Toll Insight spoke with Norbert Schindler, CEO of GNSS Consulting.
1. Tell us about your professional background and the types of projects you have or are leading at GNSS Consulting?
After graduating from Carnegie Mellon with a Bachelors in Computer Science, I moved to Europe and started working at an AI Research Center in Vienna. Realizing how important academic titles are in Austria, I studied at the Technical University of Vienna for my Masters in Computer Science. Since receiving my degree, I am greeted as “Herr Diplomingeniuer” every time I visit a doctor or an administrative office, which is pretty amusing.
I continued working in Software Engineering for 10 years before moving to the telecommunications sector. This eventually led me to Kapsch, right after they won the contract for the Austrian Truck Tolling Scheme. In 2004, I joined the Siemens Electronic Tolling Team which was doing ground-breaking work in GNSS-based tolling. As Global Sales Manager at Siemens, I was involved in virtually all the nationwide tolling tenders in Europe.
In 2017, I left Siemens to start my company, GNSS Consulting, where I advise both large and small companies in the EU in the evaluation and development of satellite-based tolling solutions. I also have regular assignments as an independent expert for the European GNSS Agency (GSA), based in Prague. My most exciting on-going project is supporting a Swiss company, Daxer, that developed an electronic toll payment platform. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Europe, there is a great demand for paying tolling fees without having to drive to a point of sale, like a fuel station, and insert a payment card into a card reader. I also do a lot of interesting work for Scanfleet, the Toll Declaration Operator in Hungary, which has the highest performance record of all the service providers in the HU-GO system. Scanfleet was also the first operator to use European Electronic Tolling Service (EETS)-compliant On-Board Units (OBUs) in Hungary, since 2016.
2. What are some of the most notable or interesting GNSS tolling systems being deployed around the world today?
Each of the GNSS-based tolling systems that has been deployed so far is notable!
Germany was extremely bold in launching a nationwide truck tolling scheme on all 12,000 kilometers of motorways using GNSS. Toll Collectlaunched the German toll system in 2005, generating an average of €4 to €5 billion toll revenue each year.
Slovakia set a major new milestone in 2010 when Skytoll launched its nationwide truck tolling system that, for the first time, covered all major first-class roads in addition to the motorways. It also introduced the modern OBU, developed by Siemens, which integrated GSM, GNSS and DSRC (5.8 GHz Dedicated Short Range Communications) in one “plug and play” device that could be easily mounted on the windshield by any driver. This new OBU platform set the standard for today’s EETS OBUs. In 2013, Hungary launched its national truck tolling scheme called HU-GO, introducing the concept of “Toll Declaration Operators” that enabled 20 fleet management providers to use existing GPS-based telematic devices for tolling. This dramatically reduced the time and cost needed for system implementation.
The launch of Belgium’s truck tolling system in 2016 introduced the new era of EETS. For the first time, users of the toll road network could choose between the National Toll Provider Satellic or an independent international Toll Service Provider (TSP). Axxés of France offered the toll service from the very beginning, and there are now five accredited TSPs to choose from. Today, EETS providers supply interoperable OBUs that now work in several toll domains, both microwave-based and satellite-based: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal – with many other EU member states to follow this year.
The largest GNSS-based toll system to date is the Russian Platon system which launched its distance-based charge for trucks in 2015. The tolled road network applies to all national roads of the Russian Federation, having a total length of 50,000 km. Platon OBUs take advantage of the Russian GLONASS (GLObalnaya NAvigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema), which has been in full constellation since 2010.
In India, the National Highway Authority recently announced its plans to replace all its toll plazas with a “new GPS-based toll collection system” within two years. India will, of course, want to use its Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), also known as NavIC, especially since NavIC-based trackers are already compulsory for commercial vehicles. If India really migrates to a tolling solution based on GNSS (or IRNSS), virtually all the 300 million registered vehicles would be equipped with a GNSS-based tolling device!
In late January 2021, Indonesia announced that it awarded a 10-year contract to a Hungarian consortium to replace toll booths on the entire tolled road network with a multi-lane free-flow solution using satellite positioning. Indonesia will profit from the experience of the HU-GO system to toll all vehicles (except motorcycles) on a network of up to 6,000km.
3. How do you see GNSS technology advancing and improving in the next 3-5 years and what implications does that have for tolling?
When Germany launched its GNSS-based tolling system, the OBU cost was about €500 – and it had to be installed by authorized professionals. These days, an EETS-compliant OBU costs no more than €100 for a Toll Operator or TSP, and in a few years, the cost of an OBU will surely be less than €50 (which is what microwave tags were being sold for just 15 years ago). Unless the intent is to only toll an individual bridge or tunnel, for example, GNSS is becoming an increasingly attractive alternative. In the Czech Republic, the infrastructure-intensive DSRC tolling system has been removed after just 12 years of operation. The new GNSS-based tolling system covers twice the size of the microwave-based system, eliminates traffic diverting to parallel roads to avoid tolls, and thus generates more toll revenue – while at the same time reducing cost. This year, Poland will also abandon its microwave infrastructure, after just 10 years of operation, as it migrates to a GNSS-based solution that is being tested right now.
Meanwhile, the move towards All-Electronic Tolling (AET) in North America is a great step forward, but it is interesting to observe that microwave-based gantries are now being built for AET in many locations around the US while, in Europe, the same type of tag and beacon infrastructure is increasingly being replaced by GNSS solutions.
As with DSRC-based solutions, also GNSS-based systems need to make sure that reliable enforcement is in place, but the cost of enforcement is independent of the front-end technology. For example, the microwave-based toll system in Austria has about 100 enforcement gantries and 30 mobile enforcement vehicles for a toll network of 2,200 km. Neighboring Hungary also installed approximately 100 enforcement gantries and operates 45 mobile enforcement vehicles on its satellite-based toll network of 6,500km, a much larger system than Austria’s.
We are now far more advanced with GNSS positioning accuracy compared to 2005 when Germany based its tolling solution on GPS receivers that could not easily determine whether a vehicle was on a tolled motorway or on a parallel road. Multi-constellation GNSS receivers are now readily available and affordable, thanks to the advancement of GLONASS, Galileo, and most recently China’s BeiDou system. Today, multi-frequency and multi-constellation GNSS receivers reach sub-meter accuracy. Although they are still costly, receivers having high accuracy will become more affordable when they hit the mass market in the next few years.
4. You also are a Technology Editor in the Thinking Highways Magazine. Tell us about this magazine and the types of issues you are currently covering.
Thinking Highways was launched at the 2006 ITS World Congress and has established itself as one of the three most influential publications in the advanced traffic management sector. It reports on the latest developments and viewpoints from the unique position of having one foot inside the industry and one foot outside, allowing for independent and unbiased reporting. The magazine covers all aspects of intelligent transport systems, electronic toll collection, smart mobility, smart cities, and advanced traffic management; it reaches more than 14,000 transport and mobility professionals with its multimedia digital platform. My focus is on tolling, in particular satellite tolling, although more recently, I have also started reporting on Mobility as a Service (MaaS), which appears to be of the most disruptive movements in the mobility sector right now.
5. What do you think in general about the future of tolling technology for both commercial and passenger vehicles? What are we likely to see succeed versus continue to be challenged?
I believe that in the coming years, the cost of a GNSS-OBU will drop to a level of €25 to €50 and that many vehicles will come equipped with GNSS-based, telematics devices that can also be used for tolling. Therefore, the cost of satellite-based OBUs will not differ much from that of conventional microwave tags. That means that one of the main cost-differentiators for electronic tolling schemes will be that of roadside infrastructure, where GNSS-based solutions can have a clear advantage.
A big question we are about to face, I think, is whether smartphones can realistically replace proprietary tolling devices. There is a clear advantage to having a plug-and-play GNSS device installed in every vehicle that meets the standards and service levels required by a toll operator – especially one that cannot easily be manipulated to avoid paying distance-based fees. Downloading a software app on any smartphone model that may be sitting in a driver’s pocket or handbag before, during, and after a trip (and might run out of power somewhere on the way), would – if nothing else – keep call centers extremely busy.