Interoperability takes flight

Early this year, Town & Country Magazine named 10 Gadgets We Love. Among them were Blackberries, iPods, TiVo, online travel booking, and radio-frequency identification (RFID)-based electronic toll collection, the same technology used today in scores of airport parking facilities. In fact there are more than 30 million tags in use today.
Even more compelling, local and state governments are increasing the use of tolling as an option to fund the transportation infrastructure. The National Transportation Research Board in January 2006 recommended various types of this wireles to do just that. Never has there
technology been a more opportune time to consider RFID technology for automatic vehicle identification (AVI) for parking. This growing trend will only multiply in importance
over the next decade as the commuting public and transportation agencies and officials embrace electronic toll collection (ETC) and create an existing base of hundreds of thousands of users.

Of the current 30 million AVI tags in circulation, millions of tags are in use in airports. As we monitor individual segments, airport use of RFID-based AVI technology is one of the fastest growing across all transportation applications, second only to homeland security. In 2005, according to Carl Walker Engineers, parking revenue at
airports surged beyond $2.4 billion. Between 50 percent and 75 percent of all parkers are primarily the meeters-and-greeters and well-wishers staying for about 1 to 4 hours, so optimizing this flow of traffic and collection of parking fees is imperative as the public is gravitating to a more convenience-oriented rather than cost mentality. With national trends altering the landscape and airport managers being called upon to consider and implement an
interconnected system of throughput and revenue collection, interoperability with the local electronic toll collection systems becomes invisible and essential.

Is There a Business Case for Interoperability?

In 1999, the parking industry made its first major entrée into implementing AVI for airport parking at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Until that time, the idea of using AVI technology to identify, track, and collect data on vehicle monitor, movements had been limited to applica-
tions involving commercial vehicles and ground transportation. In actual deployment, AVI utilization in those application had begun in late 1989. Since its initial
deployment, AVI technology has proven itself a valuable asset to managing operations. The progression will continue, not subside.

With the current environment and increasing number of RFID tags in circulation for electronic toll collection, access
control and parking, migration to interoperability is inevitable. This year alone has marked a tipping point in consumer awarness and usage of RFID tags for wireless
payment. Keen business operators willmleverage this revenue stream, harness anmestablished tag base, and provide a new, level of customer service.

The Fusion of Business Rules and Technology

Interoperability can be defined in many ways, but the very basic definition is the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information (data) and to the information that has been use relayed. In terms of applying it to parking, it means being able to use existing RFID technology used for electronic toll collection also to collect parking fees. The key element of interoperability is the type of business relationship that will exist between the toll authority and the patron, and between the toll authority and the merchant (i.e., the airport parking combined with the enabling AVI agency) technology.

The three business models are:
- One tag tied to two accounts
- One tag tied to one account
- Multiple front-ends tied to one account

With one tag, two accounts, tags are used to pay tolls through an account managed by a toll agency and to pay parking fees through a second account that is maintained by the airport. The accounts are separate and distinct. The best example would be a tag that is tied to a credit card. The toll agency draws a set amount of money monthly and deducts tolls from that, redrawing when it drops below a certain amount. An airport that is interoperable would be paid by the credit-card company directly for the customers parking fees. Each uses one tag to collect money from the customer, but they do not share an account from which they both draw funds. This is also referred to as an opt-in program, because the patron has to register their tag with the airport system.

With one tag, one account, both toll and non-toll transactions are paid out of the same account. In this model, the toll authority has an agreement with the tag
user for non-toll uses of the transponder and with the airport for payment of transactions reported and processed, thereby transferring funds from the users account to the airport for fees owed. Each venue uses one tag and draws from one account, with the toll agency overseeing the main pool of funds.

The third model is a variation of one account, one tag. There are multiple front-end fee collection devices for the different applications, such as a TollTag for toll roads and a smart card or other type of payment credential for parking. However, all transactions would be processed from
the patrons account maintained by one authority. This is, again, a type of opt out program.

From an implementation standpoint, there are several pieces of technology that need to come together for deployment of interoperability at a facility. Surprisingly, however, the technical requirements are often the easiest problems to solve when implementing interoperability, considering that:
- Large numbers of tags are already in circulation;
- There are new, multi-protocol AVI readers that allow seamless integration of toll transponders into existing AVI
- Most high-end parking control systems already have the necessary interfaces to AVI readers and can manage a
credit-card-on-file type of payment model; and
- Back-end systems can also process non-toll transactions and accommodate different types of front-end technologies.

Ultimately, in most cases, three out of the four components necessary for interoperability are already in place: Motorists have the tag. Toll agencies/authorities have the
back-end systems. The airports have revenue control systems in place. Usually, the only missing link is installing the readers and developing the operational concept and
business rules for your system. Because so much of the infrastructure is in place and the market exists, migrating your current operation to interoperability need not be an
overwhelming proposition. Consequently, AVI is being adopted in multiple locations like Houston, Kansas Ctiy, and Pittsburgh with more than a dozen airports in the
process of developing or installing similar programs.
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