A star is born
Smart toll services in the USA: tapping a large market with the right strategy, by Vanessa Clement
As the pioneer in the widespread implementation of electronic toll collection (ETC), the United States today represents half of the world’s ETC market. Future business opportunities are high as public authorities strive to find new ways to finance road networks, while at the same time ease congestion and deliver a more personalized customer experience to US drivers. VINCI Highways, a subsidiary of transport infrastructure leader VINCI Concessions, has found the keys to unlock the potential, winning three new contracts in the space of a few months with North Texas Tollway Authority, Central Texas and North East Texas Tollway Authorities, and Pharr International Bridge. The recipe: a broad delivery capacity and the global vision of an international highway concessionaire.
Matching US needs with all-inclusive approach
As the operator of the 91 Express Lanes in California, one of the world’s fully automated toll facilities, VINCI Highways was already a recognized US player in the field of toll customer services. In 2016, this know-how was complemented by a strong push to tech expertise, through the acquisition of a strategic stake in TollPlus, a back-office pure player based in Phoenix, Arizona, and a leader of digital toll transactions in India.
“On the American market, more than anywhere else, it is essential to be able to address the challenges of managing high-volume transactions, seamless revenue collection and responsive customer service at the same time”, comments Jérôme Lejeune, ETC Director of VINCI Highways. “American tolling authorities are looking for providers bringing convenience and broad options. Given the Federal governance of road transportation, market players must be able to adapt to any kind of product type, vehicle identification and classification, tag devices, pricing or payment strategies”.
While each US state presents its own challenges, all of them experience a steady increase in road traffic. As a result, tolling authorities throughout the country are looking to expand their capacity to serve an ever-growing number of drivers at best standards.
“This market demand for expanded capacity is well aligned with our global model”, says Lejeune. “Our approach to data migration allows us to implement more powerful back-office systems swiftly and seamlessly and within a totally secure data environment - a key focus for the public organizations we serve”, adds Suresh Karkala, CEO of TollPlus. A focus that determined North Texas Tollway Authority to select TollPlus in the summer of 2018 to design, implement and maintain its new back-office toll collection system. The new system will process all transponder-based and license-plate based toll transactions on NTTA’s network which covers more than 1,000 lane miles around Dallas, as well as transponder-based parking at Dallas International and Love Field airports. With the new system, NTTA will be able to handle over six million transactions per day, roughly twice the volume handled today.
“Our client will meet the demands of today and handle projected transaction growth over the next 10 years”, says Lejeune. “The system is built on highly scalable and secure architecture. During the proof of concept phase, their system processed our current transaction volume in record time” explains Sabu Stephen, Director of Information Technology of NTTA.
Taking customer service to the next level
A few months earlier, about 300 km South from Dallas, VINCI Highways played on another facet of its expertise to convince Central Texas Mobility Authority: toll customer services. “Road transportation is experiencing a customer-centric revolution”, explains Jérôme Lejeune. “Authorities that regulate roads are increasingly looking at strategies to turn drivers into engaged and satisfied client communities”.
Driving the trend, VINCI Highways modeled a winning offer targeting a better service to drivers, through its subsidiary Cofiroute USA. The new five-year contract with CTRMA and NETRAM will see Cofiroute USA provide pay by mail processing, collections and customer services on five motorways and expressways in Austin and Tyler, representing an annual volume of approximately 23 million transactions.
Ray Wilkerson, Chairman of CTRMA, commented about the new contract: “It is our mission to enhance the quality of life for Texans through effective and efficient transportation options. As road traffic keeps increasing in the region, selecting VINCI Highways’ subsidiary Cofiroute USA as our provider will help taking our tolling services to the next level. Choosing a world leader in toll and customer services shows our determination to keep Central and North East Texas to the cutting edge of road technology and deliver the best possible service to drivers”.
“We firmly believe this client-focused approach will be a game changer for the future of the toll industry, and we permanently invest in new marketing initiatives matching customers’ needs and habits”, explains Jerôme Lejeune. In 2017, VINCI Highways partnered with BMW to celebrate the car manufacturer’s 100th birthday with an ETC-based free ride on the highway the company operates between downtown Moscow and Sheremetyevo airport. A special BMW-branded line was opened at the toll gate, and BMW sponsored its drivers’ tolling fees directly to the concessionaire. With over 15 million media mentions, the initiative was awarded a Lion d’Or at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, one of the world’s most prestigious creativity awards.
The integrated mindset of a worldwide road concessionaire
In an era of disruption and globalization for road transportation, VINCI Highways also plays on its global vision to bring value to American authorities. “They recognize the fact that we are a strong company managing road concessions in 13 countries. This shows we have the global approach and the financial and project management capacities it takes to support US activities”, says Lejeune. VINCI Highways can indeed build on the flagship projects it operates worldwide such as Germany’s Toll Collect, one of the world’s biggest GNSS successes, to take the lead on road user charging and mileage reporting systems, the next “Big thing” for tomorrow’s US tolling market.
Vanessa Clement is Communications Manager at Vinci Concessions