Modern Fare Collection

Let's call it a "fareway" instead of a "toll road,"
a "fare lane" instead of a "HOT lane".

Webster's defines "fare" as "the sum paid or due for transportation". In contrast, a "toll" is a "tax imposed for some privilege or other consideration". We think "fareway" is the appropriate alternative to "freeway." A single lane can also use this technology. This would be a "fare lane." It should be relatively easy, politically, to convert HOV lanes to fare lanes.

How it works

A small plastic case, called a "tag" (shown below) either attaches to the vehicle, or is placed on the dashboard. The tag contains information in an electronic memory that is transmitted to roadside "readers" using radio frequencies. There are two methods:

Both methods should be used, to give people a choice.

The readers do not have to charge the same rate to all vehicles. Trucks and buses should be charged more. If a new lane were constructed, users of that lane should be charged for the lane construction.

Most important, the fare per mile can frequently change to keep traffic flowing at an optimum speed, thus eliminating congestion. The current rate would always be displayed by variable signs (as is now done on bus destination signs). In fact, computers will have all the information to control traffic flow by using congestion pricing, also called demand pricing. Computers can also signal a stall or an accident.

Sensors underneath the roadway read the tag (right).

What about privacy?

Anyone or any organization can stand on the side of the road today and write down the license plate of all passing vehicles, and put it in a computer or the Internet. The use of tags will not abridge privacy because:

For those concerned with the possibility of linking credit card information to travel, they can mail in a check or money order as advance payment.

Some tags, called "read-write" tags, are both readable and modifiable. However, they are more expensive, so fare collecting agencies have decided to use the "read-only" tags. Like any prepay ticketing, including BART or phone cards, "read-write" tags are completely anonymous. The difference is that the tag is read and modified on the go --just by passing by instead of inserting. The tag is completely reusable and by inserting into a pay machine, the value of the tag can be increased by putting in money or a credit or bank card. Unlike "read-only" tags, these "read-write" tags contain a long-life lithium battery.

How is collection enforced?

Two methods exist for catching fare evaders:

1) Automatic method: modify recently-installed systems for automatically "ticketing" speeding vehicles by mail (e.g., City of Campbell). Fare-evaders have their "picture" taken. (Fare-evaders are vehicles delinquent on their utility bill, without tags or with zero-value "read-write" tags.)

2) Roving inspector method: The light rail and trolley fare collection in Sacramento, San Diego, and Santa Clara Counties all use a system of roving inspectors who check tickets randomly. (MUNI is estimated to save over $1 million a year by switching to this system.) This system has been used for decades in Europe and Japan. The systems actually make a profit on people who get caught evading the fare. The fine for fare evasion, payable on the spot, is typically 50 times the cost of the fare.

Catching fare evaders on fareways is even easier. For transit, a roving inspector must check the tickets of all transit riders that he passes; but for fareways, a portable computer displays if fare evasion is occurring, and fare-evaders can be targeted without inconvenience to fare-payers.

Is the technology proven?

Yes. This technology is called Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) or Radio Frequency Identification (RDIF). It not only is used in factories for manufacturing, but is being used on roads. Dallas, Texas recently installed AVI for collecting road fares. Golden Gate Transit uses it to identify buses crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. [Update: this technology has successfully been implemented in Riverside and San Diego Counties of California.]

Is it cost effective?

The price of electronics has dramatically decreased while capabilities have increased. The cost of implementing Modern Fare Collection is more than offset by the increased capacity that results when demand pricing is used to keep traffic flowing at an optimum flow rate. Even greater savings are gained by the increased efficiency of the transportation system, including separation of politics from economics, so that economic viability, rather than political clout, will be the criterion for road construction.

When road fares are instituted, would all cars suddenly need to have tags?

No. When fare collection is initially implemented, most cars can simply avoid tags because:

1) most freeways have alternative routes,

2) streets can use zone charging. Charging cars a premium for going through neighborhoods does not require sensing devices everywhere (see figure), and

3) arterials (major thoroughfares) can be the last to require tags.


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