Toll Insight spoke with Marissa Burkett, Strategy Consultant (Connected Mobility) at PTOLEMUS Consulting Group.
1. What initially interested you and brought you into the mobility domain?
This is going to seem like a stretch, but I first became interested in mobility while in graduate school, working on a project in Myanmar for the Myanmar Livestock Federation. My team and I were speaking to livestock associations who relayed to us issues with their cold-chain logistics, and the effects that the lack of refrigerated trucks had on health -- from the ability to transport pre-processed meat safely to the opportunity to receive necessary medications that required refrigeration. It was here where I learned about Project Last Mile, which is a USAID initiative that partners with Coca-Cola to use their cold-chain distribution networks to bring medicines to rural populations.
Going back in time a bit, my first job before graduate school was as an intern for the United Nations World Food Programme in Italy; so, I then became aware about the effect that logistics had on development issues – hunger, in particular. But again, in Myanmar was the first time that I truly realized the role that the private sector could play in addressing issues that the public sector could not. That was when I became interested in transport and mobility.
Many things I care about are supported by mobility topics in this way: connected and automated vehicles will increase road safety and lower the death toll, electric vehicles will decrease global emissions and help slow climate change, and road usage charging allows countries to maintain the infrastructure necessary to allow for the trade of goods required to bring populations out of poverty. These are all things I care about that mobility supports, so I am glad to be part of the industry. Also, I find automated vehicles to be fascinating and the opportunity to help design the transport systems of the future is very exciting.
2. Who is PTOLEMUS and how does your work relate to the tolling industry?
PTOLEMUS Consulting Group is a boutique strategy consultancy focused on connected and augmented mobility. Our fields of expertise include mobility services, vehicle services & telematics, usage-based charging (which includes electronic tolling, road usage charging, congestion charging, etc.), vehicle data & analytics, vehicle automation, and enabling technologies such as positioning technologies, Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X), etc. Though primarily consultants, we also produce market research on each of these topics to help our clients in their market knowledge and business intelligence and to maintain our industry knowledge in support of consulting activities.
In the tolling industry, we work with clients such as road operators and toll service providers on their strategies, new product definitions, business development, etc. We also advise governments on the development of new policies and programs. One example is that we advised the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management on two aspects of their new GNSS-based heavy vehicle road usage charge: whether they can rely solely on third-party toll service providers (European Electronic Toll Service providers) and regarding the impacts of new technologies such as smartphones and embedded devices.
3. Which mobility or technology trends do you think are most relevant for tolling?
For me, the move from traditional tolling to per-mile Road User Charging (RUC) is very interesting. These mileage-based charging schemes have existed in some parts of Europe for some time, but we are beginning to see new implementations at an increased rate. In recent years, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Russia have implemented GNSS-based schemes, to name a few. We expect to see new schemes in the Netherlands, Poland, and Lithuania in the near future.
In Asia, Singapore is converting its legacy Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system from Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC) to GNSS, potentially this year. New Zealand already offers an eRUC system, and Australia may follow suit, as they complete their Heavy Vehicle Road Reform plans.
In the U.S., the RUC pilots and programs popping up at the State level may ultimately be best implemented through positioning data from smartphones or in-vehicle GPS. Distance-based systems offer fairer road prices and ensure that investment is being collected for the entire road network. They also help recoup the cost of externalities of transport, such as pollution, noise, and congestion.
I am also pleased to see an increase in the implementation of Multi-Lane Free Flow (MLFF) systems. That is not only because they improve traffic conditions, but also because studies have shown that they reduce CO2 emissions related to time spent idling at toll booths. As the transport industry tries to decrease emissions to meet global climate goals, MLFF can play a part in reaching those goals.
4. Tell us about your recently published reports.
I recently managed the production of two reports that are related to tolling. The first one is called the Electronic Tolling Global Study - 2021. It is the third edition of this study and builds from a previous report published in 2019. The report covers 55 countries and within the United States, 14 States that have been exploring RUC or mileage-based user fees. It also addresses traditional and emerging tolling technologies, gives an overview of the value chain and major players in the ecosystem at the country level while exploring related legislation for each of the regions. At over 1000-pages, we like to think of it as the global tolling handbook.
The production of the report was a feat. My team and I interviewed over 60 stakeholders in the tolling business to assess the current state of the global market. It was fascinating to discuss the aspects of road charging with such a diverse group, in particular in countries that are at the crux of change, like the Netherlands for instance, or several African countries that are currently assessing the possibility of introducing electronic tolling to fund new roads.
I also think that this research brings great value to our consulting activities; because I oversaw the development of the entire report, I am positioned to answer very specific questions from anywhere in the world, such as about an aspect of tolling in Thailand, toll service providers in Brazil, or many other nuanced and regional issues. I think that it would be hard to have that level of global knowledge without 6 months of dedicated research on the topic.
The other report that is relevant to the tolling industry is our Connected Vehicle Payments report. This report, which I also led, is related to the emerging, embedded payment ecosystem. For the development of this report, we interviewed auto makers, connected vehicle platform providers, and payment providers to assess what the future of in-vehicle payments holds. We explore several use cases for these payments, from fuel and tolling to entertainment and repair.
5. Which other exciting projects are you currently involved with at PTOLEMUS?
While I cannot speak about our consulting engagements due to non-disclosure agreements, we do have several upcoming research reports of interest. I personally am leading the production of a report on commercial fleet telematics and fleet management services, which will look not only at on-road vehicles such as heavy goods vehicles but also will explore agricultural and construction fleets. I find this particularly interesting given my background in food security and am excited to more deeply explore how technology is making our farms more productive in the face of global hunger.
We are also speaking at some interesting upcoming conferences. In May, PTOLEMUS Research Director Andrew Jackson and I will be speaking at the Informa Tech Automotive Group Connected Vehicle Commerce Conference about the aforementioned Connected Vehicles Payments report. In September, our Managing Director, Frederic Bruneteau, will be chairing CiTTi Magazine’s Road User Charging Conference in Brussels. And we have ongoing work with the International Road Federation - most recently I participated in a RUC training course for those new to the industry.
I am excited to see what the future brings, including as countries re-assess their transportation models in the recovery from the pandemic. Hopefully, that will lead to some catalytic projects in the near future.