The global open-road electronic toll collection market is showing immense growth, primarily due to the increasing demand for effective, innovative solutions to traffic congestion. Technological advancements - particularly digitalisation and automation – are major factors stimulating this demand.
At the same time, more funds are being made available by governments the world over to implement intelligent, automated transportation systems. Added to this is the surging demand for improved, safe and secure road infrastructure.
While tolls have existed in some form or another since antiquity, where fees were levied on passing travellers - be they on foot, wagon, or horseback - their prominence only really increased with the advent of motorisation.
Before that, original turnpikes (spiked barriers) used in the 15th century were placed across roads to prevent sudden attack by men on horseback. It is fair to say the world’s original toll collection methods were crude and somewhat drastic.
Luckily, today’s open-road electronic toll collection systems have, through innovation, largely eliminated the need for manual operation by toll payers and toll receivers. In so doing, travel times have not been compromised, human errors have been limited and money has been saved through enhanced efficiencies.
Apart from the convenience of not having to stop - or even slow down - time is money, and this is why open-road tolling (ORT) is the best option for private road users and businesses alike.
The fact is: ORT systems simplify and speed-up toll collection, which are especially important factors on highways and in urban areas like Gauteng.
Gauteng is the powerhouse of the South African economy, contributing around 34% to the country’s total economic output in 2016, according to provincial gross domestic product (GDP) figures released by Stats SA. For perspective, Gauteng’s nominal GDP figure that year was roughly the same size as that of Morocco.
World-class transport infrastructure is required to support and maintain Gauteng’s enviable economic position. This explains why the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) features one of the largest electronic toll collection systems for ORT in the world, with the tolls collected solely used for the payment and maintenance of the improved road network.
The GFIP was designed in such a way as to ensure that Gauteng has road transport infrastructure that can support its planned growth trajectory.
Apart from its impressive scale, Gauteng Open-Road Tolling (GORT) is a cornerstone tolling project from a technical perspective. Its state-of-the-art collection services and cashless, electronic toll points have increased road user mobility in Gauteng, while allowing goods and people to move quickly and efficiently across the economic heartland of South Africa.
The efficient movement of people, goods and products at speed is only possible when a well maintained, well managed and free-flowing transport system is used.
Furthermore, the seamless movement of vehicles assists with the personal safety of motorists. And the GORT system itself is less susceptible to theft than traditional toll plazas.
As an added benefit, the e-tolling system in Gauteng has been integrated with conventional toll plazas in the GORT environment, which allows users a single view of all tolling products.
Moreover, the GORT system has a reduced impact on the environment, since the amount of exhaust gas emissions that would otherwise be emitted from idling vehicles has been curtailed. Any motorised vehicle uses more fuel when they stop and start up again, compared to when they maintain their travelling velocity.
Darewees Taliep, service transition manager at Electronic Toll Collection (Pty) Ltd (ETC) - the company that develops and operates e-tolls in Gauteng - says e-tolling incorporates several innovative technologies.
These include the likes of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications) and video analytics.
“All of the technologies managed by ETC are innovative in their own rights,” he states. “When it comes to the GORT project, vehicles are identified either through their license plates via Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology, or through an electronic tag (e-tag) fitted inside a vehicle,” Mr Taliep explains.
Apart from identifying vehicles, real-time number plate recognition plays another important role: It assists law enforcement by helping maintain traffic rules.
“RFID technology is incorporated into the e-tags, while DSRC is used to detect e-tags wirelessly when vehicles pass under gantries. All communications are securely managed through encryption keys, which guarantee the integrity of transactions,” continues Mr Taliep.
“Innovative camera technology determines whether a vehicle is required to pay the toll and, if so, automatically calculates the amount to be paid. These cameras, which are mounted to the gantries, record video and, at the same time, capture high-quality pictures from three different angles,” he says.
From a performance perspective, the e-tolling system in Gauteng is proven to handle approximately 550 000 transactions an hour (155 per second). On average and in normal operations, some 2.7 million e-tolling transactions are processed daily, thanks to the data centre that is equipped with a 40GB network. This network also has a storage throughput of 32GB and a 12GB data backup capability.
The technologies and infrastructure deployed as part of the GORT system are bleeding edge. “This is fully scalable infrastructure which can be used as a central traffic hub, and where value-added services can be bolted on with relative ease.”
GORT’s data collection abilities can furthermore be used to assist with Average Speed over Distance policing efforts.
As part of the GORT project, SANRAL’s i-Traffic initiative allows anyone to view the current usage of the highway online. GFIP roads are also monitored 24/7 for accidents, breakdowns and abnormal activities, with SANRAL response units dispatched wherever needed.
Furthermore, the free mobile app from SANRAL allows road users the freedom to top up and verify their e-toll account on their mobile device.