Telecommuting – Cole's Version

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a small but highly respected think tank in D.C., released a report by Wendell Cox two years ago called: “Improving Quality of Life Through Telecommuting”.

The report deserves your time.  There is much I am leaving out. In fact, after reading it, why not promote telework at your company?

Summary points about the current state of Telecommuting:
  1. It is growing rapidly
  2. Demographic trends favor its growth
  3. It appears likely to emerge as second only to SOV
  4. It emerged as a mainstream organization strategy
  5. It improves economic productivity
  6. It assists in achieving public policy goals
  7. It could reduce inner-city unemployment
  8. It needs to become a key transportation strategy
  9. There are barriers.

Summary of where Telecommuting could go:
  1. It is growing rapidly in U.S. and … is poised to become more popular than transit and non-household carpools as a means of accessing work.

  2. If encouraged by public policies, it could deliver enormous economic and environmental benefits and could even play an important role in creating new opportunities for employment for lower-income Americans. [I would add that since oil prices will rise before the eCar becomes affordable by lower-income carbon commuters, this is more than a little prescient. -bg]
  3. We can get a fourfold increase of telecommuters, to 19M by 2020, and there are two steps the U.S. Government could take this for telecommuting:
  • Congress should reform the current pre-tax commuter expense plan (Internal Revenue Code Section 132). This allows employees to exclude from gross income up to $220 per month for “qualified parking” (defined as parking provided to an employee on or near the business premises of the employer) or up to up to $115 per month for qualified mass transit expense to and from work. This system biases employee decisions toward driving and transit and away from telecommuting and other modes (e.g. walking and bicycling). From an economic perspective, the ideal policy would be to simply eliminate this provision completely.

  • The Obama Administration should initiate an interagency examination of the potential benefits as well as strategies for accelerating telecommuting. This should be a part of a national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create economic opportunities for lower-income Americans (especially in inner cities, where auto availability is limited) and rural communities.

CONSIDER THAT TDP charging would likely drive far more telecommuting than would any other program. -bg

    How IBM describes road pricing

    Look how cleverly IBM packages the less-than-perfectly-acceptable concept of road pricing.  Are they smart or devious?
    To make transport management more effective, several cities across the world are trying to build intelligence into existing systems. Transport management systems and software tools have been effective to curtail traffic woes around some mega cities of the world. A smart traffic system helped Stockholm cut gridlock by 20 per cent, reduce emissions by 12 per cent and increase public transportation use dramatically. In London, a congestion management system lowered traffic volume to the mid-1980s levels. The system in Singapore can predict traffic speeds with nearly 90 per cent accuracy. With future enhancements, the system will help predict—rather than merely monitor—other traffic conditions as well.


    Creating a Market for Road User Charging

    The US Government and other governments in the developed and developing world have a problem: autonomous, motorized surface transportation (e.g., car, truck, bus and motorcycle) as it is currently powered and as its requisite infrastructure is currently funded, is unsustainable. Whether this is viewed from the perspective of demand management, environment, highway funding, or peak-oil the simple fact is that the fuel tax as a funding mechanism is grows more economically inefficient each day. As we look forward to increasingly efficient engines and alternative fuels, two of the problems (demand management and funding) will get rapidly worse.
    Some form of road-use charging, whether instead of or in addition to fuel taxes and other administration fees, is the solution most often proposed and defended. There are numerous proposals for collecting such charges using dedicated collection mechanisms.  None of these are cheap to provide or trivial to enforce. In many countries, the total cost of collecting such fees using dedicated methods range from 20 to 50% of the fees that are or could be levied.
    It can be argued that for commercial vehicles (buses, trucks) who directly use roads for profit that payment for use is not only justified, but that their operators likely have recourse to mitigating any incremental costs. It is harder to make this argument for private commuter vehicles. For this reason, acceptability of this impending tax shift requires that collection costs be arranged to be as close to zero as possible, so that such a shift can be expense neutral to the private commuter prepared to make slight adjustments in route, travel time or modality.
    We have a precedent for this in the cost of fuel tax collection – usually around 1% of revenue. The requirement to bring extreme cost control to the collection of road use charges is foreshadowed in the recent demand of the Dutch government that its now-delayed road use charging program cost no more than 5% of revenue – a demand that would have been challenging to meet.
    In the United States, where the level of fuel taxation is much lower than that in the Netherlands, the challenge will be far greater. A recent NCHRP study was designed to explore the type, scope, size and structure of system trials that policymakers might pursue. [1] One of the key questions examined was who should lead the deployment design of such a system.[2] Should the federal government plan a national system of VMT fees (federal framework)? Should the federal government help states help themselves (state framework)? Or should government foster a market for in-vehicle travel services (market framework)?
    The basis of the third idea has two components. First, it assumes that road use charging technology could be “just one application on” a telematics platform of the sophistication of a smart phone. Second, it assumes that such a telematics platform can support numerous useful and desirable applications, some of which would be payment services that support a profit, such as parking or pay as you drive insurance (PAYDI). Given these two factors, such payment services combined with the kinds of safety and traveler services proposed by other telematics programs such as Intellidrive in the US or CVIS as in the EU would comprise an attractive package that some drivers would voluntarily adopt and pay for.
    The attached ANNEX includes the full text of the description of the “market framework” as described in the NCHRP study by Sorensen (RAND). That description includes the proposal: “the federal government would let contracts with several firms (the initial “competitors” in the market) to provide metering devices and collection services and help enroll trial participants”. On reflection, it may make more sense to sell three or four automotive payment services licenses to significant telco providers. Such licenses would carry certification-level responsibility for protecting privacy, managing a high degree of charging performance, offering to state and federal government road-use metering and billing services at a pre-determined cost far below what would be expected from a dedicated road-use charging system.
    Such operating licenses, to be purchased by the telcos, would provide these firms with the market protection needed to invest significantly in telematics-based payment, safety, and other traveler apps in a market structured to deliver smart-metering apps in the same way smart phone apps are delivered today. The federal government should in turn use the revenues from these licenses to incent insurance companies to reform their insurance premium determination programs and municipalities to reform parking management.
    It is through fostering and initially protecting a market for telematics payment services that the United States can start building an attractive, for-profit, in-car payment service platform for a volunteer population. The telco providers of such a platform would be regulated for privacy protection and the protection of other consumer interests (fairness, equity, correct charge assessment, etc).
    The goals of reducing congestion and beginning the gradual shift from the way we now pay for roads, parking and insurance can begin immediately at far lower cost to the US taxpayer and with the promise of attractive services to volunteer motorists and a profit opportunity to telcos and their providers.
    (NCHRP study “System Trials to Demonstrate Mileage-Based Road Use Charges”. P.78-80)
     “6.2.3. Foster a Market for In-Vehicle Travel Services (Market Framework)
    This last framework, which represents the greatest departure from conventional thinking about how to accomplish a transition to VMT fees, is intended to address several goals in parallel: overcoming public acceptance challenges through voluntary adoption, implementing a fully operational (if initially voluntary) national system of VMT fees as quickly as possible, and reducing the cost to the government of collecting VMT fees.
    In essence, this framework envisions, and seeks to foster, the emergence of a market for in-vehicle metering devices and billing services that are capable of levying VMT fees and simultaneously supporting numerous value-added services, such as automated payment of parking fees, PAYD insurance, real-time traffic alerts, and routing suggestions based on current traffic conditions. Firms (e.g., device manufacturers, software developers, system integrators, telecommunications providers, toll road operators, and the like) would compete to provide these services, thereby driving down the cost of the required technology. Additionally, because firms would be able to collect payment for some of the additional services (e.g., a small percentage of parking fees or PAYD insurance premiums), the amount that they would need to charge the government for collecting VMT fees would be reduced. The main goal of the trials in this framework, then, would be to support and accelerate the development of this market. To do so, the federal government would let contracts with several firms (the initial “competitors” in the market) to provide metering devices and collection services and help enroll trial participants. In parallel, the federal government would fund or subsidize states that wished to examine VMT fees, cities or counties that wished to explore automated parking payment or local VMT fees, and insurance firms that wished to offer PAYD policies. These parties would then link up with one or more of the technology vendors to conduct the trials. After several years, the trials would evolve to full-scale implementation of an initially voluntary system. Trial participants that valued the additional services would become the initial adopters, and additional drivers would be able to adopt the in-vehicle equipment on a voluntary basis as well. After several more years, once it had been demonstrated that the system was operating successfully (i.e., that it was collecting fees, preventing evasion, and protecting privacy as planned), the government might then mandate the adoption of VMT fees for all vehicles. This approach to trials and implementation is described in greater detail by Grush (2010a)[3].
    Note that the role of private firms in providing metering devices, billing services, and other value-added offering would be possible in the other frameworks as well, but would not be the only approach that might be contemplated (e.g., a particular state might choose to examine the collection of VMT fees with registration in a publicly-administered system). In this framework, in contrast, the involvement of multiple competing firms in the provision of metering and billing services would be viewed as a critical component in achieving the goals of driving down costs and stimulating the development of value added services to promote voluntary adoption.
    Advantages. This framework offers several conceptually compelling advantages:
    • The opt-in period would allow time to demonstrate the effectiveness of privacy protection, fee collection, and enforcement strategies through the participation of voluntary adopters. This should reduce the current degree of public and political skepticism surrounding VMT fees, making it less difficult to mandate the adoption of VMT fees at a later date.
    • To gain market share, competing firms would be motivated to provide as many valuable add-on services as possible. This would help to maximize the benefits of the considerable social investment in in-vehicle metering technology.
    • Because the service and technology providers could collect revenue from a broader range of sources, the cost to the government for installing equipment and collecting VMT fees should be reduced.
    • On a related note, the cost to conduct the trials, on a per-participant basis, might be reduced in this framework. Provided that the government clearly signaled its intention to transition to a national system of VMT fees, firms might choose to cover some of the trial-related costs with their own resources in order to prepare a successful bid to participate in the trials, which would in turn position them as an early market leader. On the other hand, as expressed by one of the workshop participants, many firms have been “burned” by investing their own resources in European trials that did not lead to implementation and might therefore be less willing to do so again. This potential benefit is therefore far from certain.
    • The cost of installing equipment in vehicles would not be lost; rather, the same equipment would continue to be used when the trials phased directly into implementation and trial participants became early system adopters.

    Potential Drawbacks. This framework also faces several risks and obstacles:
    • In a voluntary opt-in framework involving privately provided equipment and services, it is conceivable that drivers would choose to adopt the equipment for PAYD insurance, for the chance to automate the payment of parking fees, and to enjoy other services but then choose not to pay mileage-based fees. Assuming a relatively flat per-mile rate structure, drivers of highly fuel-efficient vehicles, in particular, would be better off paying current fuel taxes than mileage fees. In order to increase voluntary payment of federal road use fees, the government would likely need to create some form of incentives. For example, it might set federal fuel taxes somewhat higher than mileage fees and then rebate fuel taxes to adopters, or it might institute some form of federal registration fee (collected by states and remitted to the federal government) that would be rebated for VMT-fee system adopters.
    • Under this framework, since it is envisioned that the trials would evolve directly to full-scale implementation, it would be appropriate to develop an initial set of interoperability standards and corresponding certification process in advance of the trials. Though possible, this would be challenging to achieve within just a year or two.
    • As a corollary to the preceding point, it would be necessary to make certain system design decisions—for example, the decision that fee collection would be handled by multiple private firms operating in parallel, rather than by a single firm or by the public sector—in advance of the trials. There would not, therefore, be the opportunity to inform such decisions based on lessons learned during the trials themselves.
    • With independently funded technology and service providers, states, cities, MPOs, insurance providers, research institutions, and the like, it could prove more difficult to manage and coordinate the trials under this framework.
    • The success of an industry-led model would depend largely on voluntary consumer adoption. The assumption is that consumers would be willing to purchase devices to have access to the add-on services. However, it is not certain that a mass market will emerge for these devices. For example, while some drivers would undoubtedly find the prospect of paying for parking via an in-vehicle device appealing, a large share of drivers have free parking for most trips and would not be interested in this application. Moreover, many of the envisioned services, such as routing assistance or stranded driver assistance, are already available on other platforms. If relatively few consumers voluntarily chose to adopt the equipment in order to gain access to the value-added features, greater government subsidies or mandates could be required. Related to this point is the observation, offered by a private sector representative, that from the service provider perspective, the “base” business case has to make sense (i.e., the ability to earn some return on investment by charging for the collection of VMT fees); it cannot be assumed that firms would recoup all of their investment from value-added services.
    • An industry-led model would create not one but two enforcement challenges: the potential for tax evasion by drivers, as well as the possibility that the firms or consortia collecting the fees would not remit them in an accurate or timely fashion. Firms might be responsible for collecting billions of dollars annually, necessitating sufficient staff on the government side to carefully monitor contracts and audit accounts as well as a plan for penalizing firms found to be in breach of contract. The federal government would also need to either augment its own enforcement resources or rely on state support to help prevent driver attempts to evade fees.[4]

    [1] Sorensen, P. (The RAND Corporation), “System Trials to Demonstrate Mileage-Based Road Use Charges”, National Cooperative Highway Research Program (TRB), October 2010, p.xv.
    [2] ibid, page 73-80
    [3] Grush, B. 2010a. http://grushhour.blogspot.com/2010/04/no-more-ruc-trials-please.html
    [4] As the author of this blog, I respectfully disagree. There are low-cost ways to set up metering and billing services to counteract both consumer and service-operator fraud. To the degree that payment via telematics can be maintained on a voluntary basis versus s fixed administrative fee that must be pre-paid to retain an vehicle license, fraud can be minimized at a cost lower than that of current enforcement systems.


    Gas tax, road pricing and the CAA

    Driving home from the Smart Transportation Summit (Toronto, 2010.12.07), I had a conversation with a colleague who had attended the Road Pricing & Smart Growth Conference in Toronto (2010.12.02).  While there, he was at a discussion table with "a young woman from the CAA" who said the CAA wants to see the Provincial (Ontario) and Federal fuel tax revenues shared in a way that might benefit the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

    My colleague asked:
    "What is the CAA's position as the gas tax dries up?"
    "What do you mean?"           
    "Well, people are buying more and more Priuses and Volts."
    "As cars become more and more electric, we won't have much fuel tax to share."
    "Oh, I never thought of that!"
    "Seriously? There are 100s of papers and government-funded studies concerned about what to do as the fuel tax dries up."
    "Huh! I didn't think the government thought that far ahead!"

    I know several automobile associations, and I have worked with a few of them. The Australian AA asked the government for road pricing schemes to relieve congestion.  The ANWB (Dutch) helped the Dutch government to design their (now iced) system.  The Royal Automobile Club Foundation (UK) has written extensively in favor of road pricing (its head, Professor Stephen Glaister, even starred in a documentary called Gridlock a few years ago to defend the now-hideous-in-hindsight London Congestion Charge.)
    The CAA is the only automobile club I know in the developed world that does not constructively engage with the road pricing conversation.  They are knee-jerk against it, and that is irresponsible to its constituents – Canada’s drivers – bordering on the criminal.

    The Canadian Automobile Association has a critical role to defend its constituency.  Our roads are inadequate, we cannot build to keep pace with congestion, and road pricing – the keystone of TDM – is critical to the solution needed to maximize performance of what we do have.

    The CAA should consider that they marginalize their voice and the interests of Canadian drivers by not coming to the table.  If you will accept that road pricing cannot be avoided forever:
    • Who, if not the CAA, is best suited to ensure that road pricing programs is deployed to keep the road under our cars, rather than to force cars off the road.
    • Who, if not the CAA, is best suited to ensure that road pricing not fund a “war on cars”.
    • Who, if not the CAA, is best suited to ensure all revenues are spent on roads, relieving congestion and making driving safer and more productive.
    • Who, if not the CAA, is best suited to insist that lower income drivers be protected with some form of progressive charging structure or rebate.
    • Who, if not the CAA, is best suited to ensure that if road-pricing revenue is spent on transit, then such transit needs to benefit the driver by significantly relieving congestion.
    • Who, if not the CAA, is best suited to ensure that road pricing is performance oriented and that only charges sufficient to manage congestion and fund roads be charged.
    • Who, if not the CAA, would have the strongest voice in the matter of privacy, i.e., that any road pricing technology must be absolutely private – preferably even more private than the devices and cameras used on the 407.
    • Who, if not the CAA, would have the strongest voice to demand that if GPS is to be used as part of the tolling system, then the guidelines regarding trip data that have been drawn up by the International Working Group on Data Protection in Telecommunications (IWGDPT), with input from the Ontario Privacy Commission must be followed.
    • Who, if not the CAA, is best suited to ensure that any payment service that a driver would use would conform to operating standards and would charge correctly.
    • Who, if not the CAA, is best suited to ensure that Canada not blindly follow the dominant America direction toward a simple mile-driven charge, which is a very expensive replacement for the fuel tax that would have no congestion abatement effect, as would a properly constituted system that considered time, place and vehicle-type, as well as distance traveled.
    Considering the earlier comment made by the CAA staffer regarding her surprise that the fuel tax is failing and her surprise that governments "thought that far ahead” perhaps we need an alternate automobile club prepared to understand the economic synergies between congestion and road-funding method, and prepared to understand that government, like a deer in the headlight, is unable to act to solve this problem because it is terrified of the massive number of uninformed and frustrated motorists so that we drivers who cannot or will not be accommodated by transit can drive at more that 9kph in the future.

    Otherwise the automobile will only continue to suffer from its own marketing success.


    San Francisco, Enlightened Population, Thoughtful Leadership

    Part 1

    As of December 4, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority has released the Draft Final Report of its Mobility, Access and Pricing Study (MAPS). I will critique this report over my next few blogs.

    There is also a overview video here, whose cover frame is overlaid with the news-byte: “Private automobiles contribute over 45% of greenhouse gas emissions.” The number generally quoted for this is closer to 33% – i.e., transportation, of which the private automobile is only a fraction, contributes about a third of GHG emissions, so that I had always understood the private automobile to be responsible for between a sixth and a quarter (depending on several other factors).  In any case, in the interest of determining how this number became inflated, I note that on page 1-8 (figure 1-4) the combined contribution of the Intraregional Road Vehicles plus the San Francisco Road Vehicles is 47%.

    So the cover statement on the video should probably read: “Cars and trucks in the San Francisco area contribute over 45% of greenhouse gas emissions.” The misquote unnecessarily demonizes the automobile.

    Still… how did the more typical number quoted as 1/3 become nearly 1/2?  The reason is at least four-fold. First, the 47% number is from 20 years ago and engine efficiency has helped to slightly lower the relative contribution of the internal combustion engine of the private automobile since then. Second, the principle forms of commence in the Bay Area would tend to make the internal combustion engine a larger relative contributor than say would be the case with refinery-heavy New Jersey (which of course leaves some of San Francisco’s road-filth on the east cost and uncounted in the 47% figure, which means 47% might even be conservative!). Third, San Francisco has greater than average congestion (for the US), which would also raise the local relative contribution of vehicular GHGs. Fourth, San Francisco, due to its latitude, needn’t heat its homes as much as more northern mega-regions, hence lowering the relative contribution of buildings re GHG emissions in the case of San Francisco.

    So, the ‘over 45%’ number is indeed believable – and alarming – and says that the solutions proposed (including congestion-pricing) may be as important for San Francisco as for any US city.  It may be that the case for congestion pricing in San Francisco is stronger than it was for Manhattan.

    Next: Plan Details.


    Rethink or Obit?

    Here is a draft preface to Overcoming Global Gridlock, my 2011 book on why it is necessary to replace fuel taxes with universal road tolls and how to make them acceptable.

    We have reached a crisis point with cars and trucks. We face mounting congestion. We need to reduce both emissions and oil consumption pretty much everywhere. In many countries funding for road building and maintenance is becoming ever harder to sustain.  All the while, demand for personal mobility and goods movement continues to expand. And there is little to indicate many people are willing to give up the private vehicle.

    If the autonomous vehicle has so many problems stacked against it, but demand for it is increasing, you can see that something has to give. This is predicted for the coming decade or two.

    Cars are important to us. Judging by their use and abuse, the mile-for-mile preference we have for them over other forms of mobility, the growth in their numbers[i], the increasing number of vehicle miles traveled each year[ii] and a hundred other indicators, it is the car we are addicted to rather than oil[iii].  Oil is just one symptom. Most of the sustainability problem as it is now will survive the end of oil.

    We can list a lot of bad things about our cars, but there are also a lot of good things.  Perhaps the good outweighs the bad – I, for one, think that it does. There are a lot of reasons we have so many cars and there are many solutions offered to deal with their overwhelming ubiquity. We needn’t review those things here. You already have an opinion. You already like or dislike cars. I am probably unable to change your mind. You already have a car (or two) or wish you had one. Or perhaps you have even managed to get rid of yours. Or not yet.

    Here is what you cannot argue with – the relationship between our species and the car is in some trouble. Our roadways scar our planet and drain our treasuries. Our cars clog these roadways; they are ravenous for fuel and clean air, and for space to park. They directly kill more people every year than all the wars on the planet; they indirectly shorten the lives of many more. And sooner or later we will have to wean the entire fleet off of oil – likely 2 billion of them by the time that happens. If you have a car and you don’t think you are addicted to it, lend it to me for a month.

    How did it get to this? Where is it going? And how much longer can we let it play out before we engage in a concerted effort to rescue the beloved private vehicle?

    When my grandfathers were youths there were no cars. The streets of large cities like Paris, Moscow and Chicago teamed with horses. Manhattan had 5mph speed limits that were routinely ignored and 200 pedestrians were trampled to death each year.[iv] The London Strand was described with streets flooded “with churnings of ‘pea soup’ (a euphemism for a slurry of horseshit and urine) that at times collected in pools over-brimming the kerbs, and others covered the road surface as with axel grease or bran-laden dust to the distraction of the wayfarer.”[v] Horse-drawn vehicle congestion was a normal condition.
    Chicago, 19th Century
    By the time my mother’s father, a blacksmith who shoed horses, entered the Great Depression he had 13 children but no work thanks to the automobile. The decades leading up to the second war saw the end of the horse and the entrenchment of the autonomous vehicle. When my father’s father reached his middle years in the ‘20s, he owned a Model-T and maintained it himself. The congestion in our great cities switched from horse to car. We could fit more vehicles on the same streets and we breathed the pollution instead of walking in it.
    New York 1929
    After the Second War, the car entered our sex-lives and our song lexicon – spilling out of our radios.

    I'll buy you a Ford Mustang, I'll buy you a Ford Mustang,
    I'll buy you a Ford Mustang if you'll just give me some of your love now
    Yeah, give me some of your love girl, yeah, you know what I want.[vi]

    When I was 13 I knew I’d drive when I was 16.  Neither of my parents nor any of theirs thought that as a teenager. A new entitlement had locked in.

    The automobile has had a good ride since the 1950’s. Road building, urban form, transport policy and automotive innovation have deepened the entitlement to the point that we have now collectively forgotten what non-automotive transport and sex-before-cars was like. For many of us, not owning a car is little like being caught naked in public.

    This entitlement, if not the car itself, is endangered. The reputation of the private vehicle is tarnished and declining.  In some circles drivers are looked on as if they still smoked cigarettes. The utility of the private vehicle is diminished by congestion. Parking has turned from minor nuisance to dreaded chore. The gap between the promise of car ads and the experience of owning one widens more each year. My fourteen-year old daughter guffaws at car ads. She looks at me funny, when I say she will be driving soon.

    In the 2010s era of peak-oil, a century after peak-horse, most big cities have speed limits of 25-35 mph, and average speeds that are far lower. Pedestrians may be a little safer in these cities than they were under horses hoofs, but now we waste time and fuel. We pollute, text co-workers that we will be late, and use GPS to find alternative routes. In my city, Toronto, resigned complaints about congestion dominate morning greetings in place of innocuous comments about the weather. Our morning and afternoon rush-hours now bleed into a single 12-hour peak.

    This trend will not self-reverse.  Left as it is tending, the utility of the autonomous vehicle is threatened. And with it we will lose what remains of the convenience, effectiveness, autonomy, pleasure and sexiness of private commuting and travel.

    This book is not anti-car. In fact it is pro-car – but in a balanced way. It is true that many drivers continue to be rude to transit, aggressive toward bikes, and threatening toward pedestrians – and like blowing smoke in the face non-smokers, drivers do that to the detriment of the way of travel they prefer.  Unless we consider new ways of thinking about the use of fuel-powered, multi-thousand-pound, autonomous, private vehicles, we risk writing the obituary of freedom that the automobile came to symbolize in the last half of the twentieth century.

    This book describes the way out.

    [i] Sperling, Two Billion Cars
    [ii] FHWA, Our Nation’s Highways 2008.
    [iii] Quote from Bush.
    [iv] Vanderbilt, Traffic
    [v] Jacobs, Death and Life page 444
    [vi] The Animals


    When will GNSS be chosen over RFID to Toll Roads?

    In a recent email exchange over the various San Francisco proposals to deploy congestion pricing, a long-time road-tolling pundit remarked: "I'm not sold on GPS. It is expensive and unreliable as the Germans have found with their GPS-based Toll Collect for trucks on the autobahn system."

    GPS (properly "GNSS") metering has come a long way since the 1990’s technology used in the 2003 Swiss and 2005 German systems. Companies from Germany, Austria, Italy, Canada and New Zealand all have reliable GPS metering in operation in the field and collecting revenue. Even the Toll Collect system resolved all their original reliability problems. In fact, Financial-grade GPS (FGPS) has been tested by Caltrans in San Francisco and has been reported here;
    and this page also provides a URL to the original draft report from Caltrans.

    Compared to RFID, GPS technology is more flexible, more extensible, and cheaper for large systems. If the only thing San Francisco will do in the next 20 years is one cordon, then it should use RFID by all means. But if this is the camel's nose in the tent (and you and I know it is), then GPS should be used. Had FGPS been used in London instead of cameras, the initial system would have cost 200M instead of 500M and the western extension 20M instead of 500M. RFID is perfect for one-time, non-extensible use. It is no longer appropriate for systems that will be extended or need to be flexible.

    A recent paper given at the 2010 Slovenian Traffic Congress talks about 10 reasons GNSS is better than microwave
    .  Actually there are 11, but the author left out interoperability (since the GPS signals are non-proprietary), and it was too late to change the paper before delivery.

    E-ZPass has 22M transponders and 3700 toll lanes equipped with readers. I would suggest that the 5-year replacement cost for this system at  $1,000,000 per lane and $2 per vehicle (exclusive of operating costs) is $3.75B. Alternatively the 5-year replacement cost using GNSS road-use metering at $150 per vehicle is 3.3B.  We would have to study the operational costs, as well, of course, but let’s assume they are a wash (they are not, because E-ZPass is more costly.)

    So already, for large systems, the cost of GNSS rivals that of RFID. The bill of materials for a FGPS-based device in volume is already approaching $100, and will go lower. RFID prices no longer decline: materials will go up, labor will go up, power will go up, construction costs will go up, maintenance costs will go up, right-of-way costs will go up.
    But, GNSS prices will decline.  As the pressure for tolling more and more of our network increases, the case for RFID which is already founded more on habit than understanding, continues to erode. Only its installed base and fear of change preserves its legacy. Its economics is failing.

    We will certainly make the switch from RFID to GNSS.  The question, now is only: "When?"
    I think there is further evidence in the fact that Kapsch paid a measly $3.18 (about 1 drive’s-worth!) for each E-ZPass user or a paltry $2.9M for each of the 24 Toll Operators that are part of the E-ZPass group
    . They bought the (captive!) customer base for a song. As richer telematics platforms for the connected vehicle provide more and more features, and as FGPS-based parking, insurance and road tolling become simple apps on these platforms, dedicated transponders and the hideous clutter of gantries will no longer be the gold standard for tolling.

    But congratulations to Kapsch for picking the pocket of America as she sleeps.


    There are ways out of this

    Shai Agassi has a way to get clean electricity into your car without multi-hour charge-times.

    And Scott Brusaw has a new way of generating solar power that is very close to the car. And here is an article related to this idea that even talks about charging the car as it drives.

    There are new power storage innovations, as well. Paper batteries news item, and the original paper.

    I see a lot of optimism in this. Sure it will take awhile, but which future do you prefer? That or this...
    From the Behance Network (?)


    The Decade of the Dashtop

    I had the privilege of giving a 3-minute TEDx talk at a Toronto event called TEDx IB York, yesterday 2010.11.11. I used the word Dashtop in the title to play on high-tech history of desktop-laptop-palmtop that I allude to in the talk.

    Here is the text (co-written with Lukas van der Kroft and with a nod to Tom Vanderbilt for the Manhattan horses).  I will add the Youtube link when it becomes available in a few days.

    It’s 1870. I’m a driver in Manhattan. The speed limit is 5mph. But I ignore that. I seldom yield to anyone. My horses stink. And the kind I drive trample 200 pedestrians to death every year.

    It’s 2010. I’m a driver trapped in congestion. I’m wasting time and fuel. I’m polluting. I’m texting people that I will be late. I am poking at my GPS to find another route. And, I am beginning to hate cars.

    The number of vehicles on the planet will double in 25 years, but roads will expand by less than 10%. Since is impossible to build our way out of congestion cars and roads need to be much smarter to process more travelers and more trips. Twentieth century driving will go away just like Manhattan’s 19th-century horses did.

    Partial solutions won’t work. We expect electric vehicles and smart grids to improve the environment, but they will also add to congestion and wipe out the fuel tax. And that threatens the sustainability of our roads. So we also need to re-think fueling infrastructures and the way we pay for road use.

    Extraordinary innovation at the dashboard will address congestion and make transportation safer and sustainable in the new century. Historically, high-tech innovation has moved through cycles of feature-glut-followed by-consolidation-then by-availability. In the 90s it was laptops. Last decade it was smart phones.

    What’s up next is the decade of the connected vehicle.  We’ll see a wave of breakthroughs on our dashboards. Cars and infrastructure will begin to collaborate over 4G networks.

    Real-time speed, location, heading and other measurements about cars around you will become critical to a revolution in safety and mobility.  We will rely less on driver attention and field of vision. Our dashboard will know what’s around the corner as well as miles away. It will handle so many tasks we will be supervising our car rather than driving it.

    Your new dashboard will enable a massive leap in roadway utilization. It will balance congestion, desired arrival time, emissions, right of way, and signal timing. It will have advanced systems for speed control, collision avoidance, convoys, lane departure, and parking assistance. These are just a taste of the feature glut intended to keep your trip safer and easier and to consume less road space.

    Your dashboard will manage road use payments to replace the fuel tax. These will be based on usage patterns: where, when, what, and the distance you drive. And this will force gas taxes, tollbooths, parking meters, and even your car insurance to follow Manhattan’s horses into history.

    You may even fall in love with your car all over again.

    Thank you.


    A reader asks

    I have been following this Skymeter thing for some time now, and I have few questions:

    1: Could your in-car meter cost be 100% offset or set to a nominal amount such as $10 if tied to location based services or couponing?
ABSOLUTELY!  That is the whole reason for adding multiple, desirable user services such as automatic, ticket-free parking payments and pay-as-you-drive insurance.

    2:  Is there a model whereby a smartphone could replace the need for your telematics unit?

    Not exactly, although the smartphone will be integrated for auditing, couponing and several other elements and services. Why can such a replacement not be 100%?  There are two critical difference between the telematics needed in the connected vehicle and smart phones.

    First, payment telematics for road, parking and PAYD insurance must be attached securely to ensure correct metering for payment.  You can leave your phone at home or off.  This class of technology acts like an electronic license plate or a taxi meter.  It is not transferable or moveable, as is the in-car unit for the Toronto’s 407 or the E-ZPass in the US, which charges at a point and is replaceable by a license plate reader.  So doing it your way, but with these constraints would make it like the attached, in-car-phones of 15-20 years ago -- a step backwards.

    Secondly, the driver is in a bit of an adversarial relationship with a road-use | parking | insurance meter, unlike your collaborative relationship with your navigation device or smartphone. Hence the road use meter must operate without user intervention and must always be correct to within a tiny error tolerance (e.g., 0.1%).  The GPS sensors on your smart phone cannot do that.  Skymeter can because it has several other sensors and processors that would make your smart phone about 50% bigger (for now – and to anticipate your next question – sure that will come, someday, as well).

    The location-precise telematics we have developed we call Financial-grade GPS (FGPS).  What is in your smart phone and your Garmin is Navigation-grade GPS.  FGPS means: always accurate, non-reputable, low transaction cost, and private.  Just like your Visa card but not like your smart phone (which missing both “always accurate” [with respect to location] and “non-reputable”). The part we developed will disappear behind your rear-view mirror and your smart phone (or a dashboard display) will be your interface. AND your telco provider will be handling your payment.  So a Skymeter = the meter, your smartphone = the app interface, and a telco = the service provider.  But inside the Skymeter-smartphone combination are several other apps such as safety, in-car signage, other traveler apps, couponing, rewards, parking loyalty programs, and many others -- the smartphone app-model, but for automobility-related apps.
    3: Could your parking fees be paid for by businesses that want to encourage you to park near them?
    ABSOLUTELY.  That is an included capability. This is where the smart phone can play a role, although there are several ways to affect this. Remember your great uncle who does not like cell phones?  BUT you need the accuracy and non-refutability of FGPS to avoid cheating.


4: I think [Google | Facebook | Apple] is going to pay for your parking. Do you agree?
Well, I think your local retailer might want to pay for your parking (as an earned reward) and folks like Google | Facebook | Apple will fight over ways to help them.


    Dutch transportation bombed back to the Middle Ages?

    The history of road tolling can be seen to parallel the history of civilization.  A couple thousand years ago, in the Stone Age of tolling, the emperor would set some trusted tax collectors at the side of the road to block passage and collect a toll. Much later in the Bronze Age of tolling, local lords erected small huts that evolved into the toll booth and coin counters of the Iron Age of tolling. Then passing through the Dark Ages of fuel taxes and the Renaissance of microwave and video cameras, we arrive, finally, at the Modern Era infrastructure-free satellite tolling.

    Throughout this history, as in many facets of human development, we cling to the past, afraid to abandon old habits.  In fact, like adherents of ancient religions suitable for darker times of plague and crusades, far more vehicles today slow or stop to pay tolls at booths or coin counters or have their plates read by cameras, than enjoy free flow satellite tolling.

    Less than 0.1% of all the vehicles on the planet have thus far made the leap from the Renaissance to the Modern Age and these are the million trucks so equipped in Germany, Switzerland and Slovakia. Until a few months ago, the Dutch were poised to push this figure to almost 1% – an enormous leap, if you think about it.

    But all that changed presumably because of America’s war in Afghanistan.  Early in 2010, the Dutch government collapsed over an Obama-requested reversal regarding Dutch troop withdrawal. That halted the “Kilometerheffing” system, which was to be based on Modern Era satellite technology.

    The proposal of the new, minority government is to increase fuel taxes, which is known to have no lasting effect on congestion. Even newer proposals call for privacy-invasive video cameras instead of privacy-protecting GNSS OBUs which were designed to keep personal location data personal.

    Does this mean America has bombed the Dutch transportation reform jaggernaut back to the Middle Ages?

    I originally thought that, but now I don’t. The real reason is in the way humans prefer risk. We are more willing to gamble when it comes to losses, but we are risk adverse when it comes to gains. And in this politicians are no special case.  Drivers prefer to risk continuing to lose more time to congestion than to risk the promised gains of congestion pricing. Politicians prefer to risk the failing efficacy of fuel taxes to risking the potentially greater gains of road-use charging.

    Professor Jens Schade (Dresden University) specializes in acceptability of transport pricing strategies. He shows that losses are psychologically at least two times more powerful than equivalent gains. This means that for the new Dutch politicians to continue their predecessors’ programming, they need to percieve that the potential gains of GNSS-based road-user tolling (both in terms of transport efficiency and job-retention) are more than twice as great as the potential losses of raising fuel taxes and putting in a few video cameras. Clearly they don’t.


    Green, small, smart, congested

    We hear touted as a solution to our car-woes that cars will get cleaner – all the way to electric and fully sourced from solar and wind. 
    We note that there is some trend, however minuscule, toward smaller cars.  Ones that fit two to a parking spot. Some places have more of them than others.
    There are even ideas to put two to a lane.
    Now, even the god Google is in the fray with cars that look to be able to drive themselves. In this way cars can bunch closer together.
    Each of these improvements will make the private automobile more useful, less polluting, more desirable, more ubiquitous and our roads more congested.
    Pollution-free, convoys, two to a lane. More. But roads cannot be supplied effectively as fast as we can populate our fleets. This is so because of space, politics, money, and environment.

    Space, not automotive innovation is the limitation; there is no lack of automotive innovation. But we do lack the courage to manage demand.

    The market makes cars better by satisfying demand.  The market could make mobility better by managing demand with time-distance-place pricing.


    Duped by the Hollywood Tracking Myth

    In response to the Lost: Dutch Courage blog that has upset many people, comes the most unfortunate (and commonly believed!) of all responses…
    Bertram said...

    One thing you failed to mention: the road pricing scheme would [have been] enforced with GPS-powered black boxes in each vehicle. No matter what you think of mobility management, you should be very worried when the government starts collecting detailed whereabouts data on the majority of its citizens.

    As a non-driving Dutch citizen I'm glad the scheme is gone... had it been implemented with cameras to charge motorists when they accessed certain zones I would have been emphatically in favour of the scheme, but the way it was proposed was just too Orwellian to trust the government with.
    The fact that Bertram is a non-driver, means that he likely carries an unfair portion of the burden of unfettered congestion. If he is mobile, even under the care of others, he would tend to shoulder a share of the financial (hidden tax) and health cost. He would tend to be stuck in traffic when he uses bus, bike, carpool, ambulance, etc.

    Bertram has been misled by conspiracy theorists, as have many others, including some planners describing these systems. GPS by itself cannot track you.  Only additional capabilities to return your whereabouts to a service outside your vehicle can track you.  Bertram is assuming, as do many that road-pricing system look like tracking systems for trucking-logistics – an especially foolish way for a government to deploy a GPS-based road-use charging system. The International Working Group on Data Protection in Telecommunications has been vey clear about this: [1] preservation of driver anonymity using either “smart clients” or “anonymous proxy”, [2] that personal data including location data always remain under the control of the driver, [3] that off-board location record keeping is not required, [4] that detailed trip data be fully and permanently deleted from the on-board system as soon as charges have been settled, [5] that the system is prevented from creating movement profiles and function-creep, [6] that processing of personal data for additional purposes only be possible with clear and unambiguous consent from the individual, [7] and that system enforcement not require or capture any personal data unless there is evidence that the driver has committed a violation of the road pricing system.

    Remarkably, what is little considered is that GPS IS THE ONLY TOLLING TECHNOLOGY THAT CAN BE FULLY ANONYMOUS Cameras capture the whereabouts of your vehicle whenever they see your vehicle; DSRC and RFID do the same. Even the fuel tax tracks you if you pay for your gas with a credit card, since your gas transaction has a time and location stamp. GPS can do its job entirely inside your vehicle never sending ANY location information outside of your vehicle. Ironically, the technology Bertram is mortally afraid of is the only one that can guarantee him the anonymity he desires (and has a right to).

    Now Bertram and many others will continue to believe what the press and his friends tell him.  Conspiracy is far too fascinating and Government trust is on the wane. Nonetheless, I would entreat Bertram to find out more for himself. What Bertram COULD do is [1] assume road-pricing will one day happen (it will); and [2] set up a citizens' watch-dog to ensure his government conforms to the IWGDPT guideline. It is always better to arm yourself than sit quaking in your armchair.

    Freedom of movement is a basic human right.

    This will get you started.


    Notes from a reader

    Not long after I posted yesterday's eulogy to the Dutch road-pricing system, the following arrived. It was too good to leave buried in the comments...
    I normally have a poke at the mindless UK media – which one week will report how dreadful it is that cars are killing people by crashing into each other, emitting noxious fumes and warming the planet – and the next will celebrate the latest setback for common sense (repealing the London congestion charge, canceling the LRUC project, discontinuing the TIF initiatives).

    Last week the Labour party elected its new leader. His speech was mainly themed on how Labour will win the next election, rather than how any policies will benefit the citizens, who will not get to vote again for about five years. Meanwhile the ruling party declares that it will “end the war on the motorist”, the first manifestation of which is to cause cancellation nationwide of speed camera partnerships at local levels. We have some real wars going on, for example in Afghanistan, which have killed about 300 Brits. In the same time, road deaths have killed about fifty times as many people. Politicians don’t know which war to fight, and content themselves with populist pronouncements to feed media expectations.

    London has a Mayor who thinks that putting a few thousand bikes out for hire will really make a dent in the massively larger vehicle population. In the same week that he confirmed the abolition of the Western Extension Congestion Charge, thereby freeing the inhabitants of Kensington & Chelsea from the tyranny of road charging, I noticed an interesting feature on that borough’s website. This site offers suggestions for walking and cycling routes which are planned to avoid the areas of heavy pollution and careless London drivers. Health advice is that, in a growing vehicle population, attempting to walk or cycle by a convenient route is quite likely to lead to a premature death by one means or another.


    Lost: Dutch Courage

    On 12 November 2009, Ferry Smith, a senior representative of the Royal Dutch Touring Club, ANWB (similar to the CAA or AAA) spoke at a Toronto conference called Transport Futures, in support of the Dutch road user charging (RUC) program, called "Kilometerheffing" (kilometer-pricing) or as his talk and the Dutch program was titled in English: “Paying Differently for Mobility”.

    Just hours before a decisive vote was to be cast by the Dutch Parliament, Mr. Smith talked about how much effort and collaboration had gone into this programme, especially related to the supportive efforts of the ANWB.

    Although confident the vote would pass, he admitted it was not guaranteed. Someone asked what he thought would happen next if the vote failed. His answer: “We’d be set back 10 years”, meaning the effort would start all over and they would take until 2020 to regain the place they were now.

    Later that day, the vote passed making the Dutch road pricing system a virtual certainty.

    On 20 February 2010, the Dutch government collapsed ostensibly over a military issue (troop withdrawal from Afghanistan). With it came a complete freeze of the “Kilometerheffing” system. Transport staff reassigned, consultants laid off.  All thrust instantly into suspended animation.

    Remembering what Ferry Smith had said, and noting that the number of delayed, withdrawn or canceled RUC programs in the EU had outnumbered the deployed ones, I wrote a rhetorical piece about Governments not being able to toll roads on 24 June 2010.

    At the end of September 2010, the new Dutch coalition government released its plan. The big picture is reduced administration, reduced social programming, reduced arts and culture, new restrictions on immigration, burqas and forced marriages, reduced defence, development and payments to the EU, increased law-and-order by way of increased penalties and more officers, some adjustments in education and a break in business taxes.

    The road-pricing matter was delegated to the fine print and finally buried:

    “There will be no road pricing. Instead, the variable cost of driving is increased through fuel tax. The fixed costs are reduced proportionately. The government is investing 500 million euros in infrastructure, both roads and rail”.
    Talk of a new superhighway is included, all while neighbouring Belgium was talking of a copy-cat kilometerheffing system. Quelle honte!

    So begins the Ferry Smith Decade in the Nederlands.



    To be fair, while the Dutch fuel-tax-fixed-tax swap is revenue neutral (that hopeful prayer and false-hope offering to the voter) it does have the driver notice the new road-use charge for the first three or four weeks, at least. Vehicle kilometres traveled will recover almost immediately – and I do mean this in terms of mere weeks.  While drivers sigh with relief, they will have no relief.  Nothing will change. Both their pocketbooks and their congested roads will remain unchanged.

    There is an odd added perk: increased speed limits.  Like offering free candy to a diabetic. One disappointed, anonymous, online pundit adds: “I will only be able to speed late at night when the roads are not congested.”  Darwin award, for sure, since I suspect he may drink first in celebration.

    Another comic side effect is that the expression “kilometerheffing” originally imbued with some affection by the road-use charge promoters has been cheaply appropriated to describe the new fuel tax increase and fixed tax decrease.

    All government doublespeak.  Orwell by not being Orwell.

    I have no bone to pick with the new coalition government agenda. The conservative-liberal agenda ebbs and flows will always continue. Rather I point out that this is just more evidence that Departments of Transport cannot directly approach an all-at-once tax shift from the congestion-blind fuel tax to the congestion-sensitive road-use-charge. There is never sufficient time in a single administration of a democratic nation, and there is almost never sufficient continuity of courage or vision.  Ex-Transport Minister, Eurlings (Nederlands), may have had this courage-vision combination and even the benign support of his then-government, but to design a solution that could not proceed
    in-progress and automatically into a subsequent administration is the kiss of death. Look at the Brits. They swap out Secretary of Transport (a posting that is evidentially a way-station to a better portfolio) almost annually. No one holding such a temporary position and who needs some degree of acceptability lest they remain stuck in the post, would dare stick out his neck (Alistair Darling excepted, but that was before Britain’s most effective road-pricing voice, Peter Roberts, soured the whole thing – now the DfT works under more secrecy than does the CIA – so goes Roberts’ brand of uninformed democracy). I am not faulting the DfT. I am commending them for finding a way to proceed. AND I mourn the loss of intelligent debate.

    The only way to avoid this quagmire is to approach the eventual shift by building the charging platform by other means. Note that one of the more repeated online comments on hearing that the Dutch road-pricing system will be replaced by a fuel-tax hike was “good thing, because a fuel-tax hike will save all those billions on a road-pricing system.”  Here is a way to proceed


    On 2010.10.07 13:30, Paolo Pezzotta commented:
    As you know from my posting when you first noted the likelihood of Dutch national VMT [TDP] tolling, I noted that there was a vast difference in truck tolling home-based-vehicle (auto) tolling. These are vastly different markets serving vastly different functions relative to the economy and urban systems and the politics are consequently vastly different. You thought it was a slam dunk. I thought it might provide some surprises. I was right.

    We all should catch on this and try to learn something from this fact.

    You are confusing two very different things. Cordon pricing schemes do in fact push folks off the road (predominately lower income folks)- that is their function, see London and Stockholm plans. VMT pricing will do the same. Less cars will “go through” as a result. That is the objective. Neither will provide sufficient funding to meet a market’s needs. Both will massively misallocate capital. The public knows what it is doing. It is the technocrats that need to come up to speed.

    These notions should be abandoned. Driver based funding strategies have done a great deal of damage, institutionally, physically, competitively.

    Paolo -- Jerry is right that CP can provide faster, safer, cleaner trips to more (not fewer) vehicles.  BUT that is only when the schema is designed to move the trips to off-peak times.  The problem is that we have a Secretary of Transportation who used the phrase "coerce drivers out of their cars". Incidents like this tell me that even people who should understand CP, do not. -- Bern

    On 2010.10.07 03:06, Jerry Bridgman commented: 
    The weary, angry cynicism of the cited blogs may be hiding from you the possibility the CP product you are offering is deficient! Ideally reducing congestion would provide faster, safer, cleaner trips to more (not fewer) vehicles. Engineer that and you might have a salable product.

      On 2010.10.06 11:45, Allen Greenberg commented:
      I appreciate your highlighting of the near-impossibility of implementing a mileage-based user fee system within the single term of a political champion.  I had not thought of it quite that way, but it makes perfect sense, and thus—as you note--alternatives need to be sought.

      On 2010.10.06, 09:05 Jack Opiola commented:
      I am afraid you give Alastair Darling too much credit. After the debacle of Byers, his predecessor over the Hatfield Train accident and the reneging on the Public Trust set up for the rail network in the UK, PM Darling was posted to Transport to keep it out of the press and put a tight lid on Transport. He was magnificently effective in positively doing absolutely nothing in his tenure as Transport Minister, which is probably why they rewarded him with Treasury where he again efficaciously provided negative value to the post and the UK.

      I am afraid you misread his actions. By consolidating the HMCE efforts for truck tolling into a larger UK road pricing agenda, he was killing it, not promoting it. His Deputy Minister was released to promote the technology investigation but the PM with stodgy  influences could never see outfitting 33 million vehicles with any technology, let alone a GNSS or DSRC hybrid for road pricing.

      The £49 billion in fuel excise tax annually is a treasure chest that Treasury will never surrender. After all, less than half returns to Transport (all transport) and the rest funds Government's other platforms.

      I am afraid the poor (literally)  British drivers are already overtaxed with a blunt financial instrument that fails to address congestion, limit car usage nor provide sufficient supply-side measures to address the manifest problems. Whilst Mr. Peter Roberts may be misplaced in his expression of love for motoring, his outrage may be better targeted to express exasperations at a government that continues to rip off its drivers and pay them back for their contribution with niggardly transport policies and practices. While a VMT approach - that is an approach that replaces the fuel excise tax with a fair, equitable, reliable and sustainable solution - may be the solution, I cannot envisage the past or current UK Politicians ever giving up the goose that is providing such a wonderful golden eggs as provided by the gas tax.