Payment systems of tolls and parking via smartphone

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A simple road pricing system based on mobile phone and time of use toll policy

This paper describes a toll road payment and control system in which a mobile device (for example
mobile phones or tablets, etc) is used as payment device, instead of more complicated and
expensive systems. The phone can allow users to start and end the trip of a vehicle inside toll areas.
The system follows the current trends of moving most daily communications and transactions on
mobile devices such as smartphones that today represent an almost indispensable tool. With the use
of a simple dedicated application, (installed on the user’s mobile device), the user can start
certification of payment at the beginning of the trip time. The application, based on user inputs, acts
as an electronic ticket and certifies the use of the service and concurrently the payment, testifying,
to any roadside inspection, the actual payment of the trip. The system has many advantages and
among them the easy implementation in any urban context, moreover the system proposed is
absolutely original as it allows system managers of toll areas to collect fees through the use of
mobile communication devices even in areas where there may not be voice or data and/or GPS
Many researchers have already worked to define systems allowing payments and electronic
transactions using mobile devices in the field of transportation. But the main obstacle to these
systems is the need for an almost permanent internet connection on the device (Leea et al., 2008) or
the presence of chip Near Field Communications (NFC) (Bravo et al., 2008). Other systems are
based on the identification of the vehicle entrance and exit from the toll zone or instant
communication with the system company through sms or signals transmitted by Internet (Burnham,
In 1998, Hassett had patented a system for automatic toll payment through an electronic device in
vehicles that is able to store the amount of money available to the user and emit signals near a
structure able to use this technology. When the vehicle is near this kind of structure, the device
captures a radio signal and calculates the toll which is charged to the driver. During the exchange of
data, the driver identity and his credit, which are referenced to a bank account, are transmitted.
In 2008 Korean researchers patented a similar method for the collection of highways data, such as
revenues and expenditures in the payment areas, through the information that is gathered by a base
station that records the position of in-vehicle mobile communication terminals used to collect tolls. This was done through the exchange of data between different stations until the information can get
to a control center which manages the whole system.
In 2009, Robinson and others patented a system for billing based on the duration of a period of
service, including the sending of the vehicle data by a third party to a toll authority by an online
bank account.
In the last years systems improvements have been carried out by researchers around the world, but
they all, however, continue to maintain some restrictions with regards to the user possession of an
internet connection or of an NFC chip (Ondrus et al., 2011).
In 2012, to mitigate this problem, Astarita and al. patented the system we propose below, that is able
to bypass actual limitations by exploiting current technologies in common use. The advantage of the
proposed system is in the very limited resources needed to start and maintain the whole system, this
allows also small city administrators to rapidly implement a toll area with immediate results.
The system proposed applies a policy of toll fees based on the time of use of the road system
(instead of the distance in travelled kilometres). This alternative policy, that can have advantages
and disadvantages, raises new issues that must be scientifically addressed in order to establish the
operability constraint and the sustainability in term of safety issues.
Time of use toll policy has, in fact, the advantage of taking into account automatically congestion
issues and allows city governments to introduce an useful mobile payment system without any
additional infrastructure expenses, it has though the disadvantage of increasing the cost of travel
time for users by adding to the travel time the monetary fee. This could encourage an aggressive
driving behaviour if the toll fee for unit of time is too high compared with the value of the unit of
All this practical issues are addressed more in detail in the paper with some examples carried on a
test network where traffic is reproduced with a micro-simulation model.