Has the Netherlands Solved the Electronic Toll Privacy Issue?

One of the benefits of attending a large conference like the one hosted by ITS America (Intelligent Transportation Society of America) in Houston this week is the side conversations with experts from around the world. One of those experts was an IBM executive in the Netherlands, and we discussed the near miss on the Dutch government’s plan to phase in a distance-based fee in lieu of other taxes to fund transportation. The program collapsed when political support for the ruling party forced the reorganization of the government.

Apparently, the necessity of moving toward a distance-based fee is widely accepted, but one of the key stumbling blocks, as in the U.S., is the concern for privacy. Dutch citizens are no more excited about the government having access to their personal records and data on behavior than U.S. citizens.

That problem may have been solved, however. New technology enables data on trip distances and times to be collected in a box little bigger than a transponder on the private automobile. The aggregated data would be sent to the tolling agency, whether private or public, once a week (or some other designated time) for invoicing. All invididual trip information, to the extent it is stored at all, would stay with the vehicle. The technology is now being deployed in Amsterdam on 10,000 cars as part of a pilot project to check its viability (IBM is working on the security software).

The benefit of this approach is that signals can still be sent in real time based on where the vehicle is so that pricing can be variable (change with road type and use) and dynamic (change in real time to reflect traffic conditions) but this data isn’t returned to the collection agency. It stays private.

All the tolling agency needs to know is the price to charge and the distance traveled (not the origin, destination, or identity of the driver). The billing information, in principle, could be keep completely separate from vehicle registration data.

If this experiment is successful, a significant hurdle to road pricing might be overcome for the U.S. as well.