Why Russians don’t slow down to pay tolls

Why Russians don’t slow down to pay tolls

It started with a press release. When the Russian company RUTOLL read our announcement of UCODE DNA, the industry’s first secure UHF RFID tag, they got in touch. They thought UCODE DNA might be the ideal product for their new toll-collection system for Russian expressways, and they wanted to know more.

RUTOLL labelsWe confirmed that UCODE DNA is an RFID breakthrough, combining cryptographic authentication with high-speed and long-distance reading, and agreed that UCODE DNA is exceptionally well suited to vehicle registration and automated payments on toll roads.

Improved traffic flow
RUTOLL took the next step, and conducted a study in St. Petersburg. They were pleased with the results: UCODE DNA is so fast, and so accurate, that cars can pass through toll-collection points without slowing down. And, because UCODE DNA uses cryptographic authentication to verify identity, it ensures secure transactions and protects against fraud.

The company’s automatic vehicle identification (AVI) and tolling system is now deployed along several roads including two of Russia’s most heavily used expressways – the M1 “Belarus,” which travels east-west and links Moscow to the Belarus capital of Minsk, and the M4 “Don,” which travels north-south and links Moscow to the many resort towns along the Black Sea. RUTOLL is moving ahead quickly with UCODE DNA – the company invests in R&D, explains benefits to partners, actively offers new opportunities to tolling operators and is ready to deploy new solutions at existing and new highways.  They recommends deploying the system that supports both active and passive RFID solutions. DSRC transponders could be phased out in the future.

Changing to an AVI system for toll payment, based on UCODE DNA, helps keep traffic flowing smoothly, since drivers don’t need to slow down to pass through a toll-collection point. There are fewer delays, and that means happier travelers. Also, drivers have the confidence of knowing that they’ll be charged the right amount, without compromising their personal information, since the system provides the same level of security as a contactless bank card or an electronic ID. Passive RFID technologies provide breakthrough for MLFF (multi-lane free flow) tolling systems. It also allows to deploy a systems faster and at lower costs.

The best option for secure AVI
Before they found UCODE DNA, RUTOLL had considered other approaches, but there were drawbacks with each method:

  • Barcodes
    Optical systems that use barcodes have poor reading reliability, since weather and dirt can make the barcodes unreadable. Barcodes are relatively easy to forge, and the scanner, which has to be mounted quite close to passing vehicles, can be at risk of damage.
  • On-board units so called “OBUs” based on DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communication)
    Systems that use active DSRC transponders are quite accurate, but the initial investment is high, since these transponders are relatively complex devices that tend to be more expensive, bulkier, and not very comfortable. Toll agencies often don’t want to make the extra investment in active DSRC transponders, and passing the high cost onto drivers hasn’t been popular, either. User experience is not great as well – OBU can fall off, it attracts vandals, batteries have fast discharging at low temperatures.
  • Cameras
    There are systems that take a picture of the vehicle’s number plate, automatically extract the number. However, identification of the driver (so the tolling agency can send a bill) requires access to the database of Road Police that is not allowed in Russia. If it would have been implemented, there is no need for advance registration to use the system, so any vehicle with a standard-issue number plate can drive through, but system cost can be prohibitive. The error rate tends to be high, unless humans confirm the readings, but that increases staffing expenses, and the cost of each transaction, with invoices and their associated collection issues, add to the expense. Additionally, license plates are relatively easy to duplicate and camera systems are not able to distinguish between an original and a fake plate.
  • GPS location & smartphones
    In Germany, a trial system along the Autobahn used GPS location to identify travelers, but the approach was harder and more expensive than expected. And, in the U.S. state of Alabama, a toll-collection agency now uses a smartphone app to connect drivers in real time to a transaction processing system, but the approach assumes that every driver has a smartphone as well as online connection, and that may not always be the case.

Simplicity, performance, and flexibility
Aside from security and performance, UCODE DNA is much less expensive than other methods, and presents a simpler distribution scheme, since the small, lightweight tags are easy to deliver and quick to affix to a windshield or license plate. Perhaps even more important, UCODE DNA is a passive technology, which means it doesn’t use a battery. It draws power from the reader’s antenna, so drivers don’t have to worry about replacing or recharging a battery. Also, unlike many batteries, the tags can withstand the very low temperatures of a Russian winter.

UCODE DNA also gives RUTOLL the option to expand into other areas beyond tolling. The tags can be configured for add-on applications, such as access to paid parking areas or entry into restricted areas. Tags can be updated at any time, so drivers can add a new app whenever needed, and access privileges can be changed quickly if, for example, a driver doesn’t renew a subscription, changes jobs, or moves to a new area.

Join the conversation
Have you driven on Russia’s M1 or M4 recently? What was your experience with the new RUTOLL system for AVI? How else do you think UCODE DNA might improve the driving experience? Comment below.

Related links
NXP webinar on Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) (PDF materials) 

Ihar Bayarenka
Ihar Bayarenka
With more than 10 years of experience in ID applications, Ihar leads the NXP business development and sales team in the Russia and CIS region. Together with colleagues, Ihar focuses on creating ecosystems and partner networks in applications such as ID documents, payment and transit cards, RFID tagging, NFC transactions, cybersecurity and infrastructure. His success record includes projects in both public and commercial segments, including the world's biggest transport ticketing deployment in Moscow.

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