Electronic toll collection is one of the best advancements of Intelligent transportation system in transportation sector. We will see what is electronic toll collection in the next section. Later, I will walk you through four subsystems of ETC. They are automatic vehicle classification (AVC), violation enforcement system (VES), automatic vehicle identification (AVI) and transaction processing, which includes a back office and customer service center. The advantages, cost and disadvantages of ETC will also be discussed.

Moving onto the definition,

What is Electronic Toll Collection?

Electronic toll collection is a wireless system to automatically collect the usage fee or toll charged to vehicles using toll roads, HOV lanes, toll_bridges, and toll_tunnels.

Typical methods for collecting tolls are,

  • Manual collection
  • Automatic toll collection via coin machines
  • Electronic toll collection (ETC)

Manual toll collection is the simplest form of toll collection, in which a collector operating from a booth collects the toll.

Automatic coin machines allow collection of several methods of payments such as coins, tokens, smart cards, and credit cards without the need for a collector.

ETC is the most complex and latest method for collecting tolls. Although it has been in use for more than 20 years, ETC continues to evolve. ETC lanes improve the speed and efficiency of traffic flow and save drivers’ time.

An ETC system is capable of electronically charging a toll to an established customer account.

The system can determine whether a passing car is registered, automatically charging those vehicles, and alert the local highway patrol about users that are not registered. The ETC method allows vehicles to pass through a toll facility without requiring any action or stopping by the driver.

Now let’s see the advantages of electronic toll collection system.

Advantages of Electronic Toll Collection System

Systematic vehicle parking- an application of ITS like electronic toll collection
Systematic vehicle parking- an application of ITS like electronic toll collection
  • Typical ETC systems can improve the traffic flow through the toll area. Manual toll collection lanes handle about 350 vehicles per hour and automatic coin machine lanes handle about 500 vehicles in the same time period.
  • An ETC lane can process 1,200 vehicles per hour when the lane is located in a traditional plaza configuration with island structures on each side of the lane and up to 1,800 vehicles per hour in all-electronic tolling (AET) configurations.
  • An AET lane offers over five times the flow rate of a manual lane and nearly four times the flow of an automatic coin machine lane.
  • Most ETC lanes are less expensive to build and operate than traditional toll collection methods.
  • Cost data averaged for five toll facilities in five states showed electronic toll collection systems provide cost savings of over $40,000 per lane for equipment costs, and $40,000 per lane in annual operating and maintenance costs compared with automatic coin machines, and $135,000 per lane in annual operating and maintenance costs compared with manual tollbooths.
  • ETC lane usage can decrease emissions in the area.
  • Practitioners have reported that the ETC system at three toll plazas in Baltimore, Maryland, with dedicated ETC lanes located in a traditional plaza configuration with island structures on each side of the lane resulted in a 40 to 63 percent reduction of hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide, and approximately 16 percent reduction of nitrogen oxide in the study area.

That’s it about the advantages. Its time to see the principles of electronic toll collection.

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Principles of Electronic Toll Collection

Typical ETC systems are comprised of four subsystems

  • Automatic vehicle classification (AVC)
  • Violation enforcement system (VES)
  • Automatic vehicle identification (AVI)
  • Transaction processing, which includes a back office and customer service center.

Automatic Vehicle Classification

  •  Automatic Vehicle Classification (AVC) consist of sensors installed in the toll lanes to detect and classify the vehicles for proper tolling.
  • The AVC technique is most commonly performed using overhead equipment (laser or infrared detectors) or intelligent detector loops embedded in the pavement, but the detectors can also be placed on the roadside.
  • The sensors are capable of perceiving and classifying vehicles in the open road tolling or all electronic tolling environments.

Violation Enforcement System

  • The primary goal of Violation Enforcement System is to reduce the number of toll evaders with the assistance of multiple types of solutions.
  • These methods range from fairly basic (audible and/or visual alarms) to complex systems, such as automatic license plate recognition camera-based solutions.
  • Police enforcement and toll gates are other types of successful VES but can be costly and inefficient for high traffic volumes.
  • Camera-based VES captures images of each vehicle’s front and/or rear license plates, depending on the toll authority’s regulations.
  • The necessary equipment consists of a camera (or array of cameras), an illumination system, and a controller card or computer that interfaces with the lane controller and/or the back office.
  • A camera-based VES with plate recognition serves a dual purpose of enforcement and video tolling.

Automatic Vehicle Identification

  •  The Automatic Vehicle Identification systems properly identify each vehicle to charge the toll to a particular customer.
  • This ETC method is typically done with various AVI technologies such as a bar coded label affixed to the vehicle, proximity card, radio or infrared transponder, and automatic license plate recognition.
  • A majority of the AVI systems used involve radio frequency identity (RFID) and plate recognition technologies.
  • The RFID system uses an antenna to communicate with a transponder in each registered vehicle, while video tolling identifies the license plate and charges a customer or sends a bill to unregistered drivers with help from the Department of Motor Vehicle’s address database.

Transaction Processing with Back Office and Customer Service

  • The back office consists of the host and/or plaza system, customer service center, and violation processing center.
  • The main functions of the host and plaza systems are to aggregate transactional data from all the lanes, data summarization, report generation, download of files such as a toll rates, toll schedules, and transponder status list.
  • The customer service center is responsible for processing the AVI and video tolling transactions, matching transactions with account holders, debiting the correct toll amount, managing accounts, generating a valid tag list, and providing customer support to name a few.
  • The violation processing center’s main function is to process the images of the licenses plates, identify violators, and mail notices.

 We have seen all the positives till now. Any topic is incomplete without raising the negative side. I will tell you that now.

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Disadvantages of Electronic Toll Collection System

Charging a car- an application of ITS like electronic toll collection
Charging a car- an application of ITS like electronic toll collection

Most of the technological issues have been overcome after two decades of successful ETC implementations. The current issues with implementing ETC systems are related to interoperability and technology selection.

  • There is a lack of interoperability with other states and with toll facilities at border crossings.
  • The need for interoperability between border crossings and toll roads will continue to increase as toll road are built near the border.
  • Technology selection directly impacts interoperability. If a toll agency selects a different RFID protocol then it might not be able to read customers from away agencies.
  • Cities and local toll authorities should work together to create a compatible system throughout the state.

And finally, we have reached at the practical aspect.

Cost of ETC

  • The cost of implementing an ETC system varies widely depending on the scope of the project, making it difficult to provide an exact cost.
  • The system size (number of lanes and collection points), shoulder coverage, gantry type, and type of technology all affect the project price.
  • The cost is also affected by whether the system is new, upgraded, or added onto.
  • The price range will change based on the level of customized software required for the business rules, the back office operation (outsource or in-house), the project location, and the necessary signage.
  • The cost per ETC lane in an AET or ORT environment ranges from $100,000 to $200,000 for the cost of the lane equipment and its installation, and assuming the project reuses existing back office software, gantry, and right of-way.

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Hope the article benefited you. So, electronic toll collection is an amazing tool, right? Let me know that in the comments.

Enjoy learning!