The Evolution of Toll Road Technology

night time toll technology

You’re driving along, enjoying the sights, going from one state to another. You’ve seen the sign for “toll road,” but no booth. Hmm… must not have been for your road. Great! You get home from your trip, enjoy the photos with friends and family, then, one day, get a bill in the mail letting you know you owe blah, blah, blah amount for driving along a “for pay” road. Huh? But… YOU NEVER SAW THE TOLL BOOTH! That’s right, but it saw you thanks to automatic license plate readers (ALPR) and toll road technology that now captures who you are so it can bill you for traveling along the byways of the world without missing a beat.

Like the public phone booth, the toll booth — and the toll collector, actually — as we once knew it has become a distant memory, for the most part. Toll road technology has evolved exponentially since its earliest days and as we gain a deeper understanding of the benefits of this funding system as well as its issues, looking at how and why it began can help us see where it can go.

Early toll road technology

early toll road technology

Toll-gate to the Summit Road leading past the Sign of the Kiwi, Port Hills, Christchurch, circa 1919

The practice of charging for passage through someone’s town, whether over land or water, goes back to before Aristotle. Financing the new world took initiative and innovation, and with broader travel came the possibility of a bigger and better town. More and more people began leaving their homes to venture out into other cities and countries to seek their fortune, trade goods, explore new lands, and more. The rulers of those regions saw an opportunity to manage the needs of their own empire with the funds they were able to collect from those using their roads to get from one place to another. Whether it was Germanic tribes charging tolls to cross various mountain passes or travelers on the Susa-Babylon highway forking over fees laid down by Ashurbanipal, King of the Neo-Assyrian Empire from 668 BC to 627 BC, to keep his kingdom thriving, moving from town to town could cost money and that money went towards upgrading, maintaining and constructing infrastructure and buildings of different communities.

This early road tolling spread throughout Europe especially, which initiated rudimentary toll technology as soon as roads were built in order to recoup construction costs, support continued maintenance and as general income for the town coffers. These fees weren’t just collected on the ground, but over water as well, with Scandinavia and the Netherlands among the top countries requiring payment to sail upon their waterways.

While the idea of charging travelers was an enterprising form of income for a community, it was also a vital one for those early days. Road maintenance was far different than what we know now. These were not asphalt, paved highways with some cracks in need of filling or new off-ramps to be built. Before Scottish engineers, Thomas Telford and John Loudon McAdam, put together materials to create actual pavement, other than the Appian Way, there were very few streets that weren’t simply dirt and loose rock. They were at the mercy of the elements and in order to be sure walkers, riders, coaches, and wagons were able to make their way, these muddy, eroding byways needed to be constantly fixed. The money had to come from somewhere and some sort of system needed to be put in place to get those travelers to stop and pay tolls.

Introducing the turnpike.

The Turnpike Trusts — England

turnpike trust sign for toll road technology piece

Photo by Spudgun67 from Wikimedia Commons

The Industrial Revolution didn’t hit Britain until 1760, but 1700 signaled the start of huge manufacturing growth that would take off like gangbusters over the next 50 years. The mining of coal was a massive business and transporting it across land that became a muddy mush after a rain was virtually impossible. Not only that, with the rise in factories and more consumer goods being produced, delivery of product to customers was vital and it soon became apparent that how these roads were being maintained — and even built — needed to change because merchants and factory owners were losing money hand over fist due to their impassibility. These businessmen went to Parliament appealing for its help, which then led to a discussion about how to make this beneficial for all. Yes, it was necessary for roads to be upgraded, and, again, that would mean a rise in profits for businesses due to the fact they would now be able to get their goods to where they needed to go. However, the only way to guarantee roads would actually be maintained was to make the business of doing so profitable and Parliament understood this.

The solution was to suggest these businessmen form companies called Turnpike Trusts. Parliament granted these trusts permission to build and maintain roads then charge a toll for their use in order to make doing so worthwhile. Between 1700 and 1750, over 400 Turnpike Trust companies were established by Parliament. Now, turnpikes were called this because they literally had a pike blocking the entrance to the rest of a thoroughfare until the toll was paid. Once the rider, driver, or walker handed over their money, the pike was either lifted or turned to the side and passage was possible. These turnpikes sprouted up all over England and while some roads were better maintained and constructed than others with these new trusts, the general consensus was the system was working.

United States Road Innovation

When America was young, roads were managed and kept up by the individuals who lived near that particular stretch. They would charge a fee to use that road then put those funds toward maintaining it. By the mid-late 18th century, companies were created for that purpose, and organized road tolling was a way of financing the upkeep and creation of these byways. The 1790s would bring about the first ever road built specifically for toll collection with the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike that connected the two cities in Pennsylvania.

Toll road building in the United States was done by private companies in its earliest years. Although they weren’t necessarily all that profitable, they did lay the groundwork for the American road system to come. There were three specific events in tolling for the States — The Turnpike Era from 1792 to 1845, the Plank Road Boom from 1847 to 1853, and the Toll Road of the Far West from 1850 to 1902 — that led to where the U.S. is today.

Turnpike Era

The turnpikes of the 1790s to 1845 were influenced by England’s toll system. Attempts at publicly operated toll roads had failed miserably to this point and toll evasion was rampant. The success of Britain’s private system encouraged those in the U.S. and private enterprise was enlisted starting in 1792 with the first private turnpike — Philadelphia to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The ability to travel across these roads to engage in interstate commerce appealed greatly to merchants from across the nation, and the lawmakers in those states began to enjoy the benefits. This led to a boom of these chartered turnpikes and by 1845, the number of managed roads incorporated was 1,562, and between 50 – 60 percent of them were actually built and operated via tolls.

Plank Road Boom

By around the mid-1840s, many of the toll roads from the Turnpike Era reverted to free use due to more travelers moving by canal and railroad, and these highways fell into disarray. Paving with the new innovation of macadam was very costly — $3,500 per mile — and there was a huge need for more and sturdier roads. Wooden planks — introduced to Canada by Russia — were incorporated as a replacement and the plank road was born. These were relatively simple to construct and they began sprouting up all over the U.S. Policymakers relaxed restrictions on the toll roads that may have hamstrung those of the turnpike era. Tolls were raised, there were shorter distances between toll stations and more tolls were collected from locals. Between 1847, when the boom began, to 1853 when it ended, over 10,000 miles of plank roads were built along the middle and eastern portion of the United States with more than 3,500 of those miles in New York alone. Because the planks only lasted between 4-5 years before having to be replaced — far less than the 12 years both landowners and cities were promised — by 1853, construction of new roads was stopped.

Toll Roads of the Far West

During the same time that toll roads were becoming more sophisticated in the Eastern United States, settlements to the West were transient and incorporating passable byways wasn’t a priority. Then in 1853 new laws handing over regulatory oversight to county governments were passed. Counties did not interfere with where toll roads were located and allowed the private companies to operate pretty much on their own. Across California, Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon, and Colorado, these privately owned highways grew fairly unchecked until the advent of the bicycle and more fervent use of the automobile.

The fall of the toll road

First, it was the bicycle. These two- — and sometimes three- — wheeled wonders required better maintained and structured roads upon which to travel. Reworking the nation’s byways to accommodate them became a priority after cyclists began rallying for renovations. Then came the automobile and when it started taking over the road, tolling was felt to be counterproductive. There was a perceived inconvenience for drivers to have to stop their cars every few miles to pay the fees.

Communities also began to rail against the private toll companies, feeling that as infrastructure was becoming more of a priority — the advent of motor vehicles meant the need for smoother pavement upon which to travel — the government was required to step in to oversee the needs of its citizens. By 1916, U.S. toll roads had diminished in numbers and they began to fall by the wayside save for select areas.

By 1956, the Federal-Aid Highway Act was signed into existence by then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, creating 41,000 miles of highway and becoming the roadways now known in the U.S. Over 2,100 new miles of toll roads were added the following year with the express mandate that no federal dollars would be used for their construction or upkeep. These were all to be managed through public and private partnerships between corporate toll companies and local governments, and in the current 46,730-mile system there are now 2,900 miles of toll roads.

As you can see there once was a time when tolling was considered not profitable enough to warrant focusing on the practice as a truly viable option for needed income. These days, however, the nice-to-have for many countries is now being viewed as a must-have by some as infrastructure projects seek funding and communities turn to charging for different forms of travel in order to finance them.

The logistics of charging tolls

There are a variety of ways tolls have been and are charged. In the early days, tolls were levied based on the size and type of the transport — on foot, on horseback, one-horse wagon, two-horse wagon, etc. Nowadays, that’s called Automated Vehicle Classification — charging different vehicles unique fees based on the automobile type stored in their electronic records. Fees could also be based on specific access — for example, entering a city, going into farmland, etc. — or the type of infrastructure — a bridge, a tunnel, etc. These practices are still done today, however, how we travel has changed.

There are commonly three methods for charging tolls and three for collecting it:

CHARGING METHODS

TIME-BASED AND ACCESS

A driver pays for driving at a certain time of day or specific access to a normally restricted zone for a period of time.

MOTORWAY OR OTHER INFRASTRUCTURE

A costly type of infrastructure, such as a bridge, tunnel, mountain pass, for example, charges a fee to be paid when entering that “structure.”

DISTANCE OR AREA

A charge per the distance or area that is driven.

COLLECTION METHODS

TOLL — GATE/BOOTH OPERATOR — OPEN

Entry is paid at a toll plaza — manually or electric.

TOLL — GATE/BOOTH OPERATOR — CLOSED

The toll is paid upon entry and exit of a specific toll area/road.

OPEN-ROAD TOLLING

This is all electric, no toll booths, no special lanes, no toll collectors, and processed via ALPR/ANPR or RFID at strategic locations.

Modern toll roads use all three of these methods, and sometimes in combination. In addition to payment at the time that you drive through the toll site, there are options to pre-pay for a toll — basically, have an account from which charges are pulled — and post-pay, receiving a bill after you’ve passed through an Open-Road Tolling ETC system.

Toll road technology in the new age of need

The evolution of toll road technology goes as far back as roads themselves. Let’s take a quick look at how this form of financing infrastructure grew and innovated:

The Turnpike Act is passed by British Parliament in 1663 and initiated in 3 counties as a test. This:

  • Allowed magistrates in these counties to charge people for using their roads then take the money raised to maintain them
  • Opened the door for the Turnpike Trusts starting in 1706 in England when toll gates/turnpikes were expanded and built, allowing the public to invest in the private trusts
  • Led to purveyors of livestock raising consumer prices as the transport of the animals became expensive due to tolls
  • Created laws against tampering with or destroying turnpikes, making the offenses punishable by death
  • Established a need to install pikes or spikes to the gates — hence the name “turnpike” — to deter people from jumping over to avoid paying tolls

Tolling goes electric

toll road technology in Scandinavia

Automatic toll station, Highway E18 at Skinnmo near Larvik, Vestfold, Norway

In 1959, an electronic tolling system was proposed as a way to control traffic congestion by Canadian William Vickrey, Nobel Prize Winner for Economics. He envisioned a transponder being placed in every car with corresponding sensors installed in or on highways to pick up the signal to charge accordingly. This was not only to cut down on congestion but also labor costs and boost the economy. The technology wasn’t quite there although tests were done in the 1960s and 70s with transponders placed on the undercarriage of certain cars and readers embedded under the surface of portions of the highway.

It would be several years before any country would actually implement electronic toll collection (ETC) with Norway becoming the first in the world in 1987 working with traditional toll booths — cars with transponders would pull up, have their transponder read for an automatic charge, then drive on. The thought was convenience and cutting labor costs as well. By 1991, the Norwegian City of Trondheim introduced the world’s first fully unaided electronic toll collection system. There are now 25 sites in the country under the name of AutoPass — an RFID tag system that allows cars to drive through toll points without having to stop at upwards of 100 km/h.

Dallas toll road technology

Dallas North Tollway and Harry Hines Blvd where DNT starts in downtown Dallas, Texas, Photo by J. P. Fagerback, from Wikimedia Commons

The U.S.’s first ETC was installed by the Dallas North Texas Tollway in 1991. These were similar to Norway’s first system with transponders keyed to readers at toll stops. Roll-through systems and open road tolling soon followed around the country.

Analysis showed that these ETC systems Improved traffic flow, and were less expensive to build and operate than traditional toll plaza. What changed from manned systems were fewer toll operators, and the ability to, in some areas, drive full-speed through open road areas but still be charged due to Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) through an RFID tag on a transponder, or ALPR.

Toll road technology takes off around the world

Today, most countries around the world have some form of toll collection and many of them are electronically based. While there is no universal system for every part of the globe, some areas do have interoperability that goes across boundaries. Toll road technology is constantly innovating to make it easier to travel these roads and more difficult to evade the fees. When ETC first started, some systems affixed barcodes to vehicles that were scanned by sensors at toll stations. However, over time these became dirty, got old and scuffed, and were hard to read. The different technologies these days include:

RFID

RFID toll road technology

Cars with RFID tags have their information read by posted RF readers — whether at a toll station or at strategic points along the highway — that then send a bill — usually monthly — or take fees out of a maintained account to the customer. Toll collection services such as FasTrak and EZ Pass are programs that use the transponder/RF reader system.

ALPR/ANPR

ALPR toll road technology

Image courtesy of PIPS Technology Detection Innovation

We’ve discussed these before. Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR) or Automatic Number Plate Readers (ANPR) are strategically placed cameras that are able to read your vehicle registration number — also known as your license plate — as you drive. They derive information from this that makes it possible for you to be charged a toll without having to go through a toll booth.

Smartphone

smartphone toll road technology

Companies such as Bluedot Innovation are now providing app-based toll tracking as an alternative to having a transponder attached to your windshield. Through the app, you can pay and pass through toll booths without stopping. You download the app, put in your payment and vehicle information, and whenever you pass through a supported ETC station, you receive a statement based on geolocation.

Evading, bypassing and expanding tolls

Toll evasion is a huge issue all over the world. The more electronic and innovative fee collection becomes, the harder it is to avoid payment if you’re traveling on toll roads. As mentioned, moving through a toll crossing without paying or destroying it can incur severe fines and even criminal charges. However, there is another practice that has been around for decades that isn’t illegal. It’s called shunpiking.

Shunpiking is the act of finding alternative routes to bypass tolls on superhighways. Now, this is used by many simply as a way to explore areas off the beaten path of various locations, discover little known or hidden gems rather than a way to avoid paying tolls. However, it is also a practice enlisted to get out of the fees as well, and while it loses valuable money to these different regions, it is not against the law nor is it compromising the toll system itself.

As more and more cars get on the road, especially in the U.S., more toll roads are being recommended to finance the crumbling infrastructure all over the nation. While a bill that would put money toward rebuilding America’s highways has been discussed, nothing has been passed as yet nor is it clear just how that money will be spent across the various states when it is.

In January 2018, National Public Radio (NPR) reported on this increase not only in the number of toll roads but the amount charged on existing infrastructure in order to pay for roads projects. Across the world, drivers are having to pay to motor on their country’s highways in order to finance new construction and lower street congestion. Certain areas of the world rely heavily on congestion pricing — a fee to drive during high traffic times — in addition to tolling. This is something that is being floated in various areas across the United States. The idea has merit, but as NPR showed, it also has a great many detractors and has raised concerns.

Many fear that raising tolls and adding more “for pay” roads will lead to higher traffic in suburban areas as well as place an undue burden on lower-income drivers. Some believe charging driving fees has not truly been shown to assist a city or state with their infrastructure. What next, then? The answer may be in creating better public transportation, a real launch of autonomous vehicles for private purchase and use, dedicated travel lanes for bikes, buses, pedestrians, and ride-share/ride-hailing services. And, then again, tolls may be an option whose time has come due to innovations in the system and streamlining its process to make the economics behind it more beneficial.

To toll or not to toll?

As transportation continues to evolve and as countries work that much harder to get lower emissions, congestion, and traffic fatalities, so to will the role of tolling. Is it the best choice to revive failing infrastructures? It bears watching.

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AB 516: Changing Lives One Temp Tag at a Time

Paper placard in place of permanent plate

When California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Kevin Mullin sponsored AB 516 on July 25, 2016, it wasn’t the first time the Bay Area-based Assemblyman and Speaker Pro Tempore had brought a bill of this sort to the Capitol. A news report on San Francisco’s KTVU 2 Investigates series in 2013 prompted the Northern California lawmaker to pursue something similar in 2014. It met with opposition from car dealers and the DMV back then and got no further than supposition. But a tragedy down in the southern part of the state, as well as growing law enforcement concerns, prompted a second try on the bill. Effective January 1, 2019, California once again joins many other states in requiring all motor vehicles to display a temporary license plate instead of simply taping a Report of Sale (ROS) on the front windshield.

Once again, you may ask? Yes, way back when California also had temporary paper plates displaying the ROS number in the rear vehicle registration plate holder (that’s actually what your license plate holder is called). This was discontinued sometime in the 1970s for reasons not completely clear, although these were flimsy affairs that disintegrated after the first car washing. That may be what led to the state simply getting rid of them altogether, however, without those clear pieces of temporary identification in lieu of permanent plates, several issues have been building in the state. These ranged from cheating toll plazas, committing petty and more serious crimes, and unsolved and untraceable hit-and-run injuries and, in some cases, fatalities. Conversely, consumer groups and civil liberty advocates have raised concerns over the adverse effects such easily identifiable temporary markers on a vehicle may have on lower income drivers.

But what does AB 516 really mandate? First, let’s understand how the license plate came about.

“elle ne doit jamais être cachée.”

The days of the first license plates

Champs Élysées, Paris, France in the 1890s

In Paris, France, the Department of the Seine laid down the first law requiring the owners of these new road locomotives motoring along the Champs Élysées and elsewhere to register and affix “an identifiable tag” to their car. The automobile was brand new at this time, remember. There were no such things as driving licenses or even classes on how to operate the things. Motorists were making up their own rules and getting away with, well, pretty much anything. With no way to prove that you owned any vehicle — bicycles included, actually — anybody could just come up, jump in and drive/ride it away and you couldn’t do anything about it. Laws specifically addressing this newfangled form of transportation had yet to be created nor penalties set for breaking said rules by the devotees of the high-speed (sometimes as much as 12 miles per hour) motorcar. Unlike horses, you couldn’t really put your brand on your metal ride, although horse-drawn carriages were required to have some sort of identification on them. Why not the horseless kind? Knowing that something had to be done, the Paris Police Ordinance of 14 August 1893 came up with just the thing.

In English, the regulation reads, “Each motor vehicle shall bear on a metal plate and in legible writing the name and address of its owner, also the distinctive number used in application for authorization. This plate shall be placed at the left-hand side of the vehicle — it shall never be hidden (French: elle ne doit jamais être cachée). Plates were created by the owners themselves and consisted of their initials and some set of numbers emblazoned in porcelain glazed metal.

Within three years, Germany had joined Paris and by 1898, the Netherlands was the first country to introduce nationally registered license plates — called “driving permits”  — that were sequentially numbered starting at the number 1. This changed in 1906, but it was the first government maintained system in the world.

vintage license plate laws come to life

Alice Huyler Ramsey, the 1st woman to drive across the U.S. in 1909, with one of the first plated cars

The United States followed suit in 1901 with New York requiring all owners to have plates on their cars. At that time, these were the owner’s initials on whatever material they chose and attached at the back of the automobile. Massachusetts became the first state to issue plates for the cars of their residents in 1903, stopping the practice of owners creating their own.

And the rest, as they say, is regulated and mandated license plate history.

What is AB 516 exactly?

AB 516 amends and adds various sections to the California Vehicle Code. It starts out by reminding lawmakers of the current rules regarding vehicle registration and plate requirements in the state of California. The bill then goes on to mention a variety of changes and additions that establish a system by which dealers and the Department of Motor Vehicles can coordinate getting a temporary license plate immediately printed and adhered to the motor vehicle before it leaves the lot. AB 516 clarifies that this mandate covers all vehicles (used included) that do not have an existing permanent plate on it.

One of the bill’s most notable additions to the code is section 4456.8, which reads: “If the vehicle does not display license plates previously issued by the department, the dealer or lessor-retailer shall attach the temporary license plates issued by the reporting system.” AB 516 also makes it possible for First Line Service Providers (FLSP) to assist with this issuance of temporary license plates and keeping the dealership in compliance. (For the full text of AB 516, click here.)

pre-AB 516 dealer placard

Currently, a newly purchased vehicle leaving the lot displays the dealer info in the area where its permanent plates will be installed. AB 516 means that instead of the dealer ads you’ve become used to seeing, you will instead be faced with something akin to this temporary tag:

the precursor of AB 516

A now discontinued California temporary tag from the 1970s

The year won’t read 1971, of course, but 2019 and beyond. Although, based on the concerns raised by the lack of easily visible temporary identifiers on vehicles, a car still sporting a dealer placard from 1971 and no permanent plates isn’t necessarily out of the realm of possibility. Steve Jobs was notorious for never having a license plate on his car, for example. He would turn in his lease right before he’d have to get a plate and he just kept turning cars over, never moving from temporary to permanent. Stopping every new looking car to check whether their temporary registration is expired is, admittedly, perhaps not the best use of time for law enforcement, so those who simply have figured out a way of getting around having to get new plates can do so without incident for, yes, years.

However, there is a whole other group who use this to their advantage in less “convenience” based ways. The lack of clear identification makes it basically impossible for law enforcement to trace and track that automobile should it be involved in then leave the scene of any infraction.

And that is why AB 516 was created.

The genesis of AB 516

It was a late summer Saturday night in 2013 when Michael Bonanomi, 35, grabbed a sandwich on the notorious stretch of Ventura Boulevard known as Coldwater Curve. He sat down on the curb to eat it near one of the most dangerous bends in Los Angeles. At 11:42, Michael finished his dinner and started walking across the street. No, he wasn’t in the crosswalk and none of the witnesses — of which there are many — dispute that. They also all agree that a white Mercedes-Benz came traveling eastbound and slammed into Michael. The 35-year-old ad man and musician went flying up, landing first on and severely denting the hood of the car, smashed the windshield, then was dragged almost a full 100 yards — the length of a football field — before he finally fell off.

The white Mercedes-Benz never stopped. The white Mercedes-Benz never slowed. The white Mercedes-Benz had no license plates. The white Mercedes-Benz and its driver have never been found.

Michael died at the scene.

All witnesses could tell the police to help in identifying the car was that it had black paper plates reading “Encino” in yellow. And Michael’s death led to his family offering a $50,000 reward for information on the hit-and-run driver and a movement.

California had already recognized that it was taking a beating with toll evasion at a cost of $15-19 million a year. But Michael’s tragedy shined a light on the more devastating reasons for pushing for AB 516 and was, in many estimations, the final straw. The hit-and-runs — there were two others that same night under similar circumstances — child abduction/Amber alerts, theft, and more to the equation were becoming easier to get away with due to the lack of clear identifiers. After all, if someone commits a crime in or using a vehicle that has no plates, how can police track it down unless witnesses or automated license plate readers (ALPR) are able to see the Report of Sale (ROS) posted in the windshield?

current RS location

Reintroducing a bill that would change the fact that California was the only state not requiring these special license plates on vehicles became a priority and AB 516 was born. A petition was created on change.org with Michael Bonanomi as its face. While it garnered just 750 signatures, the concerns over the lack of recognition on vehicles were now shared by the DMV and dealers all over the state, and Governor Brown signed it into law. And upon announcing AB 516’s ratification, Kevin Mullin gave credit to the happy-go-lucky musician’s legacy.

“I’d also like to thank the family and friends of Michael Bonanomi, who was fatally injured in the 2013 hit and run accident in southern California, for bringing this issue to my attention. The car that struck and killed Michael only had paper dealer plates and to this day, the driver has not been located. While this law will not bring Michael back, in the future it will go a long way in making sure that an offending vehicle and its driver are easier to identify and bring to justice.”

What now for AB 516?

the home of AB 516 — the California capitol

As mentioned, January 1, 2019, is the date when AB 516 goes into effect. Dealers will need to ensure these sturdier, highly visible temporary license plates are on all vehicles that do not already have a permanent one. A heavy sigh of relief has gone up from all those whose concerns led to this change, but there is also a lot of worry about low-income individuals and the backlash they may incur. And it all comes down to the reason so many are happy about AB 516 — the ability for law enforcement to easily see the temporary plate on the back. Opponents’ concerns? If these are expired, what happens to the driver?

The hope with AB 516 and the continued assistance FLSPs offer dealerships is to make complying with this and all vehicle laws more seamless and efficient. Doing so is not just for their business partners, but consumers so that any lingering issues and hurdles to success will decrease, not multiply.

In preparation for the AB 516 rollout, Vitu, makers of DMVdesk, created a website that serves as a resource for dealerships to help their F&I departments and staff fully understand the requirements and implementation of this new program before that January 1, 2019 deadline hits. Visit catemptag.com to sign-up for free training seminars, read through FAQs, ask your own questions, and much more — all offered to inform and support everyone affected by this new law to help them get ahead of and feel completely prepared for the impending change. AB 516 is a new way of doing things in California, and it will be interesting to watch what it will mean in the long run for the DMV, dealers, consumers and the Golden State as a whole.

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Stickerless Car Registration: The Potential Effects of Pennsylvania’s Impending Bill

Kelly Kimball (2)Looking at a similar V2Gov system in Australia, Kelly Kimball questions how Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens will fare once stickerless car registration goes into effect.

By Kelly Kimball, Chairman & Co-Founder, Motor Vehicle Software Corporation (MVSC)

December 30, 2016 is the last day for Pennsylvania drivers to get actual registration stickers on their cars. By the next day, December 31, the state is eliminating the need for hard copies on automobiles. It’s smartly going fully digital with the introduction of Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) technology in its police vehicles and on the roads. This system electronically reads an automobile’s plate to determine whether it’s expired, among other things. By going stickerless, the state saves up to $1 million per year. The benefit to drivers is the ability to renew their registration online via computer or mobile device in addition to traditional mailing. They then have the option to immediately print out and sign a valid updated reg card if they so choose. The digital choice adds convenience and speeds up the process for vehicle owners, the DMV and law enforcement.

This is a great solution to a system that is too often stuck in a bottleneck of paperwork and bureaucracy. And there’s probably no bigger champion for moving to eGovernment today than I. This Penn State University-researched program doesn’t just take care about process gridlock. It makes money for the state with the savings in admin costs and the fees collected on expired plates. Cops will be able to catch violators sooner and immediately start charging penalties before drivers even notice. And this makes me think of a similar system being implemented Down Under.

The state of South Australia (SA) is now stickerless and it’s making that region a lot of money. It began back in 2011 and in that year alone, the number of unregistered and uninsured vehicles rose 50 percent from the previous year and the government made $12 million AUD in late fees. As of 2014-2015, those figures hit $19 million, all of which is good news for SA’s bottom line. It’s also saved up to $2 million per year in administrative costs since going digital. But, as I really thought about it, I started wondering where – or, better yet, who – those penalty fees are coming from.

Residents of SA are hit by as much as $1,000 in late charges – $404 for an expired car registration and $696 for being uninsured. Of course, if you’ve got the money, you probably won’t incur penalties or paying them is no big deal. But if you don’t, then that $1,000 (which translates to approximately $1,300 USD) hurts a lot.

Ever since reading about SA and learning more about how much money it’s taking in, I’ve been struggling with what this means for so many people already burdened by more financial obligations than they can handle.

It’s possible that the ALPR system will work so well that any Pennsylvanian driving with an expired car registration or lapsed insurance has a 100 percent chance of getting caught. The readers automatically send that information to state authorities and penalty fees are immediately calculated, bills and citations quickly sent out. Just as in South Australia, Pennsylvania is planning to catch expired registrations faster, imposing more late charges that compound over time. And that takes us to the “who” of that money. Because, as is usually the case, it’s an area’s poorest, most economically-strapped drivers who are most hard hit with things like expired registration and uninsured penalties.

When using technology to enforce compliance, governments need to take a look at why people aren’t abiding by the new laws and regulations. If every single offending driver actually intends to skirt the law then simply implementing new technology would take care of the problem. But noncompliance isn’t that simple. It never has been.

burden of car registration penalties

More often than not, there’s no malice, no hidden agenda and nothing duplicitous. It’s as simple as that annual lump sum fee’s being too much to bear when faced with having to choose between feeding the family this month or paying yearly car charges. There are times when the money just isn’t there, no matter the intent. And when that happens, piling on more financial woes creates that much more angst and confusion, even leading to more penalties and infractions. It’s the domino theory.

But there is a solution to all of this. It’s something SA is now doing and it’s simple.

In SA, drivers have the option to choose an automatic monthly debit from their bank or credit cards to cover their car registration and/or license renewal fees. The ability to amortize payments over time sets drivers up for success in complying with the state’s regulations. It also alleviates the stress that comes from worrying about losing reliable and, often, the only form of transportation to work in order to make money to survive.

Everyone knows that failure to pay your car registration on time quickly turns into a nightmare of escalating late charges. With new license recognition, there’s the added potential for being stopped by authorities and the penalties that can result from traffic tickets and perhaps even having your car impounded. Who can afford towing and storage costs when they can’t even make enough to cover the registration fees in the first place?

Just as Pennsylvania is following SA’s stickerless example, to a certain extent, it can also easily set up a monthly payment option for its drivers. It gives everyone a chance to successfully handle his or her renewals. Sure, it’ll require certain administrative responsibilities that are irritating to state officials and, yes, it may mean millions instead of tens of millions being funnelled into the coffers. However, as shown by SA’s system of fee collection, dollars are still being saved and earned. Ultimately, the monthly amounts paid will bring in substantial monies compared to lump sum payments that, traditionally, are a cost savings for the payor. Compensation stretched out over time always includes more incremental fees thrown in–minimal, for sure, and Pennsylvania’s fees are far lower than that of SA. But those dollars do add up and they will benefit both the state and citizens in the long run. Trust me.

I know V2Gov technologies are important and can streamline processes for states, businesses and drivers. Our entire company is based on the belief that these innovations are making a brighter future possible in the automotive world. But we’ve also built our business on doing what’s fair, what’s right for everyone, not just that fabled 1 percent. PennDOT’s V2Gov car registration process must work for every economic level. It’s my hope that PennDOT and the state’s legislators take a deeper look at how to best serve all Pennsylvania drivers through improved technology. If they stay mindful of the true cost, then a digital disruption isn’t so hard on those already living the harsh paycheck-to-paycheck reality.

Kelly Kimball

Kelly Kimball is chairman and co-founder of California-based Motor Vehicle Software Corporation (MVSC). More than just a technology entrepreneur, Kimball is a political strategist, a sought-after lecturer and a visionary startup pioneer. In 1991, Kimball founded SDR Technologies to create the country’s first electronic filing systems for political reporting. Widely recognized as a pioneer of eGovernment, Kimball has been a frequent guest on CNN, CNN Money, Fox News and ABC’s World News Tonight. As chairman of MVSC, Kimball forges strong relationships between government and business enterprises so consumers can transform paper trails into fair, fast and easy-to-use digital transactions.

 

 

 

 

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Government Surveillance Goes On the Road

In a climactic moment from the film, SPEED, Keanu Reeves makes a stunning discovery as to how Dennis Hopper’s bad guy knows their every move. He’s installed a video camera on the “don’t go below 50” bus. That moment was terrifying, invasive and prescient of a growing focus of today’s government surveillance: your vehicle.

There are so many things we do in our cars that we take for granted. We put on makeup, sing our hearts out, argue, cry and more. We consider the automobile our sanctuary. Even though it’s surrounded by windows, we believe we’re alone, even invisible.

We are neither.

Honorable, historical mention

Government surveillance is nothing new. The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights directly mentions “search and seizure.”

A court case in 1928, however, clearly established what we now think of as Federally sanctioned reconnaissance and observation. It involved Washington State resident, Roy Olmstead, who was arrested and prosecuted in 1927 for smuggling liquor during prohibition. He was caught via unwarranted wiretapping. Roy fought it, claiming his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights were violated.

The Supreme Court (headed by Justice William H. Taft, no less) ruled otherwise (Olmstead vs. the United States).

Even though the Olmstead decision was overturned in 1967, government surveillance has been growing by leaps and bounds. Over the years, it has become more sophisticated and specific.

This form of homeland security owes its innovation to the growth of eGovernment and Vehicle-to-Government (V2Gov) technology. The tools available have proved a huge benefit to the safety of our country and local communities.

From drones that can pinpoint an individual in their own backyard to surreptitiously infiltrating emails and beyond, it was only a matter of time before our hideaway on wheels was fair game. This begs the question, however, of whether compiling information on people in their cars crosses the line into privacy invasion.

To protect and serve (without you knowing it)

No one would argue that government surveillance is important for national security. Our country has survived several attacks in the last generation alone and “forewarned is forearmed.” Yet this form of “protect and serve” no longer just focuses on known criminals as “persons of interest.” The desire to get in front of a threat has expanded this web of scrutiny to include, well, everyone.

The Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) and you

Meet the automated license plate reader (ALPR), a valued tool of law enforcement. It is outfitted with vehicle-to-government technology and can photograph thousands of plates per minute.

This form of government surveillance was first put into use by the DEA in 2008. Its goal was (and still is) to catch drug dealers and all around baddies. It can read both the front and back license plates, takes views of the overall vehicle and snap photos of the car’s inhabitants in real time.

The ability to capture who is inside a vehicle takes the capabilities of the fabled “red light camera” to the next level. The information can then be placed in a database to be read and studied as needed.

ALPRs are employed by more than 70% of law enforcement agencies, nationwide. The International Association of Chiefs of Police have a dedicated area on their website that extolls its benefits and uses, which are many.

Conversely, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has devoted countless pages on the implications of ALPR and government surveillance in general. Several states have also put certain restrictions on its use.

Concerns over invasion of privacy top the list, of course, but such things as inaccurate information, unrestricted access and others have also come to light. Among these is how that intelligence is used and by whom.

Information in the wrong hands

There is nothing new, of course, with concerns about cyber security and hackers within the eGovernment space. Personal information falling into the wrong hands is probably the biggest pain point for electronic communication.

But, what if some of those wrong hands belong to law enforcement officials?

While by no means representative of peace officers in general, there have been instances where information taken off of these cameras has been used to blackmail, extort, racially and economically profile and stalk private citizens.

The scramble to clean up the system has already begun, but it raises questions about how to regulate and police electronic connections successfully. This is especially chilling when those in charge of the oversight need oversight themselves.

The prophetic power of SPEED

Public transportation is also a player in the world of government surveillance. Audio has been added to many cameras installed in several buses around the country. No longer just soundless video, as used by the crude yet effective spy device in SPEED, these new devices are A/V masters of capturing both conversations and images.

The up-side of listening in on riders’ personal discussions is not as clear as that of the ALPR put into effect for the DEA. It’s got several lawmakers, administrators and passengers uncomfortable–think the overturned ruling on unwarranted wiretapping. Regardless, it is now common on many buses although it is unknown just how many and in which states.

The good, the bad, the “you decide” of government surveillance

As we move into the future of connected cars and truly embrace the Internet of Things (IoT) for our vehicles, we’re introducing more than cool, self-driving innovation. We’re not only enabling automobiles to talk to one another (V2V) and to public agencies (V2Gov), but creating a network of communication that makes what we once thought of as private available to just about anyone.

The role eGovernment plays in law enforcement has definitely shaped a safer, more protected world. It’s also opening up a conversation about what, exactly, the words “government surveillance” mean for everyday you.

Did you ever dream that, one day, your car would be no more private than an airport security checkpoint?

Is that a good thing?

Time will tell.

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