A vehicle travels under a toll collection point.

Understanding the Image-Based Tolling Transaction Life Cycle

Understanding the Image-Based Tolling Transaction Life Cycle

January 24, 2023
John Riccardi
A vehicle travels under a toll collection point.
Using image-based tolling, a vehicle’s license plate is captured during the transaction process in Massachusetts.

When image-based tolling was in its early stages, many agencies accepted a certain percentage of rejected transactions to be a normal part of doing business with electronic toll collection. The industry even came up with a nice word to describe these transactions, which made them seem less significant and a little more palatable to accept — “leakage.”

However, as more agencies convert their facilities and roadways to all-electronic tolling (AET) and as the number of image-based transactions increases, leakage or revenue loss becomes harder to accept and more important to understand.

Tolling Transactions: From Beginning to End

The obvious question now is: How do we minimize loss and maximize revenue?

The answer starts with ensuring that you have a complete and full understanding of the potential life cycle of each transaction. This starts with the vehicle passing through a toll plaza and following every transactional step, ultimately resulting in being recognized as revenue, rejected as not processable, or being uncollectable. It is only by understanding the details of the process workflow that we can identify and address the pain points where revenue loss may occur.

As with any business process flow, this starts with the development of a detailed transaction life cycle diagram. Fully documenting this process is key to understanding where things can go wrong. The process of developing a detailed workflow highlights every decision point, as well as areas where transactions may be falling through the cracks.

In the past, when image-based transactions were not as prevalent as they are now, it may have been enough to know the general “buckets” into which uncollectable transactions fell (such as image review or state Department of Motor Vehicle [DMV] rejects), and if a month-to-month comparison showed nothing unusual, all was good. This is no longer enough, and as with most things, the key to truly understanding issues and correcting them is in the details.

A diagram depicting the tolling transaction life cycle process.
Tolling Transaction Life Cycle Process

Once the transaction process is clearly defined, the toll roadside and back-office systems must track the movement of each transaction through every step of the process. A detailed waterfall report can be used to identify where every transaction is at any point in time, including capturing a history of each transaction throughout its journey. Detailed waterfall reports help identify areas in the process that may require a deeper dive review.

Analyzing this detailed information will identify where revenue is being lost, transactions stuck in the process, process breakdowns, and most importantly, where improvements are required. This should include both interim steps as well as the final disposition of the transaction.

One example is the process of obtaining the registered vehicle owner for invoicing purposes, since invoicing cannot start without knowing the owner’s address — this is obviously a key step in the process. While knowing that a transaction was rejected due to failure to obtain an address is important information, it is just the first step, and more information is potentially needed to correct the issue.

The Vehicle’s Toll Transaction Was Rejected – Why?

The only way to maximize revenue is to fully understand why the transaction was rejected at this stage. As with any process, the devil is in the details.

Here are a few examples of why the transaction may have been rejected during the process of identifying the registered owner of the vehicle:

  • The toll agency was unable to obtain an agreement with the vehicle’s registered state, meaning they could not use the license plate to look up the vehicle’s billing information.
  • The fee charged by the vehicle’s registered state to look up the license plate billing information makes it cost prohibitive.
  • There was a file transmission error with the toll agency.
  • The license plate was sent to the incorrect license plate database (for example, commercial vs. private).
  • The license plate type was omitted.
  • The invoice submittal was beyond the required timeframe.
  • Or simply the wrong license plate number was sent to the transaction processing system.

Whether done directly through a state DMV or outsourced to a third party, the address look-up process should provide detailed information captured by the tolling back-office system and become part of the transaction history. Having this information available is the starting point for further research, leading to an improved tolling transaction life cycle.

Another example is the invoice recovery process. While knowing your invoice collection rate is important, tracking toll transactions through the life cycle can identify the specific invoice escalation level when each transaction was paid or the stage they are in for unpaid transactions. This is helpful to identify the need to extend or shorten invoice cycles or toll payment due dates, as well as optimize the number of steps in the escalation process.

Stop the Leakage

Toll agencies can act now to stop, or at least minimize the leakage. By taking a closer look at your toll transaction life cycle today, you’ll optimize current AET operations, recover revenue faster, and better prepare your agency for tomorrow.

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