Will Smartphone Telematics Fund Future Highway Projects?

smartphone-telematicsIn the old days, roads were free. You paid for your car; you paid for your license and registration. Some of the taxes you paid went toward road maintenance, and sure, occasionally you paid a toll. But for the most part, the asphalt under your wheels was complimentary. Now, that may be changing based on our country’s infrastructure problem.

As of 2013, America’s roads were earning a D+. That grade comes from the Infrastructure Report Card, in which the American Society of Civil Engineers assigns our infrastructure a letter grade every four years. At last review, the U.S. had “a significant backlog of overdue maintenance across our infrastructure systems, a pressing need for modernization, and an immense opportunity to create reliable, long-term funding.”

An immense opportunity for long-term funding? Certainly, more money is needed. “The Highway Trust Fund has been in dire straits the last few years, spending more than it’s taking in,” said Danielle Kurtzleben, an NPR contributor. “Because it gets its money from the federal gas tax, the trust fund has suffered as cars have grown more fuel-efficient and some Americans have cut back on their driving.”

Perhaps that’s why certain governments around the globe – including the U.S. – are considering electronic tolling solutions.

“The newly edited Electronic Toll Collection Global Study from PTOLEMUS Group finds that the pressures of urban congestion, falling fuel tax revenue, budgetary restrictions and low economic growth will force governments worldwide to implement some form of road pricing,” said PR Rocket. “These developments will see global revenues from road charging triple to over €170 billion by 2025.”

Electronic toll collection is an innovation that allows drivers to pay tolls without stopping. Those who are enrolled in a tolling program can simply cruise through the toll station while the device painlessly debits their account.

Painlessly, at least, is the goal. Road-charging schemes are generally hard to sell. No one is eager to start paying for something they’ve always had free access to. However, as the Economist Intelligence Unit pointed out, there are ways to make it work.

One of those ways is smartphone telematics, or more specifically, the array of value-added services that usage based insurance can be harnessed to deliver.

The idea isn’t entirely new. Italy’s electronic tolling system, TelePass, uses value-added services to sweeten the deal, including a members-only website, soon-to-roll-out alert services, and a cash-advance system for paying unexpected fines throughout Europe. In so doing, the program “demonstrated the success value added services can bring,” said PR Rocket. “More than 8 million customers have now voluntarily signed up to the scheme.”

Could electronic tolling be linked to smartphone telematics? The PTOLEMUS study would say yes, citing how value-added services such as usage based insurance could be used to improve public acceptance of such programs.

Could electronic tolling come to the U.S.? It may already be on its way. For example, the Oregon Transportation Commission is currently evaluating whether tolling is a good idea for Oregon, including electronic tolling.

If so – and if telematics is harnessed to facilitate the tolling transaction – perhaps it’s not so bizarre to imagine a future in which driver smartphones are instrumental in building and fixing our roads. To learn more about Driveway Software’s smartphone telematics technology, download our Fact Sheet.

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