Friday, March 18, 2011

ICC Tolling System Forshadows Tracking of Drivers, Average Speed Cameras

WBAL did an interesting story on the new Inter County Connector (ICC).  The ICC is a cashless toll road, the first such road in the state.  Drivers on the road must either have an EZPASS (for which Maryland Charges a monthly fee), or else the system uses automated license plate recognition(ALPR) to record the passing vehicle's plate at their entry and exit points and mail the vehicle owners a bill in the mail for the toll plus a $3 service charge.

The article noted that the bills were recording times of of entry/exit down to the second and asked "Couldn't they use those cameras to see how long it takes each vehicle to travel between the electronic tolling structures on the ICC and gauge each vehicle's speed and then send speeding out tickets in the mail accordingly?"  The answer to that, at least in terms of technical capability,  is "you bet they could!"  This is called an "average speed camera" and they are used in some parts of the UK already.  Basically if you exceed the speed limit *at any point* during the journey, an average speed camera would ticket you if your average speed across the span is above a certain threshold (or, of course, if the time measurement at one of the sites was incorrect, but let's ignore that since everyone knows machines are never wrong).  The widespread use of photo enforcement and automated tolling in Europe has even lead to a practice called "number plate cloning", where criminals trying to avoid fines and tolls create copies of another car's plate and stick the real plate's owner with the penalties.

ALPR systems like the one used for the ICC can also be used to flag specific vehicles, for example cars with expired registrations or unpaid parking tickets.  The ICC toll system could in theory also become the first piece of a regional "Road Value Pricing" plan, also called a "congestion tax", which the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is studying right now.  It's worth pointing out that MWGOG is studying it in the context of "how do we convince the public to accept tolling on most major roads" not whether they want it (they've already decided on that!)