Toll Insight spoke with Sean Tihal, Principal, Toll Systems and Operations for Stantec.
Stantec Inc. is an international professional services company in the design and consulting industry. Founded in 1954 in Edmonton, Alberta, Stantec provides professional consulting services in planning, engineering, architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, surveying, environmental sciences, project management, and project economics for infrastructure and facilities projects. The company provides services on projects around the world through over 22,000 employees operating out of more than 410 locations in North America and across offices in 6 continents internationally.
1. What initially interested you and brought you into the tolling industry?
I entered the toll industry purely by chance in 2001 when I first joined Stantec in New York City (which was then known as Vollmer Associates). I had just a year and a half of work experience after completing graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley (Go Bears!) and was on a quest to become a professional engineer. Vollmer had a rich history of electronic tolling, dating back to the original testing and selection of the E-ZPass® RFID technology vendor in the early 1990s and had led E-ZPass® implementations in West Virginia and at the Peace Bridge; they were also one of the nation’s premier traffic and toll revenue (T&R) forecasting firms. Some of my first tolling projects at Vollmer included a variety of toll plaza operational analyses and investment grade T&R studies. I had an interest in the environmental impact of transportation services and saw the benefits of electronic tolling to improve air quality by managing traffic congestion. Since 2003, my career has been fully dedicated to tolling and I have never looked back. I became part of a team led the introduction of E-ZPass® in the State of New Hampshire in 2005 and the State of Ohio in 2009, as well as over 20 other electronic tolling implementations across North America. This is an industry I am passionate about, and I have been lucky to work on some fun tolling projects thus far.
2. What sorts of tolling related services does Stantec offer?
Stantec is a national leader in transportation with specialized expertise in roadside and back office electronic tolling systems, toll operations analyses, T&R forecasting, toll facility design and traffic engineering. Our firm has almost a 45-year history of providing hands-on engineering and toll consulting services on a variety of high profile, successful projects throughout the United States and Canada. We offer a full range of toll consulting services from toll feasibility studies to investment grade T&R studies. Our T&R reports have been the basis for more than $61 billion in toll revenue bond sales.
Our enhanced tolling services include toll systems strategic planning, administrative rules and legislation preparation, CAPEX and OPEX cost forecasting, business rules and concept of operations development, request for proposal development, procurement assistance, system design and software development oversight, independent verification and validation testing, and system performance monitoring. Our staff members have supported toll agencies in over 30 U.S. states and 4 Canadian provinces to plan, procure, design, integrate, test, operate and maintain both roadside toll collection systems and back office systems that support electronic tolling. We also have extensive experience in toll facility design including Open Road Tolling conversions and new cashless tolling facilities including express lanes.
3. Which exciting projects are you currently involved with at Stantec?
I am currently involved in a number of transformational tolling projects which include the modernization of the Ohio Turnpike’s Toll Collection System and Customer Service Center that would introduce non-stop free flow tolling across the State of Ohio. I am also fortunate to be supporting the county I reside in (Kane County, Illinois) to implement cashless tolling on their new Longmeadow Parkway Toll Bridge, which will be the first ever toll facility for Kane County. I am also responsible for building Stantec’s Toll Systems and Operations practice and really enjoy the marketing and business development aspects of my work.
4. How do you see the tolling industry evolving over the next 5-10 years?
Notwithstanding technology developments in roadside toll collection systems, I believe more evolution is likely to occur in toll back office systems and services. The growing shift to non-stop and cashless tolling is putting more burden on toll agencies and their back offices to collect tolls from a larger number of unregistered customers (those who do not have a registered electronic toll account). Toll agencies just want to collect the tolls due and provide good customer service. They do not want to chase down payments from customers because of the considerable amount of time and energy required. In some respects, the toll industry has lagged developments in other service industries with regard to self-service payment options. I believe that most customers want to pay their tolls and toll agencies have to offer convenient payment methods, which varies by the type of customer and how frequently they use the toll facility. Many customers do not want to sign up for a new account and establish a new relationship. This is an opportunity for third party service providers that already have established financial relationships with unregistered tolling customers to step in and collect tolls from those customers for toll agencies. It is not that inconceivable for eventually using your Amazon Prime account to pay for tolls!
5. How do you see Stantec’s involvement in meeting those evolving industry needs?
There are a number of things we do uniquely well here at Stantec. These include accurately estimating the actual number of individual customers that use an agency’s toll facilities, which helps the agency to plan for the number of registered accounts to manage and the number of unregistered customers (not trips!) from whom they need to collect payment. What we have known for a long time and what toll agencies are realizing is that there are many more non-registered customers than registered customers since they travel much more infrequently. We bring pragmatic solutions to our toll clients, focusing on ways to lower toll collection costs and optimize net revenues.
Our tolling group is fortunate to be part of a larger Stantec community that unites more than 22,000 planning, engineering, project management, architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, environmental sciences and surveying specialists working in over 400 locations worldwide. As a full-service professional consulting firm, we collaborate across disciplines and industries to deliver practical and inventive solutions tailored to our clients’ specific needs. Our work always begins at the intersection of community, creativity, and client relationships. When we say community, we mean everybody with a stake in the work we do — from the clients we collaborate with, to the populations we reach, to the thousands of individuals working together to serve them.