RFID Havoc

RFID Tolling
  • A switch to RFID-based tolling at MY highways apparently didn't go too smoothly today.
  • Legacy SmartTag (infrared system) toll lanes were retired without a gradual transition to RFID lanes.
  • Users had assumed tolls could be deducted from their TnG cash card balance, when the RFID system could only access their TnG ewallet balance.
  • The ewallet operator TnG got the brickbats when it it is the highway toll operator which should probably be getting a fairer share.
  • Possible hacks: 1) all RFID lanes should have a TnG card reader as a backup 2) if traffic builds up at tolls, the toll operator is obliged to let vehicles through without charge or penalty.
  • Electronic tolling is not trivial, the following sections discuss some technical aspects.

Identification
  • In a manual system, there is no need to id the vehicle. Pay the toll and the boom will lift.
  • Next step up is a plate recognition system using cameras. This simple system requires nothing extra to be fitted to the vehicle. The caveat is the plate number should ideally be tamper and forgery resistant. For payment, just go online or to a kiosk, key in your plate number, and pay any toll owed (pre-payment will also be accepted). If no payment is made, it comes under enforcement (see last section).
  • Next step up is a transponder system, either RFID or infrared. This is more reliable and faster than a plate recognition system. It requires a transponder to be fitted to the vehicle and the vehicle id or ewallet registered against the transponder. This system requires gantries to mark the start and end of toll-able roads.
  • Next step up is GPS tracking. A GPS transponder is fitted to the vehicle. The location of the car is recorded by telco or dedicated sensor towers or satellites. No gantries are needed. Can be used for congestion charging (eg. when driving into a packed downtown on Friday night) or taxation (to replace fuel taxes) and parking. What about privacy? We are already being close tracked by mobile phones.

Classification
  • Tolls should be based on how heavy or large a vehicle is.
  • Heavy vehicles cause considerably more wear and tear to roads.
  • Additionally, heavy or larger vehicles pose greater risks to other road users.
  • A static way to classify vehicles is to key in the make and model upon registration.
  • A dynamic way is to scan vehicles using LIDAR, induction or weighbridges at the toll plaza.
  • The system should also be able to distinguish between EVs and ICE vehicles, if EV incentives are applicable.

Transaction
  • This could be via cash card, debit or credit cards or mobile app - stop the vehicle and tap or wave at the reader.
  • Or transponder (insert cash card, debit or credit card or ewallet id into the transponder) - just drive through and let the transponder talk to the reader.
  • It could be pre-paid, pay-on-the-spot or post-paid (like a phone bill).

Enforcement
  • There should be no barriers at tolls to allow a smooth flow of traffic.
  • If a vehicle drives past a toll with insufficient balance or without a transponder, there should be an audible warning and a visible camera flash while the plate number is captured for post-paid billing (with a hefty administrative charge).
  • Unpaid bills can be handled over to a collection department with some legislative backing to give it some force.

Notes
  • Why can't TnG card balances be updated from a mobile phone? Theoretically, it can (using an NFC-capable phone), but practically, based on feedback from countries that tried it, it is neither a reliable nor smooth process.
  • Why can't RFID use my TnG card balance to pay tolls. Theoretically, it can, by using a complex delayed-debit system, but the TnG card is not meant to be a primary storage of money. It is based on an older, less secure Mifare Classic technology. A bit obsolete, but still useful as as an offline cash card.