It wasn’t too long ago that collecting tolls didn’t involve making complex decisions about financial business rules, post-paid revenue, interstate enforcement and private sector integration into revenue collection.
‘Back in the day’ we had a uniform, well-accepted cash payment system. Around 1978 (yes, that was almost 40 years ago!) traffic and right-of-way restrictions combined to jeopardize our ability to effectively serve our customers. As agencies, we reacted by finding RFID technology developed by the military that we thought would solve the growing toll plaza congestion; thus electronic toll collection (ETC) was born. We sought the public’s interest in ETC but received little encouragement. Facing growing complaints about toll plaza congestion, the industry pushed ahead and soon realized that this technology, which promised to improve our lane operations, was impacting every department in our authorities. With the first implementations came accusations of privacy violations. After a year, success came as more and more customers saw the benefits of ETC.
AET (All Electronic Toll Collection) was the industry’s next advancement. If ETC proved to be disruptive, then AET changed everything. Not only did it change the business model of toll collection once again, but it opened the floodgates to new players and services because it was a mobile payment system. The services ranged from managed lanes and their DOT or private operators, to private sector companies buying into an agency’s fleet account process in order to gain access to an entire region’s multimillion customers with proprietary technology.
These changes were more customer-driven, but our customers have changed. Their habits and demands for up-to-the-minute technological conveniences will disrupt our industry once again. Unlike our customers in 1978, who saw technology and payment systems as intrusive, today’s customers use payment systems to pay for pretty much everything. Younger customers are driving less partly due to ride-sharing services, they value time over money, and they don’t want to stop to pay a toll. However, if they have a problem with a toll system, they demand a high level of customer service. More importantly they want combined billing systems so that all of their mobile payments can be made on one device. Sure you can utilize the same payment card on your Apple Pay, Google Pay, EZPass, Sunpass and SpeedPass, but you would need multiple devices to achieve it, and if there was a problem it would result in multiple phone calls.
In 1978 the toll industry was far too small for banks and large companies to take an interest in. Today, the in-car mobile payment market estimates exceed US$50bn per year so we are seeing a push into the tolling/mobile payment market. This influx of interest from big financial and tech giants, coupled with customers willing to embrace the idea of getting the government out of the tolling business will result in yet another new business model that could topple our existing structure.
It is high time for us to lead these changes, not obstruct them!