As you begin developing a tolling or managed lane facility in a new area, the challenge becomes how to introduce tolling in a manner that will quickly gain acceptance.
The facility must address current and future travel demands to improve traffic operations in the region. The goal is always to deliver exceptional, consistent, and reliable service by developing infrastructure improvements that provide a safe, convenient, and congestion-free facility.
Introducing tolls and managed lanes to new markets can effectively be broken down into the following five steps.
- Analyze your market and identify your customer. On managed lanes facilities, we focus on the issue of existing congestion. We are then able to present managed lanes as a solution, offering much more reliability as the travel speed is managed to assure timely arrival. The Central Texas Turnpike Project (CTTP) had several factors that would help the project be well-received. At the time, Dell Computers was only accessible by primary roads, causing a stop-and-go commute for employees. Also, the Round Rock and Cedar Park communities had no direct way to access the Austin Airport. The CTTP would address these issues and connect to Loop 1, providing an expanded north/south connector to Downtown Austin. We saw an opportunity to focus on these customers in describing the services the new facility was offering.
- Test your market strategy and approach. Focus groups are an excellent method for testing concepts and can be used to introduce electronic toll accounts and pricing policies. They also identify the educational approaches that best convey key messages to your customers.The goal of a focus group is to identify the benefits and features your customers will value the most. Your services can then be tailored to meet these demands.
- Involve your stakeholders. Remember that your customer is the public and, when something goes wrong, they will make their dissatisfaction known publicly. That is why gaining acceptance from key stakeholders is critical to your overall success.Stakeholder involvement is critical as it incorporates everyone who is affected, including those involved in operating the facility and those who can influence the implementation of the toll services being offered. We describe the approach to this process in a stakeholder involvement plan.
- Build your market. Getting the word out is fundamentally important in offering tolling services to a new market. It creates awareness, provides educational information and promotes safety when traffic initially starts to use the facility.So how do you reach your end user to provide information on transponder accounts, how tolls will be charged, project milestones, and open dates? Keep in mind that your customers represent a diverse community, so many approaches are required:
- Present details to large employers and community groups.
- Mobile customer service centers can represent you at major shopping centers, sporting events, universities and community centers.
- Offer incentives when encouraging drivers to open a tolling account, such as a specified amount of free tolls.
- Develop and implement a social media campaign to offer opportunities for community engagement.
- Create educational videos showing how the system works, how to affix your transponder, how to create an account, and the violation process
- Prepare to open to traffic. It is critical to your credibility to perform as advertised. Therefore, make sure you are completely ready for the opening. Proper preparation will maximize acceptance.Effective public relations can play a vital role in the launch of your new facility and services. Be prepared to provide information to a daily media presence. If issues arise, address them in a timely manner and explain how issues will be resolved. This will promote confidence among your customers.Finally, keep in mind the positive aspects of the new facility and the benefits it provides to the driving public. It is easy to become overwhelmed by some of the negativity surrounding tolling.Don’t fall into that.We are in the business of solving problems and addressing issues. The facility will gain acceptance when we show we have done just that.
About the author
- As an industry leader in Toll Systems and Operations, Rick continues to focus on ensuring clients maximize system expenditures and operational cost control. He has more than 30 years of transportation experience, including serving as a Project Manager for the design of customer service centers, toll manuals, transaction processing, and more.