Florida's Turnpike Spin With Remote Monitoring

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2006-05-06 Print this article Print

The Sunshine State's transportation department set up a central team to monitor 1,100 toll lanes statewide—and is now fixing system outages faster to keep revenue coming.

If you've driven across the sunshine state—say, to the estate of a certain four-fingered mouse—odds are good you were on roads run by Florida's Turnpike Enterprise.

The division of the state's Department of Transportation operates 180 toll plazas and 600 miles of roadway and bridges, encompassing the entire turnpike system and eight other toll roads, from Miami in the south up to Pensacola in the Panhandle. About 2 million times a day, commuters, truckers, tourists and other drivers pay a toll through one of the system's 1,100 lanes, either with cash or electronically using the turnpike's automated SunPass radio frequency identification (RFID) wireless toll-payment devices.

That is, a toll is supposed to be paid.

Sometimes, the toll equipment fails—just as any piece of computer equipment a business uses is liable to. And the turnpike needs to instantly detect those outages, since tolls provide 99% of its revenue, with concession sales accounting for the rest. Overall, the turnpike registered 711 million toll transactions and collected $672 million for its fiscal year ended June 30, 2005.

If the lane is one of the old-fashioned manual toll booths, the operator should instantly realize the problem because a console in the booth will indicate that the equipment has stopped registering transactions. The attendant can then shut down the lane until the problem is fixed.

But until recently, there wasn't always a pair of eyes watching over the automated SunPass-only lanes. If the software or hardware controlling one of the 195 dedicated SunPass lanes froze up or otherwise malfunctioned, the problem may not have been detected right away. "If a SunPass lane is down, we're not getting revenue," says Charles Lucas, information-technology manager for the turnpike.

Even after someone had identified a failed lane controller—the device that communicates toll-transaction data back to the turnpike's central billing system—dispatching one of 100 maintenance workers to fix the problem was a time-consuming process that took at least an hour from start to finish. In each case, a technician had to drive to the toll plaza to check out the equipment on-site. "We had very little ability to do any remote troubleshooting," Lucas explains.

The turnpike won't disclose how much money it loses because of lane-equipment downtime. But consider this: SunPass lanes handle between 1,200 and 1,600 vehicles per hour. The turnpike's average toll transaction is about 95 cents, which means up to $1,520 could be lost every hour one of those lanes is out of service.

Last year, the turnpike set out to centralize and automate monitoring of its toll-collection infrastructure with the SunWatch Operations Center, based in Orlando, which consolidated six separate maintenance groups that had previously covered the state. The center operates around the clock with a rotating staff of 13 technical dispatchers.

"Now we have a way to control—in real time—the functions across the entire network," says Brett Massey, the center's manager.


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