Toll Insight spoke with Doug Chastain, Chief Sales Officer (CSO) - North America at A-to-Be.
1. You recently joined A-to-Be. Please describe your role as CSO and how it's different from your previous focus areas.
My role as CSO here at A-to-Be is to ensure that our message of being a world class tolling integrator with over 40 years of direct tolling experience is delivered to the tolling community. I also think it is critical to communicate that A-to-Be is truly client-focused. On the day-to-day level, I lead our U.S. sales team and endeavor to be a trusted advisor to our clients at every stage of the sales and project management process, and I serve on A-to-Be’s executive committee.
My previous role was a blend of sales and operations management. I can now take those lessons I learned from day-to-day operational activities and integrate them into our overall strategy to drive innovation from the top down, as most directly applicable to our clients. Coming from decades in large corporations, I find A-to-Be to be uniquely nimble, where decisions are made quickly, and our clients’ satisfaction is at the top of all decisions we make.
2. Please tell us about the history of A-to-Be in the U.S. market.
A-to-Be’s history goes back more than 40 years in Europe, as the innovation and technology development arm of the Brisa concessionaire. Brisa manages most toll roads and bridges in Portugal as well as the Via Verde program (for which A-to-Be provides the back office technology); Via Verde currently has a tag account penetration rate of over 80% among all vehicles registered in Portugal.
A-to-Be has been in the U.S. market since 2008 with our first deployment for Northwest Parkway in Colorado, and we still maintain that system as of today. We currently have references in nine different states, including Washington, California, Colorado, Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, Indiana and Illinois, with deployments that range from roadside systems, BOS systems, RUC systems to Automatic Toll Payment Machines – all-in-all, representing 56 toll collection points on 258 lanes, totaling more than 129 million transactions per year. We have now delivered multiple tolling systems to both public and private agencies, and we are in the process of delivering others. I truly believe we have one of, if not the most modern, innovative, and versatile lane and BOS solutions currently on the market. We are growing our tolling business at a steady rate, with some recent major wins at the Indiana Toll Road (ITR), SH 130 in Texas, a new Virginia client and several bridges with United Bridge Partners. We have made significant investments in our U.S. business and team – we’ve added four senior colleagues in the last year in project management and maintenance – and we plan to grow and play an active role in this market for the long term.
3. What kind of new technologies is A-to-Be working on?
R&D has always been in our DNA, coming from the private concession world, and we invest millions of dollars in collaborations with universities each year – supporting RUC, V2X, 5G and other technologies. We’re currently part of several exciting trials within the E.U., including the TANGENT traffic optimization trial taking place concurrently in Lisbon, Portugal; Rennes, France; Manchester, UK; and Athens, Greece, and we are wrapping up the final phase of our 5G trials in the coming months. We’re also active in the C-ROADS connected vehicles trial, sponsored by the E.U.
We are working on several other advancements, which I think will be applicable to the tolling industry in the near term. For instance, we are progressing to improve all our current technologies such as video tolling, vehicle tracking and classification along with dynamic pricing and occupancy detection algorithms for managed lane scenarios. Another interesting new product we are currently trialing is our mobile application, BlueBee, based on Bluetooth technology, which will allow users to pay for their tolls as a potential replacement for transponders, as a complement for agencies to increase revenue assurance, or to combine with other mobile-first value-added services, like EV charging or parking.
4. How do you see the future of Bluetooth applying within the tolling industry?
We see our Bluetooth application as a complementary solution to any existing tolling system or as an alternative to a transponder-based system in the mid-to-long term. What I mean by complementary is that in addition to collecting the tolls via traditional methods such as AVI and video tolling, BlueBee will allow users a method to pay their tolls without any interaction, automatically as they drive under a toll gantry and avoid having to pay the higher cost of a pay-by-mail transaction. BlueBee works with an app, which delivers notifications but requires no interaction from the driver, and since it uses Bluetooth rather than OCR, it does not require so much time- and labor-consuming manual review. Most of the cars today have an infotainment system that includes Bluetooth functionality, so ultimately, it may not even be necessary to resort to the use of a smartphone-based application.
We have successfully tested this system in stop-and-go and low-speed environments and are currently working on testing for high-speed, AET-type environments.
5. What is your five-year vision for A-to-Be?
My five-year vision for the company is to, first-and-foremost, deliver all our projects on-time and to our clients’ satisfaction – this must be our primary objective if we want to continue to grow and establish ourselves as a primary mobility solution provider in the U.S. market. We are proud of our long-term client relationships, and we seek to always put them first.
As you probably already know, we are a major mobility player in Portugal and Europe with a long history of solutions that the U.S. market is striving for. For instance, we have been disruptive in developing and managing systems that allow customers to pay for multiple services with a toll tag or mobile phone, such as parking, fuel, EV charging, ferries and transit, pharmacy and even fast food! One of my goals is to bring these types of solutions, which have already been proven in the European market, to the U.S. market. Ultimately, we will always maintain our client first approach, and I hope that we’ll continue to be an increasingly prominent player in the U.S. tolling and mobility industries and continuously seen as a trusted partner to a growing list of clients.
Thank you, A-to-Be, for sponsoring Toll Insight!