Road User Charging expansion from heavy to private vehicles

Since 1984, Q-Free has been a trailblazer in tolling solutions. Now, we’re thrilled to invest in the next generation of Road User Charging (RUC). But what sets RUC apart from existing solutions? Our R&D manager, Ola Martin Lykkja, shares key insights in this interview.

What is Road User Charging?

If we imagine our roads as a service rather than a fixed lane, the Road User Charging system charges you for use of this service based on the distance you drive, rather than the specific points your cross to enter a zone or use a specific segment of the road. Rush hour fees and different price for urban and rural driving is also possible.

Also, the money-flow is different from a tolling and congestion charging system. Where fees from the latter typically go back to road construction, maintenance, and public transportation, the RUC fees often cover external costs of traffic, such as accidents, noise, and delays. Many countries already operate with Road User Charging for heavy vehicles and the various systems thus often operate in parallel. In markets where external costs are covered by fuel taxes that are declining due to the transition from fossil to battery electric vehicles, and reduced car usage and ownership, Road User Charging for private vehicles can help compensate the government for these declining revenues.

Why is the existing heavy vehicle RUC technology not suitable for the private car segment?

Today’s RUC solutions for heavy good vehicles consists of a relatively large and costly on-board unit. In some cases, the installation requires a visit to a workshop for installation and all current units on the marked require an external power supply. The installation cost adds to the equipment cost and makes the introduction of an all-vehicle RUC system very expensive. As the kilometer fee for a small passenger car is going to be much smaller than for trucks, the equipment and installation cost must go down. The size of the unit and the power cable is also an aesthetic issue. Further, the heavy vehicle RUC solution was designed before GDPR became law and collects more data than strictly needed for the RUC operation.

How is Q-Free working to meet the potential need of a road user charging solution for private cars?

One key technology driver is the development of a new generation of the so-called Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) modules: A generation of RUC tags designed for maximum performance, minimal size and low power consumption. This results in a small, cost efficient and battery driven tag that is suitable for the expanding market created by smaller vehicles. The Q-Free RUC solution will be fully compatible with DSRC, including the next generation of Q-Free DSRC tag technology, and be installed just like any OBU with double-side tape in a few seconds.

Q-Free’s RUC 2.0 core team

Who are the key stakeholders in a RUC system and what are their different roles and needs?

Road User Charging schemes are organized a bit differently in different markets, but normally the national governments play a significant role and treat the net income as any other fiscal income. In Norway the national road authorities have both responsibility and ownership into the current tolling system, while in other markets such as Spain and Australia there are private concessionaires who are toll collectors with granted rights to collect tolls for their infrastructure. In the RUC system, the government will mostly take the role as toll charger. Q-Free´s RUC development project is co-funded by The Norwegian Research Council with one of Europe’s largest independent research organisations, SINTEF, Norwegian Public Road Administration, and the service provider Skyttel as research partners.

This cross-industrial collaboration and input from various stakeholders, is crucial for the successful development of RUC 2.0, a Road User Charging system for private vehicles.

What is the road ahead for the development and implementation of the technology?

In 2021, Q-Free realized a successful large-scale pilot of RUC 2.0 in the GeoFlow project and are building on end-user input for the further development of the technology, meaning that the technology already is widely tested in several rounds in the market. We are now working to miniaturize the device to get a cost effective and privacy preserving RUC system while looking for commercial project partners.

Ola Martin Lykkja working on RUC 2.0 hardware

What to know more?

Explore more about our Road User Charging system for private vehicles, RUC 2.0 GeoFlow, in this animation available here.

You can also read about our RUC 2.0 pilot test here.