PToll - mobile phone tolling to be launched at CTRMA in Austin TX
A major innovation by an Austin Texas start-up company BancPass formed by toll industry veterans will allow motorists to pay tolls by mobile phone. Brandnamed PToll, it serves occasional users of tollroads, people who don't find it worthwhile to establish a transponder account, giving them the convenience of using the highspeed electronic lanes - the open road tolling - without the hassle of a transponder account.
PToll can be implemented by any toll operator with cameras and license plate recognition - almost all toll agenices now in north America.
And it can be used by any motorist with a mobile (cell) phone.
PToll is called a "customer video toll payment application."
It facilitates video tolling through making use of the mobile phones which almost all motorists now have in their pockets, or purses, and carry with them by habit in their cars.
The motorist wanting to enrol in PToll can use their phone to photograph their vehicle's license plate initially when the account is set up, or if a borrowed or rented car is being used.
The phone also carries a digital map of toll points and can anticipate the vehicle's approach to these using GPS or cell tower location finding. It can give the motorist the ability to anticipate the toll transaction and authorize it, or do it automatically. It will generate accounts and records of tolls paid to monitor personal costs or claim expenses.
The phone is also used for logging in to the customer's account.
Accredited financial service provider
The BancPass company has been accepted as a service provider/major-customer by Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) the public toller in the Austin area operating the 183A tollroad north of Austin.
They plan to start marketing the service to motorists there within a couple of months. Testing of systems goes back a few weeks and is now intensifying.
BancPass hope to sign up with Texas DOT's TxTag as well within the next month. TxTag is used on TXDOT's three tollroads in the Austin area - Loop 1, SH45 and SH130.
So BancPass hope to go to people in the Austin area this spring with the offer that their system will pay tolls on all Austin area tollroads.
They then want to move further afield, either directly, or through licensees.
The front end of the system will be an application (App) you download to your mobile phone. For now it will be major brands such as Apple iPhone, Blackberries, HTA and other MS Windows Mobile-enabled phones. But the company will be working to enable most kinds of mobile phones for the PToll app over the next year.
The motorist will be able to use the mobile phone's camera to send a picture of the rear of their vehicle. Or they can use a keypad to tap in the license plate letters and numbers. At this point they will also identify their payment method - a bankcard, credit card or PayPal.
Later the company hopes to offer a cash prepayment option for people without credit/bank cards.
A BancPass official says they have "some pretty impressive optical character recognition" to help attain high accuracy in going from the motorist's picture to their database and using the image for verifying matches with toll system cameras.
Encryption of data and transmissions has been made integral to the application.
White lists sent every hour
BancPass sends a 'white list' of valid plate data of its PToll customers at least every hour to participating tollers. That's a list of plate numbers for which BancPass accepts responsibility to pay the tolls - its customers in good standing.
The toll operator will detect the vehicle with their cameras and optical character recognition, match the plate number with that in the PToll list and send the transaction to PToll. PToll notifies the user. On automatic payment mode BancPass can charge the customer account and credit the toller's account immediately.
There's an option for the motorist to receive a notification of an approaching toll - detected by the mobile phone's location finding and a mapped list of toll points - and to pre-approve the toll via the PToll app with a touch on the mobile phone.
There's another option for the PToll customer to do a slower transaction in which each toll is notified, then accepted, or contested. If the charge is contested BancPass can have an operator at their customer center do a manual review of the images associated with establishment of the PToll account and the image the toll operator captured at the toll point to establish whether it is a good match, or a mistake.
Customers are charged a fee per transaction - the fee amount not yet announced, but it will have to be pitched at a level that should be attractive in competition with alternatives.
Toll operators are guaranteed the full electronic toll on all 'white list' number plates.
Transaction processing breakthrough claimed
A major breakthrough is claimed in transactions processing.
PToll has been about two years in design, writing of code, testing, revising, tweaking, and gaining approvals from the electronic financial services industry.
BancPass has been authorized to do financial transactions processing by Texas Banking Association. It is also PCI compliant (Payment Card Industry) so it is approved as capable of converting toll specific transactions into a standard retail electronic financial transaction.
A BancPass official told us they have been driven by the thought that it must be possible for the toll industry to gain similar tiny transaction costs and rapid settlement speed that Starbucks, Best Buy, McDonalds, Safeway, and other retailers get when customers cards are swiped at the cash register.
Unit transaction costs via BancPass' PToll will be "small fractions of a cent" rather than the several cents per transaction of current toll industry transactions. And in place of next day or two days for transactions to clear toll money in the Inter Agency Group of E-ZPass and other collaboratives of tollers, money can, on automatic or pre-approved payment mode, move into the toll operator's account in seconds after the PToll customer passes the tolling point. In addition BancPass will be guaranteeing payment on behalf of its customers and will maintain its own customer service centers to handle problems.
Designed by toll biz people but tricky-to-handle dual role
Majority shareholder of BancPass is Glenn Deitiker founder of the 15 year old toll system integrator Caseta. Deitiker is now president and chief operating officer of Telvent Caseta. He tells us BancPass was a spinoff of work and ideas being developed at Caseta before Caseta was bought by Telvent to become Telvent Caseta.
BancPass is set up as a private business separate from his salaried job at Telvent Caseta.
It helped BancPass develop a good technical interface with toll operators like CTRMA that Caseta was the designer and system integrator for the CTRMA toll system in Austin and that Telvent Caseta has a maintenance contract operating the CTRMA toll system.
A nearby toll system of their own creation is the logical testbed for a rollout.
Deitiker says they are keeping the business operations separate. BancPass has its own chief operating officer Mark G Swank who has no connection with Telvent Caseta and uses its own resources for the PToll business.
CTRMA spokesman Steve Pustelnyk says the toll agency is pleased that the PToll system is being rolled out there because it seems to be a very promising innovation. And they want to be part of innovation. But he says BancPass is being treated as a normal major-customer, the same as PlatePass, Rent a Toll, Highway Toll Authority and other specialized toll payment providers.
He says CTRMA has reached a contract agreement with BancPass on the same basis it does such contracts with the other aggregators.
Deitiker says BancPass has taken out patents on many different aspects of the PToll system, but he says they will probably be licensing it to different firms and groups. He sees the future of toll payment processing as a diverse and competitive business but working to standards that allow economies of scale and efficiency.
PToll has a transactions processing backend that is being considered for licensing from the OmniAir consortium. It should also be of interest to the Alliance for Toll Interoperability. Both of these groups have wide representation from toll operators.
Deitiker has been associated with both groups, OmniAir from its founding in 2003, so he has been part of most of the discussions about how to improve the back end of electronic toll collection, and the need to gain options beyond transponders.
The backend at least of PToll seems to be a close fit with OmniAir's efforts to develop an Electronic Payment Systems National Interoperability Specification (EPSNIS).
Deitiker has been showing a presentation in which there can be a transition to a more decentralized back office system in which traditional customer service centers can continue for toll authorities that prefer them while accommodating outsourcing as well - private sector transaction processing and customer service.
Helps dump the cash lanes on the rightside of the ORT lanes
A selling pitch to toll authorities is going to be that it will help them move away from labor intensive and expensive (15c to 25c/transaction) stop-to-pay cash toll collection among the significant number of users who can't or won't establish an account and purchase a special purpose transponder or RFID tag on their windshield - usually because they don't drive the specific toll road often enough for it to be worth their time an trouble.
It will accelerate the transition to cashless or all-electronic tolling by adding a mobile phone based system and outsourcing of some video tolling. This will reduce the volume of chasing motorists via camera imaging and lookups of different motor registry databases, and billing by mail, and following up unpaid bills.
For tollers who have already gone all-electronic (who are already cash;ess and do transponders and video tolling themselves) it will offer a way of outsourcing a good slab of the video side, and the customer service and payment risk.
Here's the BancPass PToll pitch in two 2-page pdfs:
BancPass has a preliminary website also for PToll:
SUPPORT: Ed Mulka of Jaffa Technoliges in Mt Laurel NJ has spoken and written for some time that mobile phones need to embraced for tolling, parking and other services. He seems to have anticipated or collaborated in this PToll, how much of each we're not sure. But he was onto something.
COMMENTS: We flippantly suggested Tuesday after a great show by Steve Jobs announcing the iPad that the toll industry needed to get Apple computer involved in toll industry innovation. We knew nothing then about BancPass and their iPhone App for tolling via Jobs' big selling phone.
Maybe we're shell-shocked at our ignorance earlier in the week, or reflexively hyping today's journalistic scoop, above, but we think this is BIG BIG news for the industry, and that BancPass system could be looked back in a few years time as comparable in importance to Amtech's 1988 offer-you-can't refuse to the then-Texas Turnpike Authority (now NTTA) which launched transponder tolling as a business.
If it hadn't been for the work of ex-Los Alamos electronics engineers and Amtech (now TransCore) entrepreneurs who knows how long it would have taken for electronic tolling to get adopted.
Time will tell, but we think BancPass' seizing on the ubiquity of mobile phones, using their technology, and developing a back office that allows tolling to gain the economies of electronic transactions enjoyed by Safeway and McDonalds allows a terrific shot at hugely improving tolling for both motorists and toll operators.
BancPass could prove as big a pioneer this year as Amtech was in 1988.
see history of transponders and Amtech as we wrote it a few years ago:
One issue likely to be provoked by PToll is driver distraction. Is there a danger drivers will drive less safely because they are fiddling with their PToll app while driving, people will ask. How far should you trust motorists not to take risks while driving, or do some of those PToll options and activities need to be disabled when the vehicle is moving?
Mark Swank, chief operating officer an BancPass responded on driver distraction:
"In the typical agreement when the customer downloads the phone application (app), the customer agrees that the app is not to be used while driving (yes, it's a liability protection issue), and the app is very specifically designed so that the customer does not have to use it while driving. It's also designed so driver is not required to pull over to work out how to pay a toll - which might be even more unsafe.
"For a customer who has already loaded the app (enrolled his license plate, and selected his payment method) the app will 'bump' his phone after the fact (when he is through the toll systems), with a text message that states 'You have incurred $X.XX in toll charges, would you like to pay now? (push the button to pay).
"Depending on the toll authority rules, the motorist may have up to two days, say, to OK the payment before they are a violator. The system will send a reminder with a 'Please don't become a toll violator, would you like to pay now?'
"Finally, again dependent upon the toll authority time rules, our system will allow a toll customer to download the app and pay for some period after their toll use (again say two days, depending on the toll system rules). This gives the non-tag toll customer an easy way to pay after-the-fact, and before they become an toll violator (with all the related expense to the toll operator).
"Once again, the goal is to reduce violations by giving non-tag holders an open and easy way to pay their tolls."
TOLLROADSnews ADDITION 2010-01-30 9:00