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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Technology as driving force of modern toll plaza


The role of technology cannot be over-emphasised in the proposed modernised toll plazas for Lekki-Epe Express way as examined in this report by REMMY NWEKE.

Experts at the Princeton University have defined technology as the practical application of science to commerce or industry and in modern toll plaza businesses across the world, technology seem to have taken the front row.

Hence, it was not astonishing, when recently the management of the Lekki Concession Company (LCC), was given the green light by the Lagos State government led by Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola to structure a plan to ensure that apart from easing the worrisome road traffic along Lekki-Epe Express road in Lagos, it should see to expansion and sustenance of the project.

Technology, therefore, could be regarded as the change agent cum core driver of socio-economic development, particularly in today’s rapidly changing world.

Basically, there are three systems of toll road management and collection, which are all driven one way or the other by modern technology, comprising of open system which involves barrier toll plazas that could be access without strings; closed meaning those toll plazas that exist with entry and exit tolls attached; and finally, the state-of-the-arts all-embracing electronic toll collection without toll booths, only electronic toll collection mechanism at entrances and exits, or at strategic locations on the road.

Yet, the modern toll systems often have a combination of all three, based on Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) in place, fundamentally with the underlined principle of eliminating delay on roads.

Also, experts said that ETC system is increasingly becoming a popular means of payment for motorists who use toll roads due to the convenience that it affords them, among other benefits.

They noted that ETC’s recognition comes from the fact that drivers need not to carry cash with them while they pass through toll plazas, which facilitates the removal of officials having to sit-in toll booths to collect toll charges, thus saving a lot of time since payment is automatically done from the account of the vehicle.

According to them, there are a number of other benefits of electronic toll collection system, including reduction of harmful vehicular emissions, increase in the capacity of the toll lane and accident reduction, just as it saves fuel, enhances cash handling, in addition to offering flexibility of payment via cash or card and facilitates data collection.

Although technology-driven road experts said, toll rates vary depending on factors such as the type of vehicle, distance traveled and the building and maintenance costs of the expressway. Instances abound of how many advanced countries have used electronic toll collection to boost their infrastructural development, namely Singapore and Dubai to name a few.

In Singapore, for instance, ITRealms Online gathered was adjudged one of the finest road network in the world, movement of cars are restricted with the introduction of an Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system that charges car owners certain toll fees during peak hours. Thereby, using technology to radically bring to minimal traffic hold-ups, which have become feature of major cities like Lagos, let alone now that it’s metamorphosing into the mega city of our dream.

In July 2007, Dubai launched an electronic toll collection system that operates without toll booths or toll collectors, thus facilitating movement on the busy highways.

And in Lagos, the State government in 2006 began to tinker on how to solve the traffic situation along the Lekki-Epe road and still keep the axis attractive to residents. This gave birth to the ongoing reconstruction and upgrading of the 49.4 km Lekki-Epe Expressway, a private public partnership (PPP) project between the government and the concessionaire of the project, the Lekki Concession Company (LCC), which practically is driven by modern technologies.

As PPP it was clear that the counterpart funding would be imperative in actualizing this dream of modern toll plazas driven by technologies for the nation’s centre of commerce, so, it was clear for LCC to source funds from both local and offshore financiers to execute the project, while allowing the government the ability to channel its resources into other vital areas that demand attention.

Based on the concession agreement, three toll plazas will be erected on the expressway, namely at Admiralty Plaza (Km 3), in the vicinity of the Palms Shopping Mall; the second, which is the Conservation Plaza (Km 13), at Chevron headquarters; and the third, Campus Plaza (Km 23), at the Pan African University.

The first toll plaza is already functional and ready for use, following the certification of section one of the road by an independent engineer. The company has also successfully done a test run on the newly opened lanes of the toll plaza, signaling the imminent commencement of tolling on the Lekki-Epe Expressway.

Echoes from the axis indicated that some residents were not comfortable or understand the system yet, therefore decried the change.

One of the concerned citizens, who gave his name as Olutayo Gbenga, lamented that about 50 communities are being excluded from the new road, and described the process as lacking in transparency, alleging that it’s meant to impoverish the population, while enriching the promoters of the project.

For Gbenga, government is not carrying the residents along, wondering the place of an average person in the scheme, who may be spending an average of N600 - N800 a day to ply a stretch of road which does not include fueling and maintenance of the car.

Equally concerned, Chinedu Bosah, said that the tolling on the Lekki road is a reflection of all government in power, be it the federal government and the Lagos State government, because, “All without exception exist to engage in brutal exploitation of Nigerians. The focus is profit and not to meet the needs of the people.”

Making some clarifications on the controversies generated by the modernization of the road and infrastructure, recently with ITRealms Online, the chief executive officer, LCC, Mr. Opuiyo Oforiokuma proposed the deployment of two types of electronic payment (e-payment) modules, namely, Swiftpass card and eTag on the Lekki toll road, even as there are alternative routes or those who may not wish to ply the new road.

Mr. Oforiokuma, said the proposed introduction of electronic payment does not exclude payment of cash by motorists, noting that electronic payment modules have advantages over cash payment of toll fare, and stressed that e-payment incentives, enables eTag, for instance, to offer the highest price incentive, followed by the SwiftPass users, while cash customers pay the standard tariff.

Also, he underscored the fact that there are incentives for frequent users, bulk purchase and public transport discount, elucidating that frequent users would have motivation for exceeding a threshold of passages through toll plaza in any given month, in form of price reduction from the standard tariff.

Oforiokuma, said that bulk purchase, is applicable to individuals and entities whose road usage pattern is consistent over a period of time and thus allows them to receive some discount over a specified period, while the public transport discount is meant exclusively for ‘danfos’ and ‘okadas’.

Further, Oforiokuma, enlightened that eTag is an electronic payment device that is prefunded and used to pay for passage at the toll plazas. “eTags are affixed to the inner side of your vehicle windscreen and will be damaged or deactivated if not properly handled,” he said.

He enumerated some merits of eTag to include that such vehicles receive the highest price incentives based on the payment of lowest toll tariff and enjoy the use of dedicated express lanes, which offers the fastest and most convenient access.

“It provides the fastest and most convenient access through the toll plazas as you don’t have to stop as you drive through,” he said, pointing out that eTag is secured to a vehicle and if removed, it would automatically deactivate, thereby checkmating theft.

He equally said that eTag is provided with either a SwiftPass Plus card or SwiftPass Commercial card for the purposes of managing the account of the eTag customer.
“eTag-SwiftPass Plus is designed for the use of private or corporate vehicle owners, whereas the SwiftPass commercial is for the use of commercial bus operators only,” he said.

Oforiokuma noted, however, that SwiftPass card anonymous is a contactless card that facilitates electronic payment at the toll plazas and could be used advantageously than cash because it is more convenient and cheaper option.

Plans, he said, have been concluded with some banks along the Lekki-Epe axis to serve as Point of Sale (POS) outlets for registering customers account apart from the LCC customer service centre at the Admiralty Circle Plaza.

Some of these banks include First Bank of Nigeria Plc, United Bank for Africa Plc, Stanbic IBTC Bank, Diamond Bank Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc and Zenith Bank Plc.

Emphasizing that topping up an account, especially on the eTag and SwiftPass platforms could be accomplished at the aforementioned POS outlets and at the LCC official website, www.lcc.com.ng. The LCC boss insisted that the precise amount of tariff would be made public, at least two weeks before the commencement of toll collection.

Despite the contention by residents over how close the toll plazas may have been marked out, it is obvious that no one is taking the need to technologically drive this new process, even as more state governments are urged to take a cue from Lagos State, thereby moving away from previously manually manned toll-plazas across the country.

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1 comment:

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