Interoperability is one of the most popular smart city buzzwords right now. Interoperability across all transportation regions is the ideal, utopian standard. It is a convergences of social, political and organizational factors that creates optimum system performance. It is a dreamlike place where every toll authority is able to read transponders of any protocol, identify any vehicle and its associated billing account or address. This standard would eliminate revenue leakage and assure the service provider is getting paid every time a vehicle uses a toll road. It’s the ideal that the tolling industry is working towards. So you may be asking yourself ”Are we there yet?”
The answer is a bit like the chicken and egg dilemma. There is a widespread deployment of tolling equipment throughout the United States that is only interoperable on a regional basis. So when a vehicle or truck needs to travel across multiple regions it must carry multiple transponder types and maintain multiple payment accounts. The challenge we face is that agencies who are building out smart cities have substantial investments in the current systems and they are more focused on utilizing the equipment they are still depreciating. They want answers to questions like “Do I really need to upgrade to the latest technologies? How can we bridge the gap between old and new technologies? Is it a sustainable system that will adapt to new technologies? Does it make fiscal sense? All good questions that every service provider has their own responses to.
There is no simple answer. The availability of multi-protocol tags and readers helps to bridge the technology gap. There are financial systems being developed which will provide reconciliation for all transactions. So why hasn’t the market adopted the latest greatest solutions that champion interoperability? I believe that by our very nature as human beings we resist change. Agencies are comfortable with their existing technologies and processes. They are familiar with how their existing system performs. They have become comfortable with the mitigated risks of maintaining status quo. In addition, when considering a technology change many are cautious in fear of jumping the gun and the market shifting and threatening the outcome their investment decision.
In the case of interoperability migration, it requires a regionalized bridge of the technology gaps; a two-step process where we identify the major protocol regions and create a strategy to take us from four distinct regions to two regions, and eventually move to a single interoperable standard. These are agenda items that are being discussed nationwide, but we still seem to be far from agreement on standards. How do we get this discussion moving forward? Someone is going to have to lead the change. As an industry we need an advocate to take the lead and usher in new ideas that move the process, the industry and transportation systems nationwide closer to the blissful returns from a interoperable smart city.