Fast and efficient barrier-free electronic toll collection
First publishedin ITS International
The system is able to record when vehicles enter and exit the highway and bill accordingly
Canada’s 407 tolled highway allows non-stop travel and a fast and efficient way of paying for it.
Ontario’s 407 ETR highway features one of the most advanced barrier-free and all- electronic toll collection systems in the world. The company that operates the road launched the latest phase of its strategy to provide end-to-end automation in summer 2011. A self-service website is now available, allowing users to view and pay charges online using technology supplied by the international market leaders in e-billing and payment solutions, ebpSource
The 407 ETR highway is located just north of the City of Toronto and provides motorists with a fast, safe and reliable alternative to other Greater Toronto Area highways and local roads. Opened in June 1997, 407 ETR was originally owned by the Ontario government. In 1999 the highway was leased to 407 International, which is owned jointly by Ferrovial
Infraestructuras with 43.23%, by subsidiaries of Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (40%) and by SNC-Lavalin (16.77%).
This deal guaranteed the extension and expansion of the highway. The main attraction of the 407 is that it enables customers to save significant time and money because they can travel at a safe and consistent speed along a congestion-free route.
The initial challenge for the 407 ETR route was to create a driving environment that could provide a free flow of traffic, without the bottlenecks associated with manual toll booths. The highway’s barrier-free design uses an automated trip tracking system that employs modern gantry-mounted cameras to read licence plates and in-vehicle transponders with active radio frequency ID (RFID) technology that identifies pre-registered vehicles. The 407 ETR route operates a sophisticated system that enables drivers to enter and exit the roadway without stopping along any of 198 entry and exit points on a 108km stretch of road.
Overhead gantries feature technology allowing vehicle data to be picked up efficiently
Unlike some urban congestion charge models that require pre-payment or a phone call within hours of a trip before penalties are incurred, 407 ETR customers are billed after their trip and typically on a monthly basis. Having captured data on where and when vehicles have entered and exited the highway, 407 ETR’s custom-built software then matches the licence/transponder details with its customer database and rates each trip according to variable time and vehicle classification tariffs, before passing this information on to the back office billing system for processing.
Vehicles not already on file are matched by sending licence plate details to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, which provides name and address information. This is then entered into the billing and CRM (customer relationship management) systems. All billing data is then formatted and sent to the company’s outsourced print shop for batch output and mailing.
Having automated the workflow from trip identification to matching and rating, the final challenge was to find an alternative to the paper-based bill. The plan for the 407 ETR route was to create an electronic end-to-end platform that could achieve numerous goals at once: help the environment, deliver better operational efficiencies and most importantly, provide customers with an easy, low touch, flexible way of viewing and paying their bills. The answer was an electronic billing and payment service that could be accessed online.
Launched in mid-2011, the company’s new web portal, based on an industry-standard software solution and implemented by ebpSource, provides a fully interactive customer experience. Those who opt for paperless billing can view and pay their current balance whenever they choose on a 24/7 basis. The web portal uses an informational format with a host of other self-service options from ordering new transponders to changing address, vehicle or account details.
Head of IT special projects at ebpSource, Chris Taylor, says: “The new website is something of a sea-change for us. Unlike our old website that was static and not connected to the billing and other computer systems, our new site provides an integrated, interactive exchange of real-time information between our back office systems and customers.”
Eliminating the need for toll booths has made a major cost saving for the highway
Rather than sending billing data to the print shop, the new solution presents statements online, not as a static PDF, but in a more flexible way that enables data to be viewed interactively. As soon as bills are ready for delivery, in less time than the manual version, 407 ETR issues an email to customers notifying them that invoices can now be viewed online.
Having logged on, users get an at-a-glance overview of amounts owing and can check itemised trip details, query or adjust toll charges and of course pay their bill. “The new website brings to our customers a whole new level of convenience with enriched information and a host of functionality that is useful for both personal and business financial management. So far, in the six months since its launch, the new portal has generated very positive feedback,” Taylor says.
For families and fleet operators alike, the website enables them to either cross-reference or consolidate their charges into a single statement and to simplify the review and payment process. Other useful functions include proactive alerts for transponder renewals and credit card expiry dates, plus, the ability to download billing data into spreadsheets or access archived statements: a particular advantage to companies with complex accounting requirements.
Electronic paperless billing and customer self-service is also delivering cost savings. With hundreds of thousands of paper bills issued each month, the cost in materials, printing, postage and manual handling every month is substantial. Going paperless, which is being phased in as customers increasingly opt for online billing, will have a positive impact on the environment as well as reducing costs. In addition, automating the payment process reduces the amount of administration required, obviates manual error and speeds settlement. The other major advantage of offering a self-service option for routine tasks like making payments and querying bills is the reduction in call centre activity that frees up staff. In general, 407 ETR has seen an 8% reduction in calls to its service centre.
Including system implementation and migration to a real-time data exchange platform, the new self-service portal has been a major undertaking. Taylor says: “We wanted to fast track development and decided the best approach was to bring in a deployment partner with a proven, international reputation.
The 407 route provides Toronto's commuters as well as through traffic with an uncongested, free-flowing highway
ebpSource’s expertise has been instrumental in our being able to offer an e-billing and self-service system that has the power and stability to handle our current needs, with flexibility to support our ambitious future plans.”
One sign of success is that 407 ETR’s customers are requesting more services, one of the most popular being something the company calls Real-Time trips. This allows drivers to review their journey details online within minutes of leaving the highway. Business users can submit their travel expenses faster, logistics firms can bill clients more efficiently and rental companies can accurately calculate customer charges.
Together with Real-Time Trips, a sister service is under consideration: Real-Time Payments. This is expected to be of particular interest to non-regular customers. “For those who use the highway for two or three trips a month, it is often more convenient for them to view trip charges in real-time online,” Taylor says. “The new system will bill them within a few days rather than within a month, after already allowing opportunity to review and address any billing issues proactively.”
This new billing system is said to be easy to use and reduces payment time needed for users, a model other tolled highways are evaluating. In addition, being able to transfer self-service billing and payment data, simplify back office accounting and track hire or transport charges in real-time, there are additional benefits with positive implications for costs.