Toll Insight spoke with Joseph Averkamp, Vice President, Systems and Solutions at Parsons Corporation.
1. In your career, you have accumulated experience and expertise in Connected Vehicles, Automated Vehicles, GPS, Wireless Systems, and Tolling Systems. Before tolling and ITS, you worked at Ford Motor Company, Motorola, and Sprint-Nextel. Tell us about some of your most rewarding roles or projects before and after joining our industry.
I began as an automotive engineer at Ford Motor Company responsible for vehicle instrument panels and electronic interior systems. I worked on design for electronic vehicle interiors on Ford, Lincoln, and Jaguar vehicles. Some of my most interesting times were spent in Coventry, England working with Jaguar engineers who were never quite convinced that they were making cars, but instead, they were making works of art. As an electrical engineer, I was excited about wireless communications systems, which was the emphasis of my study in college, so when the opportunity came to work at Motorola, I was thrilled. I ended up leading the business side at Motorola for a product line at General Motors that used wireless systems and GPS to make emergency calls, provide directions, find points of interest. This, of course, was the birth of OnStar, and it combined two things I loved— fast cars and wireless communications — with the latest cool thing, GPS. The late 1990s was an exciting time with the birth of the Internet, the growth of wireless networks, and the advent of GPS. We were inventing every day to launch that product, and it was an effort in which I am proud to have been involved. The system we deployed has enabled the arrival of first responders to be so much faster, reduced injuries, prevented fatalities, and made people’s lives better.
After that, I went to Sprint-Nextel, where my first role was to put the equivalent of OnStar on a phone. The FCC had required carriers to identify the location of callers to 911 operators, and we at Sprint, were in the middle of complying with that order. To that point, 911 operators never knew where the call was coming from, and through our efforts, we were able to deliver accurate location to speed the dispatch of police, fire, and ambulances. My team then took that core capability and created a line of business with maps, directions, GPS gaming — again, we were inventing new approaches every day, contributing to society, and earning a living doing what we enjoyed.
I left Sprint to move into government technology and have been working at “GovTech” ever since. I always say, I have had three phases to my career so far — Automotive, Wireless, and now, GovTech. Bringing technology to government clients has been challenging and interesting.
2. One of the things you are known for is facilitating great conferences, panels and workshops. Currently, along with IBTTA, you are planning a Technology Summit. Tell us about when that will take place and what will be covered.
We are currently planning the IBTTA Toll Technology Summit for early May. We were hoping it would be in-person but are now preparing for the summit to be all-remote. We want to cover the latest trends in tolling, such as conversions to All-Electronic Tolling. We also want to give attendees a perspective on technologies and emerging business models they may not see in their day-to-day job. This includes Connected, Automated, Shared, and Electric (CASE) vehicles, Mobility-As-A-Service, Congestion Pricing, Road User Charging solutions, Blockchain, Internet of Things, Cloud Computing, Vehicle-to-Vehicle and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure solutions. My goal with setting the program for the conference is to provide attendees some insight or expertise that they can take back to their day job and make meaningful changes. Hopefully, they can impress their boss.
3. Parsons is a firm that is known for ITS and traffic management solutions, but now, is increasingly playing a role in tolling and road pricing projects. Tell us about the growth and activity in this space and how the sets of solutions inter-play.
Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) typically involve Advanced Traffic Management Systems — either for freeways, toll roads or for traffic signal systems on arterials. These are designed to analyze traffic in aggregate, anonymously and measure speed and flow to then adjust, for example, traffic lights or dynamic message signs. Tolling, in contrast, involves identifying individual users and charging them for use of the facility.
To this point, these have been disparate and separate functions. But with the advent of Congestion Pricing and Road User Charging, all roads may potentially become user fee-based roads. Furthermore, you need ITS data to set the dynamic pricing for the highway, arterial, or toll road.
It is inevitable that intelligent transportation solutions and transaction charging systems will converge, or at a minimum, cooperate. Many ITS today are starting to use connected vehicle technology to send and receive data between the vehicle and the roadside. These same techniques can be used for tolling transaction messages — only the data exchanged is different. The technologies utilized are the same for safety, mobility, and transactions—this is what drives the convergence.
4. Specifically, tell us about your recently announced partnership with Neology.
Parsons is a long-established participant in the transportation industry — formed in 1944, Parsons has over 16,000 employees. Parsons has the resources and capabilities to bring technology solutions to market at scale — we do this in our federal business and our state and local businesses all the time. Neology is a small, agile technology company based in San Diego and brings significant tolling technical capability. Neology is the leading provider of 6C toll transponders and readers and offers automated license plate recognition, vehicle detection and classification, and many new innovations. In short, Neology brings the key technologies that can differentiate the Parsons-Neology team from others. We are excited about the partnership, since it combines the key strengths of the two companies — Parsons’ size and strength with Neology’s nimbleness and innovation.
5. Finally, as a person with varied and deep experience within our industry and beyond, tell us where you think tolling can and should realistically “go” in the next 3-5 years.
The tolling industry should provide the technology framework for the future of transportation transaction payments. With the move to electric vehicles and more fuel-efficient vehicles, the fuel tax is in trouble. Tolling has the structure to also support congestion pricing, and vehicle miles travelled fee programs. The tolling industry has the key components for these systems. Leverageable resources include toll hosts or operational back offices to assemble transactions as well as the account-based commercial back offices to charge road users. All the elements are in place, but they need to be modified to accept other forms of account identification. The industry needs to work with automakers and tech firms and be flexible in their approach to accepting payments for use of the toll road and other non-tolled facilities. This will mean embracing connected vehicles and other wireless solutions. The tolling industry is in the lead, since it has the capabilities to manage these services — with the right vision, and a coming together of the right players, tolling can set the pace for future transportation payment systems.