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Address toll enforcement issues during the initial phase of planning process; with particular attention paid to the legal structure and potential enforcement technologies.

The Washington State Department of Transportation’s experience with planning for tolling implementation.

Date Posted

Washington State Comprehensive Tolling Study: Final Report – Volume 2: Background Paper #8: Toll Technology Considerations, Opportunities, and Risks

Summary Information

The comprehensive tolling study conducted by Cambridge Systematics for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) set out to provide recommendations to guide Washington as it develops toll facilities in the State. These policies emerged from background research and technical analysis.

The Washington State tolling study describes different types of electronic toll collection (ETC) methods, how they are applied to various toll facilities, note lessons learned from past experiences, and identifies the advantages and disadvantages of each. Furthermore, the study addresses institutional issues relating back office operations and enforcement processes.

Manual toll collection operations sometimes use gates in toll lanes to discourage drivers from driving straight through and not paying the toll. Other systems rely on toll collectors noting the license plate numbers of violators. Some operations work on the honor system, with spot enforcement by police. The introduction of electronic toll collection (ETC) without gates and toll collectors has resulted in the deployment of technology to automatically identify toll evaders and demand the payment of the required tolls. The primary goal of enforcement is to ensure that there is an acceptable level of compliance, and enforcement efforts are considered to be fair and consistent. The following lessons address key elements of toll enforcement:

  • Ensure proper legal structure is in place prior to implementation. While the laws and legalities surrounding the collection of delinquent tolls vary from state to state, at some point, toll violations become a citable offense, generally under traffic or parking laws and regulations. For legal enforcement of toll violations, toll authorities must look to law enforcement officers and the local courts. In jurisdictions where citations may be issued electronically, officers may review an online evidence package that includes the photo(s) of the violator’s license plate, the date and time of the violation, and the violator’s name and address. The officer can use an electronic signature to sign the citation, which is then printed and mailed by the toll authority. This mitigates the resource demands placed on the officers for reviewing citations. As with any traffic or parking ticket, some violators will wish to appeal the citation to the courts. New tolling authorities must work with local courts to determine the legal, technical, and resource-related issues surrounding toll enforcement, in terms of how toll violations will be processed in the court computer system, what are the evidentiary requirements, and what is a reasonable violation penalty. The penalty must effectively discourage violators without being so harsh as to potentially tax the resources of the courts with a large number of appeals.
  • Install license plate readers at tolling facilities to issues citations for toll violations. When a vehicle fails to pay the correct toll at either a manual or electronic toll collection point, cameras installed at the lane electronically capture images of the vehicle’s license plate. The cameras are configured to capture license plates from the full range of vehicle makes and models, to zoom in only on the plate itself, and to capture multiple photos so as to improve the probability of a legible image. In Washington state, law allows images of the vehicle or the license plate to be used in photo enforcement activities.
  • Implement name and address acquisition technology in conjunction with license plate readers. Critical to the collection of outstanding tolls, fees, and fines is determining the name and address of the toll evader. Using the license plate number obtained from the image of the toll evader’s vehicle, an electronic request can be made to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to obtain the registered owner’s name and address. Hit rates for successfully obtaining current names and addresses from the DMV are generally between 80 percent and 90 percent. Hit rates are less for out-of state vehicles and vehicles from Canada. The implication is that, for a certain portion of violators, it will not be possible to mail them a notice to request payment.
  • Provide incentive for violators to pay fines incurred at tolling facilities. Experiences from other toll authorities and similar programs (e.g., parking tickets) indicate that most people will pay their toll and service processing fees upon receipt of a demand letter. At this point, monies collected are remitted to the toll authority. A second means of enforcement for in-state violators is placing a hold on annual vehicle registration renewal process until outstanding tolls and related fees are paid. However, a certain portion will continue to violate. Additional focused efforts to identify and locate flagrant violators will be required for all types of toll facilities.
  • Deploy automated vehicle classification (AVC) to ensure full payments are made for each vehicle type. The inherent potential for fraud on the part of toll collectors led to the deployment of vehicle sensor technology that can classify a vehicle based upon its characteristics. The number of axles is the most common vehicle toll classification scheme. AVC equipment can provide a check on manual toll collection or it can determine the proper vehicle classification for electronic toll collection. AVC equipment has been demonstrated to work at highway speeds and under congested traffic conditions. A variety of vehicle sensors are used including:
    • Treadles - count the number of axles as a vehicle passes over them;
    • Light-curtains and laser profilers - record the shape of the vehicle, which can help distinguish trucks and trailers; and
    • Advanced inductive loop sensors embedded in the road surface - determine length, speed, and number of axles of vehicles at highway speeds.

Adequate enforcement is crucial to the success of ETC. Utilizing ITS by way of license plate readers along with name and address acquisition technology will create a quicker and more efficient enforcement process. However, agencies must realize that not all toll violations will be readily paid, driver incentives may be necessary to ensure payments are received. If these lessons are followed, the overall goals of ITS will be furthered, specifically the efficiency of the roadways, by ensuring that the appropriate revenues are collected by the tolling systems.