Toll Insight spoke with Michael Kolb, Vice President - Tolling for Gannett Fleming.
Gannett Fleming is a global infrastructure firm that provides planning, design, technology, and construction management services for a diverse range of markets and disciplines. With more than 2,500 individuals across a global network of 60 offices, the firm has played a part in shaping infrastructure in more than 65 countries, specializing in transportation, environmental, water, power, and facility-related projects. Gannett Fleming embraces sustainability and innovation in their projects and internal activities. Founded in 1915 and based in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania USA, the firm is consistently ranked among the most prestigious engineering firms.
1. What initially interested you and brought you into the tolling industry?
My background is in Computer and Information Science. I was a software developer/project manager (PM) consultant at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ or simply “PA”) since 1989. In 1994, I was managing the deployment of a Maintenance Management Information System (MMIS), which was used to maintain the infrastructure at the Metropolitan New York area airports, tunnels, bridges, and port facilities. The client PM I reported to was getting involved in the PA's E-ZPass project and asked me to work with him. At first, I declined as I wanted to devote my time to wrapping up the MMIS project. However, the client PM convinced me that it would be a fun and interesting project and that I could still wrap up the MMIS while getting up to speed on what E-ZPass was all about.
Right away, the E-ZPass project really appealed to me with its blend of operations, business, and technology; I've been hooked ever since. In the late 90's, I joined Stan Weiss who had started Traffic Technologies, Inc. (TTI), and we grew the company to over 20 tolling professionals. Last year, TTI was acquired by Gannett Fleming, and this has stepped up our ability to service our customers with both a deeper and broader bench of skilled professionals.
2. How have you seen the industry adapt through your years of experience?
Since I started in the industry in 1994, there has been an incredible amount of change and adaptation. On the technological side, we have seen the advent of multiprotocol readers and transponders, vastly improved image capture equipment and vehicle classification sensors. We've seen the implementation of Open Road Tolling (ORT), All-Electronic Tolling (AET) and regional tolling programs such as E-ZPass that have helped make tolling across large swaths of the country seamless. And, we've seen the adoption of National Interoperability (NIOP) standards that will allow this regionality to expand across the country. But what really stands out, to me, is the tremendous growth I've seen in toll agency staff's knowledge about the industry and their technical acumen. That is what has really forced me to stay on my toes. I try to instill in our Tolling Practice staff that it’s not enough to be knowledgeable about the current technology and business of tolling - our customers already are; we need to keep ahead of the curve and think about where the technology and business of tolling needs to go to continue the improvements we have seen over the years.
3. What do you see as the key further change drivers looking forward over the next 5-10 years?
There are a couple of drivers that stand out for me: Connected/Automated/Shared/Electric (CASE) vehicles and Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) which, in some ways, are connected (pun intended).
The advent of CASE vehicles is going to have significant impacts on the concept of vehicle ownership and who is paying for what. As electric vehicle usage grows, the gas tax will become less and less able to support infrastructure's needs. This will necessitate a shift to more applicable and equitable roadway pricing models such as Road Usage Charging (RUC). Since CASE vehicles may not be owned by the passenger, there will need to be a mechanism for the vehicle owner to pass along these charges to the customer/passenger. This will have natural ties to MaaS, whereby the customer wants to plan and pay for a door-to-door trip without concern for the various players involved.
For the toll industry, this could mean a shift in how they look at the customer and how they manage this customer relationship, if at all. In the past, toll agencies did not know much about their actual customers. The customer paid cash and was, essentially, anonymous to the agency. Today, toll agencies, by necessity, establish a strong connection to the customer. For many toll agencies, this is an effort and cost they would prefer to avoid. CASE and MaaS can provide a means for the toll agency to offload that effort and cost to the private sector and to focus on the services at which the excel - building and managing infrastructure.
4. Can you elaborate on the motivation for and current status of national tolling interoperability in the U.S.?
Interoperability has always been a goal of the toll industry. The E-ZPass Group was established in 1990, one year after the first Electronic Tolling Collection facility went live, recognizing that interoperability was critical to its success. The industry's focus in the early years was on regional interoperability - that is where they got the most bang for the buck. This resulted in groups such as E-ZPass, California Toll Operators Committee (CTOC), SunPass and others that addressed the needs of regional travelers.
While those programs have enjoyed huge success over the years, there have been a few customers who wanted more: the trucking industry and a contingent of inter-regional travelers such as snowbirds on the East Coast.
There have been many challenges to realizing national interoperability (NIOP) but the toll industry, led by IBTTA, has done a great job in tackling the issue head-on. This has resulted in the development of a set of NIOP business rules and a NIOP Interface Control Document (ICD) that would allow the regions to be interoperable. And the vendors that support the industry have also risen to the challenge with the development of multiprotocol transponders and readers that allow toll agencies great flexibility in how they implement interoperability.
The Central U.S. and Southeastern states have each implemented regional "Hubs" to facilitate interoperability in their regions, and the E-ZPass Group currently has a procurement underway for an E-ZPass Interoperability (EZIOP) Hub. Likewise, the Western states have begun work on a Hub to service their region. Linking these four Hubs will provide the means for full national interoperability and is something we can hope to see in the next few years.
But, toll agencies have not stood still - the E-ZPass Group continues to grow with the addition of Florida's Turnpike Enterprise and the other Florida toll agencies, Georgia and Minnesota providing customers with a unified, interoperable system that will cover a large proportion of the country.
I have been proud to be involved in many of these efforts, including my participation in the development of the NIOP business rules and ICD, the authorship of the E-ZPass ICD, multiprotocol Automated Vehicle Identification (AVI) technology testing, and Gannett's role supporting the development of the Western Hub as well as our role leading the E-ZPass Hub procurement on behalf of the E-ZPass Group.
5. Which exciting projects are you currently involved with at Gannett Fleming?
That has the potential to be a long list! I guess the two projects that stand out right now are the E-ZPass Hub procurement currently underway and the NY Central Business District Tolling Program (CBDTP) also known as NYC Congestion Pricing.
The CBDTP system will be the first of its kind in the country, and there are many other cities eager to see how it goes as they investigate their own congestion mitigation strategies. Gannett Fleming was brought in as a peer review consultant, and we have been involved in a detailed review of the RFP, review of proposals, review of system design and are now participating in system testing efforts. TransCore, the selected system provider, has developed some novel approaches to solving the problems associated with tolling in a congested urban setting, and it has been fascinating to watch the design evolve while contributing to this effort.