Commentary

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.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.

Staley is the author of several books, most recently co-authoring Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). Texas Gov. Rick Perry aid Staley and Moore "get it right" and world bank urban planner Alain Bartaud called it "a must read for urban managers of large cities in the United States and around the world."

He is also co-author, with Ted Balaker, of The Road More Traveled: Why The Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can Do About It (Rowman and Littlefield, September, 2006). Author Joel Kotkin said, "The Road More Traveled should be required reading not only for planners and their students, but anyone who loves cities and wants them to thrive as real places, not merely as museums, in the 21st Century." Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said, "Balaker and Staley clearly debunk the myth that there is nothing we can do about congestion."

Staley's previous book, Smarter Growth: Market-based Strategies for Land-use Planning in the 21st Century (Greenwood Press, 2001), was called the "most thorough challenge yet to regional land-use plans" by Planning magazine.

In addition to these books, he is the author of Drug Policy and the Decline of American Cities (Transaction Publishers, 1992) and Planning Rules and Urban Economic Performance: The Case of Hong Kong (Chinese University Press, 1994).

His more than 100 professional articles, studies, and reports have appeared in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Investor's Business Daily, Journal of the American Planning Association, Planning magazine, Reason magazine, National Review and many others.

Staley's approach to urban development, transportation and public policy blends more than 20 years of experience as an economic development consultant, academic researcher, urban policy analyst, and community leader.

Staley is a former chair for his local planning board in his hometown of Bellbrook, Ohio. He is also a former member of its Board of Zoning Appeals and Property Review Commission, vice chair of his local park district's open space master plan committee, and chair of its Charter Review Commission.

Staley received his B.A. in Economics and Public Policy from Colby College, M.S. in Social and Applied Economics from Wright State University, and Ph.D. in Public Administration, with concentrations in urban planning and public finance from Ohio State University.