violator enforcement.
- GPS based solutions could potentially eliminate the need of physical toll booths (both cash and free-flow), therefore reducing infrastructure and maintenance costs.
- Combining Predictive Analytics with AI would help anticipate traffic behaviors and better plan for major events (sport games, concerts) or incidents (accidents, weather conditions).
In addition, toll agencies need to become more citizen-centric to fight drivers’ negative perception. With user friendly apps, interactive voice recognition phone systems or ChatBOTS, customers would be able to access their accounts, get notifications or dispute wrong charges in a seamless way.
Reimagining traditional business models
Besides increasing efficiency to reduce costs and improve user experience, toll authorities need to rethink their business models to ensure future revenue stream.
Although originally planned to improve traffic and livability in cities, proposals like Toll per CO2 emissions or Congestion pricing – already implemented in places like Singapore or London – could become a good alternative source of revenue. Some US states such as California or Oregon are also studying the use of GPS to create individualized toll transactions for each vehicle based on mileage. This could be the foundation of a universal tolling system on all roads and will help cover for the fuel tax loss of revenue caused by energy efficient vehicles, electric cars and MaaS.
In addition to this, autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles can also enable additional business. By creating dedicated lanes for these types of vehicles, toll authorities could increase their income while ensuring safety and improved traffic flow for all users.
Finally toll agencies could leverage the large amounts of unused data they collect to reinvent their business model. Information on people’s driving patterns, daily commutes or road behavior – properly anonymized to comply with data privacy – could be of major interest to a wide variety of businesses, from car manufacturers and insurance companies to retailers and advertising agencies. And once autonomous vehicles become a reality, the amount of collectable data will grow exponentially leading to a world of endless possibilities.
Toll operators and governments need to start investing in smart technologies to put themselves in a position of advantage and not fall behind in the mobility space. And to do so they will need the right tools, from complex billing solutions and citizen-centric applications to platforms that enable storing and analyzing massive amounts of information.