Implement compatible Electronic Toll Collection systems in every state.
A retrospective of what's been learned since the first ITS Strategic Plan developed in 1992.
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United States

What We Know Now That We Wish We Knew Then About Intelligent Transportation Systems: A Retrospective on the 1992 Strategic Plan


From September 1991 until June 1992, a core writing team worked on what was the first intelligent transportation systems (ITS) strategic plan in the United States. It defined the ITS program at a national scale in a way that has been characterized as seminal. The plan, by most accounts, served as the blueprint for the early development of ITS in the United Sates and as the basis for subsequent plans produced by ITS America, the Federal Government, various states, and a number of private-sector organizations.

The article, What We Know Now That We Wish We Knew Then About Intelligent Transportation Systems: A Retrospective on the 1992 Strategic Plan, published in 2004, contrasts the 1992 plan with reality 11 years later. Areas discussed in this article include advanced traveler information systems, advanced transportation management systems, reliability, getting the ITS program off the ground in the early 1990s, strategic use of information, automated network management, electronic toll collection, congestion pricing, architecture, commercial vehicle operations, advanced public transportation systems, and regions. ITS is compared with the Interstate system, and a discussion covers both the reauthorization of the Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century and the knowledge that has been gained through this retrospective about ITS-related issues on that reauthorization.

Lessons Learned

Various aspects of ITS are explored retrospectively, contrasting views from 1991/92, when the first ITS strategic plan was produced, with the reality of currently operational ITS projects. One topic that is evaluated for its anticipated benefits with the ultimate deployment reality is the importance of implementing compatible Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) systems in every state.

  • Expand compatible ETC systems for greater convenience to the traveling public: ETC is one example of the slowness of development that would not have been predicted by the strategic planners in the early 1990s. The lack of compatible ETC systems, even in regions with many small states like New England, is surprising. The inability of organizations in the public sector to cooperate in the development of common technologies for the convenience of the traveling public continues to be a major barrier to compatible ETC systems. It was relatively recently that the E-Z Pass system in the New York metropolitan area was implemented after a good deal of negotiation among the states of Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. And it is even more recent that E-Z Pass has been made compatible with the FastLane system in Massachusetts. E-Z Pass or FastLane only now is becoming available in New England states other than Massachusetts and Connecticut, even though New England, with a number of small states, would clearly gain from compatible deployment of ETC.
  • Consider the importance of institutional issues: Most ambitiously, it would certainly be hoped that a nationally scaled compatible ETC system would be in place. Truckers, for whom long trips across political boundaries are common, would no doubt find this of great value. One could imagine a single transponder in rental cars, where the tolls could simply be added to the bill rather than the driver fumbling for change. But the current reading on getting a truly national system, which the strategic planners in the early 1990s viewed as important (and even straightforward), is that it is a long way off due to institutional issues. The strategic planners were not naïve about institutional issues; they realized that they were going to be very difficult in the deployment of a new technology in a conservative industry. But it is fair to say they grossly underestimated just how difficult it would be. For example, in a presentation at the ITS Massachusetts Annual Meeting in 2003, a scenario was told about two variable-message signs in rural central Massachusetts obtained “for free” through federal funding. The signs were not deployed for more than a year because of bureaucratic quibbling between two small public organizations over who would own and operate them.

This lesson points out that although many would argue that ETC is a major success story of ITS, with implementations all over the country and abroad, there are still many states without any deployed ETC, even though the technology has long been proven. Institutional issues have significantly delayed its actual implementation, even though the deployment of compatible ETC systems in every state would greatly increase convenience for the traveling public.

System Engineering Elements