By Tim Reynolds, GPS World’s contributing editor for Europe
This spring, two Brussels conferences focused on new possibilities and modes of transport enabled by satellite navigation, showing the added value delivered by current and future European GNSS solutions.
The European GNSS Agency (GSA) hosted the first gathering in February, discussing its GNSS Applications Action Plan in areas relating to road transport including smart tachographs, long-range buses, transport of dangerous goods, multimodal logistics, and road tolling. The 11th Annual Road User Charging Conference (RUC) in March, an industrial gathering, highlighted recent developments in truck tolling and a possible future breakthrough for lighter vehicles.
The GSA identified the road sector as the largest GNSS market segment (with location-based services) in its October 2013 Market Report. Most GNSS devices were already enabled for European GNSS services, either via EGNOS or Galileo. Developments such as lower costs for connectivity, growing numbers of embedded devices, intelligent transport systems (ITS), and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications, together with new European Union policies and regulations, drive new requirements for vehicle positioning, and GNSS technologies are poised to fulfill these.
In two specific policy areas, road tolling and eCall emergency response, GNSS shows particular promise for adding value and providing flexible solutions. The GSA manages a large portfolio of research and innovation projects to develop near-market applications in this area.
E-Freight, a vision of a paperless freight transport system where electronic data flow is linked to the physical flow of goods, can lead to future intelligent-cargo concepts to further automate and improve logistics. Positioning services naturally form an integral part of this concept. The increased availability, resilience, integrity, and accuracy offered by European GNSS will support the uptake and efficiency of e-Freight systems through georeferenced cargo-status monitoring, among other services, seamlessly delivered across transport modes and national borders.
The GSA delivered its perspective on road tolling in advance of the later industrial conference. Location-based charging offers flexibility, easy extension of schemes, low transaction costs, and — most promising from an agency point of view — could have a big impact on traffic management and environmental policy. GNSS is becoming the technology of choice for free-flow road tolling with its three main advantages: coverage, availability, and no direct installation costs.
The final GSA presentation focused on authentication services offered by Galileo to benefit the next-generation digital tachograph, a device fitted to a vehicle that automatically records its speed and distance, together with the driver’s activity selected from a choice of modes. New government proposals for the digital tachograph will mandate the inclusion of GNSS technology.
Clearly, a tachograph requires a robust and trusted GNSS service that is also very low-cost and resilient against spoofing and other interference. An authentification signal provided via the Galileo Open Service could provide a suitable solution free of charge, offering global coverage and easily initiated in existing Galileo-enabled receivers and terminals when the service was introduced. There is growing interest in such a service and its market potential from a range of stakeholders.
GNSS should be a key enabling technology for a scalable and cost-effective approach to fair and flexible road charging. But despite its great promise, implementation of such schemes have proven difficult on both sides of the Atlantic.
GNSS-enabled road-use charging systems now operate in Switzerland, Germany, Slovakia, and Hungary for heavy-goods vehicles (HGVs). Plans are in hand for a similar scheme in France covering 15,000 kilometers of national roads. Russia aims to introduce a GLONASS-mandated operation, initially for 50,000 kilometers of federal road and perhaps half a million kilometers of regional roads.
Belgium plans a HGV GNSS-enabled system to start in 2016, initially using GPS and GLONASS signals, eventually covering its full 150,000-kilometer road system. On-board units (OBUs) will be mandatory, and the system will have the capacity to define up to 10,000 toll rates dependent on factors such as location, time of day, direction of travel, road, and vehicle category.
Factor of Seven. The flexibility and scalability of a GNSS-based charging system was demonstrated by the SkyToll organization that operates the road-user charging scheme for HGVs in the Slovak Republic. This system’s network coverage has recently been extended seven-fold from main motorways and major roads to encompass 17,762 kilometers, effectively bring all motorways and class 1, 2, and 3 roads under charge.
To achieve this with a terrestrial system would have required the construction 4,000 gantries, but the huge expansion was built using software in three months. “This is only possible via GNSS,” stated spokesperson Miroslav Bobošik.
The two-way communications possible with GNSS-enabled OBUs also meant that tariff and network models could be updated and amended quickly and easily. Charge collection efficiency exceeds 99 percent and is independent of road type. “There is a clear trend to GNSS-enabled systems due to their flexibility, efficiency and fast implementation,” said Bobošik.
Belgium First? On the first day of the RUC conference, a Flemish regional government spokesperson described plans for the Belgian road-user charging system for HGVs heavier than 3.5 tonnes that could be launched across the whole of the country in 2016.
In parallel to these developments for HGVs, a major pilot project for lighter vehicles, that is, passenger automobiles, has just started in Belgium’s GEN-zone. This area is effectively the capital city, Brussels, and its surrounding provinces of Flemish and Wallonian Brabant. The pilot will test the practicalities of a GNSS-enabled mileage-based charging system and involves 1,000 selected participants in a three-month trial. First results will be available in April, and the final report is due in the summer. This report will form the basis of future national policy on road-user charging and will likely be on the desk of the new Minister for Transport when he or she takes office after the upcoming Belgian elections.
If the political will is there — and post-election the necessary political capital may well be in place — could Belgium become the first nation to implement a GNSS-enabled road-user charging scheme for all vehicles as early as 2016? Watch this space!
Tim Reynolds is director of Inta Communication Ltd. and a long-term Brussels observer writing on many aspects of European government policy and implementation for a range of clients and publications. The material presented here was first prepared in a somewhat different form for the GSA. He is the contributing editor for GPS World’s new quarterly e-newsletter, EAGER: the European GNSS and Earth Observation Report. Subscribe free at www.gpsworld.com/subscribe.