The 2017 Road User Charging Conference, held in Brussels from the 8th to 9th of March 2017 brought together industry professionals from across the globe and offered delegates a broad spectrum of perspectives on tolling, as well as a lively forum debate. By Maria Highland.
Experts on road tolling gathered in Brussels for two days of in-depth conference sessions and focused debate. Speakers and delegates came from Belgium, France, Austria, Bulgaria, Poland, Sweden, New Zealand, America, Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Greece, Hungry, the U.K and Ireland- giving attendees valuable international insight into the latest road charging techniques and innovations.
Bart Dewandeleer, vice president of Viapass, gave an update on the Kilometre charge for HGVs for over 3.5 in Belgium and Peter Carr, manager of funding & infrastructure for the New Zealand Ministry of Transport, introduced the policies and regulations in New Zealand. The Assistant director general for the Norwegian Ministry of Transport and Communications, Tone Hardeland, spoke about the reform of Norway’s tolling system and insights into current and future tolling in Poland was given by Andrzej Maciejewski, deputy general director of GDDKiA.
In addition, the president of HELLASTRON, Bill Halkias, updated the audience on the toll road network in Greece and Miroslav Tsenov, the head of department, implementation of projects under operational program regional development and the EU territorial cooperation programs directorate for the Road Infrastructure Agency in Bulgaria, introduced GNSS truck tolling in Bulgaria.
Representatives of associations, organisations and a government body were also present at the conference. Pauline Bastidon, the head of policy for the Freight Transport Authority presented the views of its members and Samuel Kenny, freight and rail transport officer at Transport and Environment discussed the revision of the euro-vignette. Likewise, Jack Semple, director of policy for the Road Haulage Association, discussed the challenges hauliers face and stakeholder manager, Steve Kearns, spoke of behalf of Transport for London about controlling congestion in London. Additionally, case studies on the implementation of tolling in America were featured, presented by Norma Ortega, deputy director of finance for California Department of Transportation; Anthony Buckley, director of innovative partnerships, Washington State of Department of Transportation; and Jim Whitty, partner at D’Artagan Consulting.
Transport and Environment
The European Federation for Transport and Environment has 50 member organisations in 27 countries, all supporting and promoting sustainable transport. Accordingly, Transport and Environment’s freight and rail transport officer, Samuel Kenny, introduced the latest developments in European transport and the benefits of investing in tolling systems. His presentation touched upon the issues surrounding the impact of banning of diesel vehicles and expanding road tolling to include both cars and vans. Currently, road tolls in Europe take into consideration infrastructure damage, time of day, air and noise pollution. The euro-vignette directive was reviewed in late 2016 and a commission proposal is expected in June 2017. One of the objectives of this is the reduction of CO2 emissions and congestion to achieve the European 2050 goals of reducing CO2 emissions from transport by 30%. Therefore, Transport and Environment suggest that CO2 differentiation when determining road user charging would prove to be effective in helping to lower emissions.
Kenny also brought attention to the amount of CO2 emissions cars and vans were producing, noting that the issue is too big to ignore as cars are, in fact, the bigger contributors of CO2 emissions than tucks. In 2012, 50% of CO2 emissions were attributable to cars and motorbikes, whilst trucks and busses accounted for less than 30%. Transport and Environment predict, based on their own calculations, that in 2030 the percentage of CO2 from cars and motorbikes will be just under 50%, whilst trucks and busses is will account for just over 40% of the emissions. To combat this, Kenny suggests that the euro-vignette shifts its attention to include passenger cars, as toxic air is a common concern and needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Therefore, he suggests three points for going forward: CO2 differentiation when determining toll charges, extending the euro-vignette to include cars and vans, and for Member States to implement the charging system.
What do users expect?
Pauline Bastion is the head of European policy for the Freight Transport Authority. The FTA is made up of over 16,000 members who consign over 90% of rail freight and 70% of UK exports by sea and air. Recently, the FTA released a road tolling charter detailing the conditions that must apply to future tolling, outlining 8 key points: that there must be visibility of charging elements; compensatory reduction in fuel duty; availability of an alternative non-tolled route; minimum service levels; lower rates for less polluting and road wearing vehicles; a harmonisation of charging and tolling nationally, so that there is a common national basis for the charge and the payment technology that allows for an interchangeability of charging technologies; toll revenue to be invested in the roads to which they apply; and finally, the declaration of new building programme, which requests for the Government to publish a long-term plan for investment in the roads network and identify proposed new routes on which tolling would be expected to be applied.
Bastidon’s presentation touched upon issues surrounding the revision of the euro-vignette, giving the audience a user’s perspective and outlining the expectations and needs of operators. She expressed that FTA members feel that when it comes to the euro-vignette, road pricing needs to be set on essential usage parameters, that tolls revenues should be reinvested in tolled infrastructure as a priority and there should not be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when implementing charges to reduce freight carbon emissions. Bastidon also shared the FTA members’ views on EETS, noting that often operators are forced to comply with various systems and technologies and they pass through countries, which manifests as an administrative burden. Therefore, members want an easy solution to reduce this, requiring a greater standardisation of technology. Likewise, Bastidon also pointed out the importance of having a cross-border exchange of data on toll evaders and that this should be extended to include neighbouring countries.
Associate director of ARUP, Padraig Kenny, and owner and CEO of BH Consulting, Brain Honan, spoke about the importance of cyber security, a topic that is applicable to everyone in the industry. Within road user charging, businesses are technology-based and continuously exchange great quantities of invaluable data- everything from personal customer data, to employee data, and financial data which includes credit card information. This is further emphasised by Global Risks Report 2016 which ranked cyber-attacks as the number one risk in the technology category. Currently, to tackle cyber security threats, two major legislations are due to come into action in May 2018. The European Union has created the Directive on security of network and information systems (NIS Directive) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), both are designed to promote Member States to be adequately protected and to allow individuals to control their personal data better.
Kenny and Honan’s presentation outlined the threats to be aware of and the how to ward against them. They highlighted the importance of cyber security, bringing to the audience’s attention as to how much data is to be gained from hacking transport systems, how invaluable data is and just how vulnerable systems are. Included in the presentation were examples of cyber security hacking: an example was made of a CEO who had her bonus chopped after she failed to prevent a cyber-attack, a delayed train service after hackers interfered with the signal, a modified television remote that was able to change track points on Polish Lodz tram system, and other examples of hacked traffic signs. Kenny and Honan concluded that the best way to secure data is to do a proper risk assessment, to think about where the data is stored, as well as how, and if, it can be hacked.
California’s RUC pilot
The Road User Charging Conference featured a speaker from California, Norma Ortega, deputy director of finance for California Department of Transportation. Ortega introduced and explained the existing issues that the state of California faces regarding the financing of infrastructure. The source of California’s funding for the maintained of its 50,000 lane miles of state and federal highways comes from the gas tax. However, this is on the decline, which puts the state under tremendous pressure to find a sustainable transportation funding mechanism to continue to fund its highways. In response to this, California launched a pilot road user charging scheme that has been in operation for the past nine months since being launched on the 1st of July 2016. To date, over 5,000 vehicles participated and driven over 28 miles, all representing the unique demographic, geographic and socio-economic aspects of the state. The primary aim of this pilot has been to test viability of a mileage-based user fee as an alternative to the gas tax.
Participants were offered a choice of three manual and two automated methods of recording and reporting miles driven, with eighty percent choosing automated reporting devices over manual options. Norma Ortega also provided some further figures, and said that, “based on a survey of participants, approximately 90 percent of are satisfied with their mileage reporting choice and have found it easy to participate”. Likewise, she added that participants “have voiced their pilot perceptions through periodic surveys with 83 percent reporting satisfaction with the overall pilot and their continued participation. While focusing on overall satisfaction, it is important to recognise that participants are continually engaging with the program team through surveys, providing opportunities to rate their satisfaction with various aspects of the pilot”. The pilot is due to end in March this year, and then all the research and feedback received will be compiled into a final report that will be submitted to the policy and fiscal Committees of the California Legislature, California Transportation Commission, and the Road Charge Technical Advisory Committee in July 2017.