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Opinion piece

“Due in part to the technological milestones marking the evolution of revenue collection, the lines between various revenue collection policies – tolling and road usage charging – may seem to have blurred”

Over the past 50 years we have seen toll collection progress

from manual to mechanical to semi-automated (eg, coin and card machines) to fully automated (eg, tag-and-beacon DSRC and video systems). For customers, this evolution has gone from “stop, wait, and go” to “pause and go” to, most recently, “free flow” (or all-electronic tolling) through toll- ing points or gantries. Many believe that by coupling wireless communications with location-based services enabled by global navigational satellite systems, we have already jour- neyed into a world capable of virtual tolling anywhere, any- time and any day. Due in part to the technological milestones marking the

evolution of revenue collection, the lines between various revenue collection policies – tolling and road usage charg- ing – may seem to have blurred. Some writers have used the terms ‘tolling’ and ‘road user charging’ more or less inter- changeably. We disagree. The purpose of this article is to clearly define the similarities and differences between the two concepts. Understanding the differences can help policy makers develop successful RUC business models and pass RUC-enabling legislation.

SIMILARITIES Road user or usage charging and tolling have many similari- ties. Both include collection of revenues for usage of roads or facilities. The collection of tolls and road usage charges involve account management and options for payment. Both are intended to raise revenue for transportation purposes, often dedicated to the roads from which they are collected. Both may use manual, semi-automated, or fully automated services and technologies to assist in the collection of pay- ments. Both involve compliance and enforcement measure to ensure acceptable levels of revenue are captured. Both require customer service be provided for the toll or charge payers. Both concepts also influence motorists to plan their trips and modes of travel more effectively. The most impor- tant similarity between tolling and road usage charging is that both have the goal of generating revenues. Road usage charging and tolling are similar, but different. They differ, though, in how revenues are spent. For tolling,

NOTE 1 Florida Transportation Indicators, Florida Department of Transportation, Office of Policy Planning, 2009. 2 ibid

North America Vol 8 No 3

the primary use of toll revenues is for design, construction, operations and maintenance, and debt servicing of the tolled road for a specific period of time usually measured in dec- ades. The profits of toll operations are usually reinvested into road expansions and other facility enhancements, if owned and operated as a government facility. Private toll road profits can be used as investments in other facilities in the same geographic area or elsewhere in the world. Road usage charges or RUC, on the other hand, are collected from all roads in a geographic area or jurisdiction such as a state or province. Like fuel taxes, revenues are meant to pay for the upkeep, enhancement and expansion of the entire non-tolled road network and mobility in the jurisdiction.

DIFFERENCES From the similarities between RUC and tolling, it is easy to conflate the two concepts and conclude that they are two instances of the same policy, to be treated similarly. However, the two concepts diverge radically in other ways: • Scale • Rate • User choice • Technology • Suitability for value-added services

The most striking difference is scale. Even in jurisdictions that have many toll facilities, tolling covers a small proportion of the entire road network. Tolling typically involves a specific road, bridge, or tunnel. In some cases these toll facilities may intersect or be connected to form a series of roads that each collects a toll. I-95 in the Northeast of the US or the French toll road system are examples of networks of toll facilities. One consequence of the difference in physical scale of the

two systems is that the overhead cost of collection for tolling technology (toll tag readers, enforcement cameras, classifica- tion equipment, etc.) for tolling systems does not scale down as the system is expanded, whereas the cost of IT for RUC does scale down. That is because RUC simply requires stor- age and computing power – little or no roadside infrastruc- ture. Tolling would be prohibitively expensive to implement on all but the roads and highways with the highest traffic lev- els, whereas RUC can be implemented on all roads in a state. In addition to scale in size, the number of users of toll

facilities in a state is relatively small compared to the entire vehicle population in a state with road usage charging 43

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