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Telematics and transport

Mobile phones have revolutionised our lives.  Analogous communication devices in vehicles can change and improve the way we travel. Economy-wide efficiencies can result from adopting these technologies.  

In-vehicle (telematic) units (IVU) units can be installed in motor vehicles to meet a variety of regulatory and commercial needs.  For regulation the devices can be used for congestion pricing of roads, for charging by mass and location of travel in order to assess road damage costs, for charging for local vehicle pollution emissions, for  tracking the delivery of dangerous goods and to maintain driver-specific information on number of rest breaks, distance travelled and to ensure road safety standards.  There are also various potential commercial applications.  The devices can be used for fleet management for tracking/tracing vehicles, for pay-as-you drive insurance, as anti-theft devices, to provide vehicle-to-vehicle communications and navigation services and for providing emergency help in the event of an accident.  Potentially they could be used to provide information about and the ability to manage parking spots in a congested city to eliminate search costs for parking spots and the accompaning congestion.

In Australia today these devices are widely used for commercial trucking fleet management purposes. There is increasing pressure by some groups to encourage the use of such devices for regulatory purposes.   As discussed below IVU are being used to manage access of vehicles onto the Higher Mass Limits (HML) roads in NSW and Queensland and there has been an application to heavy mobile cranes in Victoria. Hence experience with regulatory applications is developing rapidly in Australia.  The devices would be necessary if the ‘incremental pricing’ reform discussed by COAG were to be implemented – this is the scheme by which heavy vehicles are permittede to drive on less durable roads – from which they are currently banned – by paying an appropriate extra fee.

Vehicle telematic services are delivered through IVU that rely on Global Positioning System (GPS) and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) technologies. These technologies have been widely employed in Europe for a range of applications (Rapp Trans, 2008). The COAG agenda in Australia is very much focused on issues of heavy vehicle charging so this is examined here.   Essentially COAG wants to encourage cost-minimising use of roads by heavy vehicles and the right sorts of supply decisions for road providers.

What can Australia learn from the European experience?

Heavy vehicle charging in Europe occurs in Austria, Germany, Czech Republic and Switzerland.  The objective in the main is to recover the costs of road use by heavy vehicles and sometimes to provide competitive neutrality with respect to other transport modes such as rail. The charging principle variously depends on distance, the number of axles on a vehicle, emission values and, in the case of Switzerland, a weight limit.  None of the technologies specifically determine the weight of a laden vehicle as a basis for charging.  Drivers are required to indicate if they are not operating as prime movers without load (when they are subject to a low charge) or whether they are carrying a trailer (when they are subjected to a substantially higher charge). If the vehicle is carrying a trailer it is assumed the vehicle is fully laden and the passage of the vehicle is priced accordingly.  Triangulation of load carrying is encouraged by this practice so a vehicle taking a heavy load from point A to point B will seek to take some sort of load in returning to A perhaps by detouring to another point C to reduce the costs they would bear by having a heavily-charged vehicle that carries no load.  Distances where vehicles with trailers carry no load are only around 25 per cent of the total so it is not a substantioal issue.

The IVU (in Europe, ‘on board units’, OBUs) costs in 2007 are from around $65 for the DSRC IVUs used in Austria and the Czech Republic and around $800 for the GPS and CGSM technologies in Germany and the tachograph- DSRC technology of Switzerland. The Austrian and Czech devices can be self-installed by being attached to the vehicle windscreen while the German and Swiss devices would require 2-4 hours installation in an approved garage. Overall the IVU installation costs are therefore not substantial (Rapp Trans, 2008, p. 14).

Costs of implementation and operational costs are more considerable but not very clearly documented or categorised into fixed and variable charges.   These costs depend on whether the organisation operating the scheme is established or needs to be set up, on the extent of outsourcing of tasks, on the legal constraints for servicing frequent and occasional users, on the procedural and technical complexity of the schemes and the model of remuneration of the operator. For example many of the European schemes need to provide a number of ways to levy charges because some road users may be based in other countries.

Some published estimates of cost value the ‘cost of implementing’ the scheme in Austria was $586m with revenues in 2007 of $1.5b. In the Czech Republic costs were $1.3b (including operational costs for 10 years) with revenues collected in the first year about $352m. In Germany rough estimates suggest an implementation cost of $1.7b with revenues for 2007 being $5.7b. Finally, the Swiss scheme cost $300m yielding revenues in 2007 of 1.5b. ((Rapp Trans, 2008, p16). Operational costs as a fraction of revenue have been estimated as 8-10 per cent for Austria, 20 per cent for Germany and 6-8 per cent for Switzerland (Rapp Trans, 2008, p. 16).

Many of the European costs are high because of the need to accommodate traffic flows from other countries – an issue that would not arise in Australia. 

In Australia the intelligent Access Program (IAP) is a voluntary program which provides heavy vehicles with access, or improved access, to the Australian road network in return for monitoring of compliance with specific access conditions using vehicle telematic solutions. The IVU are supported in Australia by the Transport Certification Authority (TCA) a public company with directors drawn largely state and territory road agencies and the Commonwealth Department of Transport and Regional Services.   The TCA was established to administer and implement all aspects of the (IAP) including policy and legislation, and to certify suppliers of IVU.  There are currently three certified commercial providers in Australia.  

IAP currently operates in Queensland and NSW, Australia already has IVUs that provide evidentiary data on location, speed and time – distance can be calculated from the same records – and these are now used in an application that monitors compliance. If Australia were to decide to have heavy vehicle charging schemes based on those parameters already monitored by IAP, then it would be merely a back-office software addition on implementation.

A crucial issue in Australia is that many trucks shift heavy but variable freight loads across large parts of the country.  Many journeys by heavy vehicles in Australia involve taking mineral products to ports so that almost 50 per cent of the times such large vehicles will be travelling without load because the possibility for triangulating freight tasks is low. In Australia a vehicle of a particular size can therefore carry widely differing tare loads.  This is a distinctive feature of Australian as opposed to European conditions and means that inferences about the mass of a load cannot be readily inferred from the size of a vehicle. Self declarations will be subject to deliberate and inadvertent error if self-declared. It is therefore necessary to determine directly this loaded weight.  This is a crucial issue since it is this tare weight which determines the appropriate user charge that should be levied to manage road damage costs.

Recent experimental testing of on-board mass monitoring devices (OBM) carried out by TCA is positive about the feasibility of such technology. Using 12 OBM systems from 8 Australian OBM suppliers across 5 Australian states over a period of 7 months showed that mass could be estimated to within a 2 per cent error of the true mass as estimated by a weighbridge. Static measures of mass were more accurate than dynamic (time series) measures though the dynamic data provided useful evidence on the issue of tampering (TCA, 2009).

The costs of OBM devices depend on the specific technology used in the sensors – load cell or APT – and on the type of truck.  Load cell technologies provide greater accuracy than APT systems but have much higher installation costs. Across a variety of truck types and load cell/APT configurations total costs ranged between $3,200-$13,500 per vehicle with installation costs varying between $200-$2500 (TCA, 2009, p. 43-44). 

Crucial issues involved in commercialising these technologies are the potential for tampering in order to understate weight measurement and the issue of evidentiality – the provision of information that verifies that the mass of a vehicle was what the OBM indicated.  TCA believes it can now address the critical issue in mass tampering through the use of dynamic data from the sensors as a quality indicator to the declared mass outputs from the systems. This is detailed in the OBM report (TCA, 2009, p55) and the specifications for doing this are being compiled now.

Finally there are issues of privacy that to some extent bear on the evidentially issue.  These are important but surmountable.  Disaggregated information on where travel occurs could be kept private and only revealed if a challenge was made to a pricing claim.

Developments in telematics offer the opportunity for a transport-dependent country such as Australia to develop an additional source of national advantage.



Rapp Trans AG,  Transport Regulatory Uses of Telematics in Europe Prepared for Transport Certification Australia, Melbourne, 2008.

Transport Certification Australia (TCA), On Board Mass Monitoring Test Report (Draft V2), Draft – March 2009, Transport Certification Australia.

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