One of Australia’s largest tollways, EastLink, takes a look at the achievements of Australia’s tolling industry to date, and the future convergence of connected autonomous vehicles, tolling and road user charging.
Achievements of the Australian tolling industry
EastLink’s 40km road network is the largest privately operated network in Victoria. EastLink is the major north-south transport artery in Melbourne’s east, connecting the Eastern, Monash, Frankston and Peninsula Link Freeways.
Australia has 17 world-class toll roads with more under construction or planned. Every toll road in Australia operates with multi-lane free-flow technology. Tolling plazas, kiosks, coin baskets and boom gates have been eliminated from the nation.
Almost uniquely in the world, Australia has 100 per cent tag interoperability. Any tag, issued by any tolling operator, can be used on any toll road in the country. Every day, operators exchange the latest data about Australian tags. A tag beeps correctly whichever toll road it’s on. Operators even exchange licence plate details, so that if a tag transaction fails, for example the tag is not fitted correctly, the correct toll is still applied to the tag account.
EastLink Corporate Affairs and Marketing Manager, Doug Spencer-Roy, said, “Australian tolling systems operate with a relatively high performance. EastLink’s tolling system alone processes more than 1.2 million toll point transactions per day. The system consolidates these toll point transactions into a quarter of a millions trips per day.”
18 per cent of trips on EastLink have no valid tag. Instead, images are taken of the vehicle’s licence plates. Well over 90 per cent of these licence plate images are read fully automatically, with less than 10 per cent proceeding to manual verification by an image processing operator. This is despite the vehicles travelling at 100km/hr day and night, in all-weather conditions, and the myriad of licence plate formats and colours on Australian roads.
“After account, trip pass and toll invoice payments have been received, less than one per cent of trips on EastLink remain as unpaid debts,” Mr Spencer-Roy said.
Over the years, the tolling industry has made huge strides in improving customer services. At EastLink, 94 per cent of accounts receive electronic statements instead of paper. 62 per cent of account customers have set up fully automatic payment, significantly improving the customer experience.
“The EastLink website now receives more than 25,000 user sessions per day. This compares to EastLink’s Melbourne-based call centre operators, who receive less than a tenth of that volume in calls,” Mr Spencer-Roy said.
29 June 2018 is the 10th anniversary of EastLink’s opening. EastLink GM Information Technology, Bill Advic, said, “Over ten years, systems start to become obsolete. EastLink’s original back office tolling system had become too expensive to maintain, was near end of life, and would no longer be supported by the vendor. The decision was made to replace it with a new tolling system implemented by SICE, the Spanish-based international ITS provider.”
The cut over to the new tolling system was relatively seamless. The original tolling system was suspended last year on Friday 19 May. And the new system was progressively started up just two days later. No toll charges were lost during the transition.
“Almost exactly one year after switching to the new system, software development defects – which are inevitable in a project of this size – have been resolved,” Mr Advic said.
“Customers and staff have become accustomed to the new features and business rules that were implemented with the new system. Once again it’s business as usual for EastLink, and we are turning our thoughts and efforts to new opportunities for improving the customer experience using the new tolling system.”
Potential for tolling improvements in the shorter term
For infrequent tollway users who have video accounts rather than tags, there is usually only interoperability within each state. A video account from a Victorian operator can’t be used to pay for a trip in New South Wales or Queensland, for example.
“There is no technical impediment to achieving 100 per cent video account interoperability. EastLink believes that it’s time for the industry to close this gap for infrequent users,” Mr Spencer-Roy said.
“In Victoria, a casual user can buy EastLink trip passes and CityLink 24 hour passes. Some might be confused by the fact these passes work in quite different ways. And if a casual user drives on CityLink and EastLink within the space of a few days they need to buy these passes from separate websites.
“If a casual user chooses to wait for toll invoices, separate invoices are sent by EastLink and CityLink, which need to be paid separately. With more tollways coming to Victoria in the future, the risk is more confusion for casual users. EastLink believes the industry players in Victoria should work together to find ways to make it easier for casual users.”
While less than one per cent of trips on EastLink are unpaid, there is recognition that tolling and infringement debts often accumulate in cases where the vehicle registration authority has out-of-date or incomplete post, phone and email contact details for the owner of a vehicle. In these cases, toll invoices, overdue notices and infringement notices may not be delivered to the owner.
“We ask that registration authorities consider new measures to improve the quality of contact details for the owners of vehicles,” Mr Spencer-Roy said.
Increasingly, stolen and cloned number plates are a burden. In many cases, the stolen or cloned number plate is fitted to a vehicle of the same make, model and colour as the original vehicle.
In these circumstances, it is unreasonable to expect a toll road operator to be able to determine whether a vehicle is the original vehicle or the illegal vehicle.
“Motorists who report their licence plate cloned or stolen should be issued with a new licence plate by the registration authority, and the original licence plate number should be cancelled. Banks don’t let customers continue to use credit cards
whose details have been compromised. Registration authorities should take the same approach with licence plate numbers,” Mr Spencer-Roy said.
A future vision for connected autonomous vehicles, tolling and road user charging
EastLink Managing Director, Charles Griplas, said, “The EastLink concession continues until 2043. There are going to be many changes during this time.”
Late last year, EastLink conducted the inaugural Annual Victorian Self-Driving Vehicle Survey. More than 15,000 Victorian motorists completed the survey, making it one of the world’s largest surveys of attitudes to self-driving cars.
“The results show that Victorian motorists are looking forward to change,” Mr Griplas said.
- More than half of respondents are no longer considering a traditional petrol combustion engine for their next car
- A third of respondents are now considering hybrid power as an option for their next car
- A quarter are considering the 100 per cent battery electric vehicle option. Is Australia now ready to set a final date for the sale of new petrol/diesel cars in favour of hybrid and 100 per cent battery electric vehicles?
- More than half of respondents want lane keeping assistance (also known as highway autopilot) in their next car, which should encourage manufacturers to continue to roll this out, and other driver assistance features, and ensure they work effectively on our freeways
- Even though hands-free driving on our freeways is not yet available, one in three respondents already want this feature in their next car
- The majority of respondents want their next car to be connected to a data network to receive traffic and road condition warnings, vehicle security and automatic emergency assistance
“It’s now up to vehicle manufacturers, road operators, governments and others to work together and deliver the changes that motorists are pushing for,” Mr Griplas said.
Scenario 2028 – ten years from today
Let’s take a look at a future scenario, ten years from today, envisioned by EastLink. It’s 2028. Connected autonomous vehicles make up a third of the vehicle fleet.
Most of these are privately owned SAE Level 3 vehicles — able to drive themselves, legally, on freeways and major highways without driver supervision. However, the driver still needs to take control of the vehicle in more difficult situations such as urban streets.
In 2028, some of the latest luxury vehicles have SAE Level 4 capabilities. On the most common journeys, such as to and from work, they have self-learned to drive completely autonomously.
By 2028, fully self-driving SAE Level 5 cars have started to appear in Melbourne and other state capitals, with vehicle sharing providers taking the lead. These vehicles don’t have a steering wheel or driving controls. Their range is limited to metropolitan areas that have been mapped in very high resolution, such as with LIDAR. However, they are very popular with younger people, who are increasingly not bothering to get driving licences.
In 2028, the proportion of connected autonomous vehicles is growing rapidly, as only connected autonomous vehicles can be imported. In this scenario, connected autonomous vehicles will make up more than half of the vehicle fleet a few years after 2028. So transport planning becomes geared towards connected autonomous vehicles. This includes tolling.
By 2028, tolling tags are no longer issued for connected autonomous vehicles. Instead, connected autonomous vehicles track themselves across the road network, and on-board apps calculate the tolls that apply to the vehicle’s travel. The on-board apps are able to do this using the full range of precision location-awareness technologies embedded in connected autonomous
vehicles, such as GPS and LIDAR maps.
Payment arrangements can be set up and administered via the on-board app. The on-board app does most of the work that is done by today’s centralised tolling systems — a “fringe processing” model.
By 2028, tolling gantries, tolling tags and image capture of licence plates are only used for older legacy vehicles. With legacy vehicles set to be in the minority, plans are developed to remove tolling gantries from tollways in the years following 2028. All legacy vehicles will receive a mandatory tolling and road user charging OBU (on board unit) comprising GPS, SIM card and mobile data connection.
At the same time, connected autonomous vehicles receive updated apps to include road user charging.
From 2028, some lanes on freeways become dedicated to connected autonomous vehicles driving in autonomous mode, with platooning to unlock capacity gains.
Scenario 2038 – twenty years from today
Another ten years pass, and EastLink envisions that by 2038 most legacy vehicles are off the roads, helped by “cash for clunkers” programs. SAE Level 4 and 5 vehicles make up the majority of the vehicle fleet.
Private vehicle ownership will be declining, replaced by vehicle sharing. Around 2038, freeways and highways will be reconfigured.
One or two painted lanes in each direction will be used by the remaining human driven vehicles and the earlier generations of connected autonomous vehicles that are dependent on painted lane markings. The rest of the roadway will be unpainted.
From 2038, virtual lanes will be managed in real time by a terrestrial traffic control system communicating directly to connected autonomous vehicles. Tidal lanes and high occupancy lanes will be created and removed by the traffic control system as traffic volumes require. During peak hours, the traffic control system reduces speeds to allow more virtual lanes to be fitted into the same space.
The 2038 traffic control system will be able to direct controlled amounts of self-driving vehicle traffic, at lower speeds, through side streets, to take advantage of unused capacity while not impacting safety or local amenity.
The tolling industry needs to be up for the challenges ahead
“Of course, none of us can predict accurately what will happen in 2028 or 2038,” Mr Griplas said.
“But this is going to be a fascinating journey, bringing together connected autonomous vehicles, ITS, tolling and road user charging, full of technical and commercial challenges.
“The tolling industry needs to be up for these challenges, if it’s going to continue to keep Australia moving through the forecast population growth.”