Establishing road charging as a permanent layer in the mobility services ecosystem


Justin Hamilton looks at the tech that can establish road charging as part of mobility services

Justin 2015Vehicle connectivity is changing fast and includes many entry points. The toll tag is now only one of many ways to move data to and from the vehicle. The recognised actors in this connected vehicle service market include OEMs, car clubs, leasing companies, repair networks, insurers, mobile operators, energy companies and a raft of independent, often smartphone centric, service providers.

Many operators are beginning to recognise that in order to safeguard their place on the dashboard, and avoid becoming absorbed by another mobility service, they must be able to offer wider services in addition to toll charging and collection.

Utilising existing technology for tolling purposes

Electronic payments and transactions are typically registered via a specific OBU. However, there are numerous other devices on the market with the potential to execute the same processes. These include:

  • Digital tachographs
  • Telematics insurance devices
  • Smartphones
  • Fleet telematics black boxes
  • eCall devices
  • OEM installed systems

While not all of these devices exist in every vehicle, eCall will become mandatory on all new vehicles sold in the EU from 2018 – around the time new smart digital tachograph regulations come into force for HGVs – and smartphone penetration already exceeds 50 per cent in most developed markets and continues to grow. By 2020, approximately 100 million vehicles globally will be insured with a telematics policy.

Openness makes the ETC business case more attractive

An existing area of integration between tolling and connected services is in the use of the fleet telematics box as a toll declaration device. This has only yet been done in Hungary, although a recent report from the World Bank also recommended an open device system for Bulgaria’s planned HGV scheme. Technology providers such as EROAD are already bringing fleet service products to the market capable of processing tolling transactions. When the European Commission talks of a “single contract with an EETS provider” there is no stipulation regarding whom this provider should be. Creating a market where tolling is integrated with the fleet management functions of a device can allow for the introduction of a much broader range of ITS services. Toll declaration operators (TDOs) under Hungary’s Hu-Go scheme now have the opportunity to provide a telematics device for free with a basic service subscription as the toll operator is paying a commission of the toll collected. The TDO is then free to up-sell additional VAS.

The main stakeholders involved

 Besides the toll chargers themselves, most of the core tolling actors are involved in some degree of connected service provision, if only at the trial level. Road operators and concessionaires have the customer facing brands and the account management. They are at the front line of the service provision. The system integrators are also key to the convergence between services as they manage the customer accounts, invoicing and settlement.

The energy companies have been very active in the area of fuel management services for fleets, but this area is rapidly transforming from fuel card provision to all-round fleet management service provision. The distributors could include road operators, dedicated toll service providers or fleet management system providers, although their value added partners could come from unconnected areas including assistance companies, vehicles manufacturers and insurance companies.

Connected road services today

 To analyse the core services provided in an ETC context, it is useful to examine case studies from some of the most active road operators. Autostrade per l’Italia, for example, uses the Telepass system to enable payment for different services such as parking access – in partnership with city councils and airports – access control and even fuel payment. The Telepass system is also designed to manage traffic in restricted traffic zones such as urban areas, ports and car parks. Autostrade has further partnerships with AXA assistance to respond to breakdown calls from its Telepass premium customers while they are driving on its network. The cover includes a limited accommodation service for the people in the vehicle. Telepass currently has over 8 million active subscribers.

Portugal’s Brisa is another example of an operator with consumer and business services offerings enabling it to connect to drivers directly. In 2002, Via Verde started “gets off track” using the OBU to enable various payment services. Initially, a partnership with GALP, the largest network of service stations in Portugal, enabled fuel payment via the OBU at 101 service areas. Brisa subsequently partnered with the City of Lisbon, and other town halls, to use the OBU and account for car access control to 19 protected historic city districts, such as Bairro Alto. In 2004, Brisa also worked with Emparque to launch its parking payment service across most of its 40,000 parking places. The solution was well received and has spread to 90 car parks and new car park operators.

For toll operators, the opportunity is there to to re-position themselves in the value chain as a systems and service provider, as well as a payment and billing platform. They will achieve this by focusing on road-related services, with both B2B and B2C approaches through partners enabling them to connect to the driver.

Building the relationship through smartphone apps

 The iBrisa application is one of the most complete smartphone applications available on the market. It has over 120,000 downloads and contains the following services:

  • A route calculator that considers cost, speed and distance,
  • Information about the weather, work in progress and accidents as well as access to a live view of the traffic flow from its network of cameras,
  • Access to a number of road assistance services available throughout the network and the possibility of scheduling a car inspection in one of Controlauto’s 46 centres (Controlauto is owned by Brisa and focuses on vehicle technical control),
  • A log of previous trips and a search engine for car parks and service stations accepting Via Verde payment.

In the latest version, the app acts as a co-pilot with voice alerts when the driver approaches a service area or when speed limits are exceeded. Austria’s Asfinag and Vinci Autoroutes in France are other operators with their own apps. Services across each of these range from payment facilities, fare calculation, registration, traffic information and account management. Vinci claims to have over 400,000 downloads. Both are good examples of how toll operators can build relationships with drivers and position themselves as a more holistic transport services provider.

Barbarians at the gates

For toll chargers and road operators to thrive in the future mobility proving market they must embrace a more open business model. Companies like Uber, Bla Bla Car and Let’s Drive will continue to revolutionise the mobility space and – alongside developments in connected vehicles and smartphone utilisation – will bring massive change to the tolling industry. If tolling becomes a feature in a wider service controlled by new entrants then existing business models could suffer.

The introduction of new technologies and devices can support the growth of tolling and RUC and help to reduce any public concern. For this reason, regulators should support innovation and facilitate access to data exchange platforms.

Value added services represent a significant opportunity for road operators to re-position themselves as a full mobility service provider with additional revenue streams and customer touch points. Partnering with players outside of the tolling sector such as car sharing providers, insurance companies and OEMs can also bring key advantages and enable complimentary data exchanges between groups. Without such initiatives, in the longer-term, road charging runs the risk of either becoming subsumed by broader telematics platforms, or becoming just another Apple Pay service.

This article was first published in Road User Charging Magazine Winter 2016