You have been instrumental in initiating the ATI interoperability initiative. First could you please introduce the ATI Hub?
The ATI hub is a new venture to exchange and settle toll transactions across jurisdictional lines. For toll customers who are driving outside of their normal regional area, this is a method for toll agencies to exchange the transactions and settle the funds.
The hub is a first step in developing a national infrastructure to allow the US to move towards a national interoperability.
Of course there are other pieces of that. There is the roadside and in-vehicle technology. Today, in the US, we have 7 different technologies.
Five agencies have formally signed and we have additional commitments and interest from others, including agencies in California, Maryland, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas).
Are there links between ATI and IBTTA?
The relationship is a co-operative relationship that recognises the difference between the 2 organisations.
ATI’s overall mission covers more than just interoperability. It is a not-for-profit organisation of public agencies who are looking at a range of services that support interoperability. The objective is to provide combined services to their member agencies at a lower cost than this was done separately, notably thanks to greater purchasing power. This could include the creation of a national licence plate database or the sending of violations on behalf of agencies. It has a very small budget. Most people who work for ATI are volunteers. Its President is a volunteer, JJ Eden, who is a Director of AECOM as well and one of the founders of E-ZPass. Its offices are in Raleigh, North Carolina.
On the other hand, IBTTA is an industry association, which unites both public and private sector entities. It also plays an important role because it runs the National Interoperability Committee, which I have chaired for almost 5 years. The Committee is focused on technology and business rules. It is in the last step of a process to identify one set of business rules to exchange transactions and the national toll protocol, which will be one of the 7 existing technologies. IBTTA is also busy with creating a national toll symbol, which is very important for customers to understand that their toll account works at a given place.
The main benefit of this national standard is that each agency will be able to keep its existing technology but also accommodate customers from other agencies who use different technologies. Customers who wish to have a national tag will be able to drive across the country with one device and one account.
Both associations work together but ATI provides the infrastructure for interoperability.
We understand that ATI, Egis, Sanef and all participating toll operators are involved. Could you please describe what is the role of each entity?
Egis and Sanef ITS have created a 50-50% joint venture, Secure Inter-Agency Flow (SIF). Sanef provides the back-office (computer hardware & software) systems to do the matching and exchange of the transactions. Egis manages the overall management for the ATI hub and runs the operations of the customer service.
We are not a concession but a contractor that the ATI board (11 agencies from the US and Canada) has selected.
We do not speak for ATI but we do of course communicate. Our JV operates under a 5-year contract from the effective working date, which has been extended once by 6 months due to the delayed start. The contract can be extended twice.
What have been your challenges in building the hub?
We are at the very beginning of the ATI hub project. The challenges have mainly been on ATI to get agencies to sign up for the Hub. Many of the public agencies are wrestling with how to get started or who should go first.
We understand 8 agencies have signed up and 4 more are in process of doing so. Can you tell us what response you are getting from them?
The contract originally was signed on September 2013. We anticipated that by September 2014, we would be underway. Unfortunately it took almost a year for the ATI to obtain an agreement between the agencies. Meanwhile we developed the system and went through factory acceptance testing.
ATI is responsible for signing up their member agencies and bring them to the hub. And it is our job to service the hub. ATI did not finalize their agency agreement until late summer last year. Then they started to market to their members and by September, they had signed the initial agencies so by October, we started to contact these agencies to go through the connection process.
We found out that many agencies had some technical issues that were slowing them down.
A number of agencies have signed and are interested in getting started. Those agencies include the Florida Sunpass system, which actually is 3 agencies. They will have one connection to the hub.
The Illinois State Highway Authority (ISHTA), a very large toll authority that uses the E-ZPass system, are going through the deployment of a brand new back-office right now. The North West Parkway (Denver, Colorado) also has back office development work at the moment. CTRMA (Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority) was the first to sign up and is now ready to go. The Georgia State Road Authority also signed their agreement…
And we have been talking with a number of agencies around the country. We have the commitment from 4 of the largest agencies in Californi a: The Golden Gate Bridge, BATA, the TCA and SANDAG have committed to join.
I also expect the remainder of Texas agencies to join, but they have technical issues with their internal hub. They have to work through these before they can work with us.
What kind of challenges are you trying to solve?
All interfaces are different, as the agencies built their systems independently a long time ago. So we are working on hooking up to each agency, providing the ICD (Interface Document Control), which defines the message that is be sent and received, the information that is transmitted and how the acknowledgments are undertaken within the systems.
The interfaces are not a huge challenge. We can handle that. The biggest difficulty is that while the ATI hub is important, it is not as important as their existing business so we need to wait for agencies to be ready to hook up. We then have to go through a testing process. We test the connection and the software between the hub and the agencies. To do that, they have to make a commitment to invest some resources in their back office. Virtually every agency has a development or maintenance operation going on in their back office. All agencies have their own way of doing things.