Following the path of digitalization in Slovenia and Europe: Digitalisation is also riding with us on the motorways
We often hear the phrase that we cannot escape technology and digitalisation. The phrase’s purpose is usually to emphasize that new technologies impact all areas of our business and private life; and that sooner or later each of us encounters them.
But we can take this sentence literally as well since motorways are so intertwined with digitalisation nowadays that we cannot escape it even if we exceed the speed limit on the road.
Electronic toll collection
The most noticeable change for the average motorway user is most likely the all-electronic tolling. In Slovenia, the days when the driver had to stop at the counter, count their change and hand it to the employee before continuing their motorway journey are gone.
This also applies to other European countries, although some places continue with the previous practice for the time being. As an example, we can look to neighbouring Italy, although digitalisation has come to the fore there as well, which we will describe later.
In Slovenia, motorway booths were first replaced with vignettes, which started in paper form. The driver stopped at a petrol station or other purchasing place, bought a sticker, and stuck it on their windshield. The vignette was valid for one week, one month or a whole year, and even half a year for certain vehicle categories.
About a year ago, the system was renovated, drivers said goodbye to the stickers and electronic vignettes took over.
In this case, it is an electronic permit, which can be bought online as well, and it is linked to the vehicle’s license plate number that is entered into the central tolling system upon the purchase of the electronic vignette. Like the old, traditional vignette stickers, electronic ones can also be purchased from certain sellers, in Slovenia and nine foreign countries, as well.
After payment, you can freely drive on Slovenian motorways, and special cameras read the license plates in real-time and determine whether you have a valid vignette. If you don’t, the employees of the Motorway Company in the Republic of Slovenia (DARS) will send you an envelope to your home with a request to pay the fine and the cost of purchasing a weekly vignette.
Along the motorway, toll inspectors can also be found in certain places that inspect passing vehicles. “Digitalisation of the toll collection system increases fluidity and safety and reduces a vehicle’s consumption of fuel,” explained DARS.
DARS took care of collecting tolls from heavy vehicles, i.e., vehicles whose maximum permissible weight exceeds 3.5 tonnes, with the DarsGo unit. It is a physical device, which must be installed inside the vehicles. Drivers can obtain it directly from DARS service centres or authorized sellers, and they can also order it by mail.
The devices communicate with gantries installed above sections of the motorway during a journey. The data is forwarded to the central toll system, where the user of the device is automatically charged a toll based on the distance driven.
In Italy, drivers similarly use the Telepass system. “Classic” toll payments are still available on motorways, which means that when entering the motorway, a user takes a ticket from a machine, and upon exiting, settles the toll by paying at the machine; in some places, there are employees in booths collecting the fee.
If a driver orders a Telepass device, they can pass by toll booths without stopping, as the barrier opens automatically with the help of communication between the booth and the device. Telepass also operates in France, Spain, and Portugal.
Digital projects as support for the construction, maintenance, and management of motorways
In November, DARS organised the DARS Digital Day conference in Ljubljana, where digital projects that the company uses to maintain and manage the motorway network were presented. Among projects, we find everything from e-vignettes to the management of traffic lights in front of tunnels.
They presented five control systems that are set up across Slovenia. They manage weather stations, tunnel ventilation, and traffic lights as well as the surveillance cameras set up through tunnels. They communicate via radio communications and with users via SOS telephones, which are installed along motorways.
Fog and storm warning systems are also connected to the control systems. With the help of sensors that detect the number, type, and speed of vehicles, DARS has insight into the conditions on the motorways in real-time. This way, they can quickly find out if a vehicle has driven into the opposite lane.
Cameras in tunnels are also equipped with special sensors that can detect stopped vehicles and vehicles driving in the opposite direction, as well as smoke and carbon monoxide.
With the introduction of digitalisation, motorway maintenance has also been modernized. The maintainers thus keep a record of events in an electronic book. DARS is also developing the “Maintainer” application, where it will be possible to perform certain tasks, such as the report of a traffic accident immediately.
Maintenance vehicles are equipped with GPS signal transmitters, so employees in the control centres can quickly send them to where maintenance work is needed. The maintenance worker can also be in constant communication with the control centre from their vehicle.
Here, too, special sensors are involved, with the help of which maintenance workers can make better decisions while in the field. Stationary and mobile weather stations make work easier, especially during the winter service.
The European C-Roads Platform
One of the most visionary digital projects is the one developed by DARS within the framework of the European C-Roads Platform, they explained on their presentation page.
Photo4 New technologies are being tested on motorways that will enable the arrival of self-driving vehicles. Photo: Getty Images, iStock.
The C-Roads Platform is a joint initiative of European Member States and road operators for testing and implementing cooperative intelligent transport systems (C-ITS) services.
Cooperative Intelligent Transportation Systems (C-ITS) use wireless communication technologies to enable real-time communication between two or more vehicles, and between vehicles and infrastructure.
This enables much better coordination between road users and enables the creation of safer and more efficient traffic flows. It is a technology that is key to allowing the possible introduction of self-driving vehicles into traffic.
The deployment of C-ITS will start with less complex use cases. These will include messages about traffic jams, hazardous locations, road works, and slow or stationary vehicles, as well as weather information and speed advice to harmonise traffic. All messages and warnings are transmitted directly into vehicles equipped with this technology in a way that allows users to get informed, but not distracted.
Author: Marko Želko
Keywords: digitalisation, motorways, traffic, technology.
This article is part of joint project of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies and the Anton Korošec Institute (INAK) Following the path of digitalization in Slovenia and Europe. This project receives funding from the European Parliament. The information and views set out in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union institutions/Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies/ Anton Korošec Institute. Organizations mentioned above assume no responsibility for facts or opinions expressed in this article or any subsequent use of the information contained therein
The information and views set out in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union institutions/Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies/ Anton Korošec Institute. Organizations mentioned above assume no responsibility for facts or opinions expressed in this article or any subsequent use of the information contained therein