Skymeter GPS congestion-toll system gets green light from Cisco

Skymeter Corp., a Toronto startup trying to raise the bar on congestion-tolling technology — i.e. “road user charging” — has received high grades after a small pilot project with Cisco Systems in Seoul, Korea. Following a six-month pilot, Cisco named Skymeter its “technical solution partner” for location, time and distance-based road user charging.

Cisco has partnered with the Clinton Global Initiative to bring carbon-reducing communications infrastructure to seven cities, an initiative called Connected Urban Development.

Skymeter’s GPS-based road use charging technology lets governments manage demand for roads by charging drivers based on the location of their journey, the time of day, and their distance travelled. The revenues collected from such a program can then be directed toward congestion reduction, road repairs and transit improvement. Preet Khalsa, Skymeter’s chief technology officer, said Cisco put the system through rigorous tests in parts of Seoul with dense architecture, where tall buildings and other structures would form what’s called an “urban canyon.” This is an environment where GPS-based technologies usually struggle.

“It was imperative that we generated highly consistent charges every time we ran the same trip,” said Khalsa. “The public demands consistency and an extremely low error rate. Errors of five and 10 per cent in road or parking charges would be unacceptable. We already surpass two per cent and will continue to improve this.”

Kamal Hassan, CEO of Skymeter, said CIsco is committed to the technology and future steps are being negotiated. The next step, he added, will likely be deployment of a larger pilot project. Indeed, the work with Cisco is a great endorsement of Skymeter’s technology. The benefit of Skymeter’s system is that, being GPS-based, it depends less heavily on expensive infrastructure. For example, systems in Stockholm or London are based on the deployment of physical toll gates, which simply keep track of vehicles coming and going from a particular entry or exit point. If either of these cities want to expand, they’ll have to invest in the additional infrastructure.

Skymeter, on the other hand, requires none of that. Instead, vehicles are required only to attach a black box to their vehicle that communicates with existing GPS satellite and wireless networks, charging vehicles not just based on some zone they’ve entered, but instead by kilometres driven at a certain time and in a certain place. What constitutes the “tolling zone” is easily defined in the back-end software, and can be expanded over time with little additional cost. Once the black box is in a vehicle, a municipality can also get creative with parking schemes (such as meterless street parking) and other location-based services.

If we’re to head in this direction in the future as part of efforts to reduce carbon emissions and manage our cities better, then this approach is the way to go. Unfortunately, Skymeter is getting more traction in Europe and Asia than in North America, where municipalities — such as Toronto — have politicians who are afraid to even mention the word “road toll.” New York City and San Francisco appear serious, but even then, there’s preference for gate-based systems rather than the much more flexible, GPS-based system offered by Skymeter.

Skymeter is an example of a small company with a promising technology aimed at tackling a serious problem and filling a real need. Unfortunately, there’s not much leadership willing to address the problem, particularly as markets are ravaged by the current credit crisis centred in the United States and spreading across the globe. We’ll get there at some point. The question is whether a cash-hungry startup like Skymeter can wait.

7 thoughts on “Skymeter GPS congestion-toll system gets green light from Cisco”

  1. Tyler: Thank you for this blog. And Skymeter is not waiting. Not only is there interest in several countries, there are ways to build consumer products that drivers need to handle the nuisance of parking and the expense of insurance all bundled into a product that rewards not driving in peak hours. We are innovating around the tedious cowardice of politicians. Studies by people like Joanna Zmud show that motorists are smarter than politicians. Read her report here: Bern Grush

  2. Transportation Futures:
    Ontario’s Inaugural Road Pricing Forum
    Date: Thursday, November 13, 2008
    Location: Hart House at the University of Toronto
    Traffic congestion. Lost time. Crumbling roads. Increasing emissions. Few transportation choices.
    Most Canadians agree that there is an urgent need to bring predictability and ease of mobility to the country’s transportation network — especially near large urban centres. Is there a role that road pricing can play in improving mobility, air quality and the state of the nation’s transportation infrastructure? Or are they just a cash grab?
    The Transportation Futures Forum will showcase how several countries have dealt with road pricing issues related to policy development, public acceptance, technology, governance and investment. They include:
    · London’s Congestion Charging Scheme
    · France’s Variable Tolling System
    · Germany’s Satellite-based Toll Collection System for Heavy Trucks
    · Oregon’s VMT-Based Road Charging Pilot Project
    · Holland’s “Different Payment for Mobility” Plan
    A round table of local experts will be on hand to assess which of these road pricing approaches might be best for the Ontario context and when the time might be right for implementation — if ever. Decision makers, transportation practitioners, land use planners, business leaders, academic researchers and NGO representatives.
    See for more information.
    Presented by: Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario in conjunction with Healthy Transport Consulting
    Sponsored by: Local 183 Toronto, ReNew Canada Magazine, Halcrow Consulting, Ontario Professional Planners Institute

  3. I enjoy reading your posts, keep them coming! And I’m always pleased to see blogs like yours because they share my point of view. If you’d like, you can check out I often go there for I have the same sentiments when it comes to cO2 emissions and how to save up money using alternative, energy-saving methods.

  4. I don’t know- I have never been a fan of toll roads – the infrastructure to set up the taxing and collection for them seems redundant and costly. I know there is a great argument that the people who use the toll roads are the ones who then pay for them in this manner, but here I disagree- a good transportation infrastructure benefits everyone, even those who do not directly use most of the roads. I think we are better off using an existing taxing structure to collect monies for our roads. This will become more imperative if we do get away from ICE vehicles, and therefore away from the taxes collected on the sale of gasoline- but there are other ways to collect taxes, and having roads free from tolls, or from installing black boxes in everyone’s cars, would make it worthwhile. Skymeter is an amazing use of GPS technology- I just don’t see this as the mose efficient way to go. A better use of GPS would be in directing traffic flow to help avoid congestion- not using it to charge people more when they are stuck in traffic- people do not sit in rush hour out of choice, and I do not see this sitting well with those folks who are going to be charged more for the priveledge;-)

  5. To answer Paul C, I think the question of who benefits is irrelevant to who should pay for roads. When I eat a piece of fruit, the whole of society benefits in some way from my improved health from eating that piece of fruit. Should the whole of society pay a cost of my fruit since they benefit in some way? I don’t think so! It becomes clear that with “Who benefits” argument you end up on a slippery slope: it could be used to justify the subsidizing of virtually anything.

    Users should pay for what they use. I am the only one who pays for the fruit since I am the only one who actually uses it. This is the same idea behind Skymeter; this technology could be used so that is largely road users who pay for the roads they use. It may not be the most efficient way to go, but it is certainly more efficient and fair than anything else out there.

  6. Skymeter needs to improve their value proposition to politicians and bureaucrats to include solutions for their municipal energy and infrastructure asset management problems, such as:

    – Adaptive street lighting to support conservation and dark sky compliance
    – PHEV charging/ utility peak demand intelligence
    – Parked vehicle security and individual parking space management
    – Vehicle to ITS sensor communications

    Assisting Governments in the development of a comprehensive solution requires Skymeter to forge ahead with new partnerships in complementary market verticles.

    These new partners are in the midst of designing integrated energy and asset management solutions, and building the required bureaucratic relationships required for consensus and early adoption.

    Politicians need not only to to be educated, but to be provided with an overwhelming value proposition (so that they can be re-elected!)

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