We in our industry are proud of our past. In fact, we talk about the past so much that it sometimes feels like we have never left it. In the 20th century toll roads in the US were built with multimillion-dollar plazas, and customers could briefly chat with staff while paying for their tolls. But traffic rapidly increased beyond system capacity. Traffic backlogs led to major customer dissatisfaction, and toll agencies found a solution to provide mobility with electronic toll collection, not because it was cheaper or even increased revenue, but because it provided mobility and allowed user fees to grow to support infrastructure needs.
Soon another technology – video – had matured to a point where it could be used for enforcement, and electronic toll collection was born. But change doesn’t come without challenge. Agencies, integrators and consultants had to adapt. Fast-forward 10 years and we have reached another fork in the road as we aim to stay relevant. Yet again, we find ourselves facing our biggest risk and threat: complacency – and even worse in our industry, strong resistance to change and standardization to meet market needs. New technologies such as electric and autonomous vehicles are no longer being deployed by the typical government study and design method, or even within the tolling industry. Innovation from in-vehicle technology to mobile payment systems such as Apple Wallet and Google Pay are being designed and deployed by private sector industries outside of tolling as we reluctantly discuss these changes.
I believe that we are in the middle of natural transition. We, as an industry, went from stop-and-go cash collection, to slow-speed electronic toll collection, to all-electronic tolling – all in a relatively short period of time. We now have commercial mobile payment systems developing outside of our industry. Within the past year, we have seen an increase in companies that deploy payment systems in parking, fast-food and fueling, trying to connect into the large footprint of the toll collection industry. Each one of these markets is larger than the tolling industry. A mobile payment system connected to these industries will generate over US$50bn in sales per year.
We are starting to see the automotive industry drive the transponder decision by picking what they will connect to. The next transition in tolling will involve large mobile payment systems that will be integrated into autonomous and electric vehicles. This integration will provide agencies with low-cost transaction rates, where lane and business systems are provided by individual agencies, and the back office and collection systems will be managed and integrate into outside commercial payment systems entities. The popularity of electric and autonomous vehicles will grow due to customer demand and not because we, as an industry, have decided to go in any particular direction.