FETC International Co.
- Installed the world’s first nationwide multi-lane free-flow electronic toll collection (ETC) system in Taiwan, saving motorists at least 30 minutes when driving cross-country and millions of tons of emissions
- Provides infrastructural and technological backing for the future digital vehicle economy capable of integrating parking, traffic management, insurance, taxation, logistics, maintenance and more
As the first electronic toll collection (ETC) provider to install a nationwide multi-lane free-flow system, Far Eastern Toll Collection (FETC) Co. Ltd. has captured the attention of governments and industry partners around the world. Now as it exports its traffic and tolling solutions abroad through FETC International (FETCi) Co., it is also turning its sights to building a future digital economy focused around vehicles.
Evolution of tolling
In 2014, Taiwan had a highway toll collection system comparable to many of its peers. It had seven years earlier transformed some tollbooth lanes to accommodate electronic payments via radio frequency identification (RFID) tag sensors, more than doubling the number of vehicles serviced in an hour. Yet FETC could see a path to even greater efficiency.
Over the course of only eight months, FETC did away with tollbooths altogether, instead setting up 319 gantries stretching over 986km from north to south. Now when traveling on the highway in Taiwan, drivers do not even need to slow down to pay tolls — high-frequency sensors can read an RFID tag in 2 milliseconds and take a photograph of each license plate, allowing drivers to reach their destination uninterrupted.
FETC knew transitioning to “ETC 4.0” was a large undertaking, but they hadn’t realized just how significant it was.
“We found that other countries at that time still used toll plazas, manual tolling or some free-flow ETC, but there was no one country where the whole nation used only ETC without manual tolling at the time. It’s the world No. 1,” vice president of technology Richard Wu said.
Convergent smart highways
Within 18 months, 7.5 million of the 8 million registered vehicles in Taiwan had adopted FETC’s RFID eTag, a 94 percent penetration rate. The ETC system as a whole enjoys a 100% usage rate, handling 16.2 million transactions per day.
Drivers especially have loved the system for its efficiency. When traveling cross-country, a vehicle will arrive at its destination a half hour earlier. If all of the 1.5 million vehicles driving on the highway daily save 15 minutes, then a total of 42.8 years in driving time is saved every single day.
For the government, a 162 percent higher throughput efficiency and 99.999% accuracy rate means more tolls collected hourly, while full automation enables instant rollout of its complex differential tolling rate, accounting for distance traveled, vehicle type and time of day. Over major holidays, the transportation ministry also implements special rates to encourage travel in off-peak times and areas.
Less obvious but no less important are the environmental benefits.
“Because vehicles don’t need to stop and go, we can save gasoline, reduce air pollution and don’t need to have tickets,” Wu said, saving on average 60cc of fuel per vehicle daily, equivalent to 203 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Combined with the 150g of carbon emissions saved, the system is estimated to save US$80 million every year, not to mention the impact of eliminating paper tickets.
“Some research even found that our value is better than the high-speed railway,” Wu said. “The high-speed rail spent lots of money, but we don’t need to spend that much.”
Digital vehicle economy
Beyond tolling, FETC’s complete usage rate and infrastructure enable another level of integration altogether. “It’s not just a smart highway, not just tolls, not just traffic management — we combine these things together,” Wu said. “From that we can enlarge to smart parking, smart services — even smart police.”
Officials and researchers are already using tokenized data from the ETC system to study traffic models, providing real-time information to drivers, planning roads and instantaneously implementing control measures wherever needed. The data also helps estimate road lifespans, making maintenance easier. Police have even used the system to catch suspects, but only after receiving a warrant.
By conforming to ISO standards, FETC ensures that many sectors can join the ecosystem. It is now expanding to parking, with six municipalities and some stores in Taiwan allowing drivers to pay parking fees with eTag. Since it is already linked with a driver’s credit card, payment happens digitally, eliminating the need to pay at convenience stores. Despite just launching less than a year ago, “we are the No. 1 or No. 2 market share already,” Wu said.
Through eTag, users can integrate not only tolling and parking, but also taxes, mileage-based insurance, vehicle maintenance, logistics and more, realizing a complete digital vehicle economy.
Easy and remote implementation
Other countries have begun to take notice of FETC’s achievements. The firm has received a number of international awards, including the IBTTA President’s Award, ITS World Congress Industry Award, IRF Global Road Achievement Award and others. It is also starting to export its ETC system overseas.
In Thailand, the firm was awarded a contract to bring its smart highway infrastructure to the government’s new M6/M81 project. However, “that is just the beginning, because they still plan to implement more than 5,000km of highways,” Wu said. Based on its initial success, FETC has already been awarded the M9 contract and is in talks for more.
Interest has picked up even more since the COVID-19 outbreak, as governments are seeking to minimize contact. In the Philippines, Manila mandated cashless tolling from next year, “so suddenly they don’t have enough RFID tags to provide to drivers,” Wu said. “India is the same. Because of COVID-19, the government wants cashless ETC, so we got a free-flow ETC project in India.”
Solutions FETC developed for its internal operations have also proven more useful than anticipated. “Without sending people we can still do business,” Wu said, as all monitoring and maintenance happens remotely. All the firm needs to do is send the equipment over for a local partner to set up.
Now with projects in the works in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia, FETCi is growing fast.
- Implemented the world’s first nationwide multi-lane free-flow electronic toll collection system, in eight months installing 319 gantries over 986km of highways in Taiwan with no working accidents
- Without needing to stop, drivers save up to a half hour in driving time and an estimated US$80 million in emissions and fuel
- Nonproprietary, ISO-standard RFID tags enable integration with multiple services, such as parking, traffic management and even policing
- 100% usage rate with 16.2 million daily transactions builds valuable database for transportation planning and to test new services
- Fully automated maintenance enables remote rollout anywhere in the world