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Eyes on the Road

THE NEW JERSEY Turnpike Authority (NJTA) collects data and video on every vehicle that passes through a toll gate on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. The NJTA also monitors every transaction that takes place between a driver and a toll collector on those roadways, which extend for 320 miles.

Before an upgrade three years ago, the NJTA used an analog system that merged video and transaction data into a single source. All the video was recorded onto VCR tapes. Pulling up information was time consuming and difficult, according to Greg Megow, assistant director of ETC operations at the NJTA.

Several NJTA employees need to review such information. The primary users are auditing and finance personnel who must be on the lookout for unusual occurrences at the toll booths. For example, toll operators must classify each vehicle that comes through the system as a car or truck. However, the classification noted by the operator might not match that on the video. The auditors must comb through the data to filter out these specific transactions.

“We began looking for a new product years ago,” says Megow. “And the technology was starting to evolve to the point where we could talk about moving to a digital system.” However, Megow and his team had to wait until the NJTA had the right infrastructure in place, including sufficient bandwidth and a fiber-optic network that could handle the transmission of digital files.

After conducting research on possible solutions, Megow found a system developed by the Camden, New Jersey, firm Agilence, Inc. He chose the Agilence product because the digital video could be seamlessly merged with transaction data. Also, the search function made it easier for NJTA employees to scan for unusual occurrences on the road.

The Agilence product allows NJTA to view all of the data from the toll booths together. The system monitors each transaction that occurs in every cash and EZPass toll on the turnpike and parkway. Each transaction has multiple components. For example, the system captures data when the toll collector inputs a payment or enters a vehicle classification. The system also uses monitoring devices in each toll lane. Radar tracks vehicles and counts axles, while light curtains detect when vehicles enter and exit the toll late. As a car goes through a toll, the Agilence software receives the output information from each device in the system and merges that with the video of the vehicle, thus collecting and organizing data from several sources.

Video is collected from numerous cameras—NJTA uses a single camera to record up to five lanes of traffic. The video data is then multiplexed to the transaction data. All of this information is then stored locally. Megow has Agilence software installed in a server at a central location. When Megow or other NJTA employees want to retrieve data, they can query the locally stored information and pull it up via the central server. If necessary, employees can also view the video live. This is critical for those in charge of ensuring that traffic moves as quickly and safely as possible.

Megow was also pleased with the search function on the Agilence system. Searching was a challenge for auditors using the old system because if toll booth operators made errors, the auditors would have to spend hours viewing videotapes to find where the error occurred. “The Agilence software makes it much easier to analyze those anomalies,” says Megow.

The software can filter and identify certain characteristics, helping to isolate incidents. For example, over a two-hour segment with three cameras, the software can filter by type of vehicle, transponder in the vehicle, or for specific violations such as failure to pay a toll. The software allows the user to print reports based on the results of these searches.

The new software also allows auditors to determine whether toll booth operators are following the correct operational procedures. For example, they can monitor the operator’s ability to classify a vehicle correctly and process transactions quickly enough to maintain the pace of traffic. The system provides auditors with transaction data on how the collector classified a vehicle, and it can compare that with data from the system and the video associated with that transaction. Thus, the auditor can see whether the collector classified a vehicle as a car when the video indicates that the vehicle was actually a five-axle truck. This sort of detail can then serve as a warning that operators need additional training.

Auditors can also use the system to reconcile the amount of money that should be coming in with the amount that operators are collecting. If there is a discrepancy, the incident can be investigated to determine whether it is simple operator error or fraud.

The system helps the auditor find the source of any discrepancies and ensure that each source—the employer, the bank, and the system—are operating correctly and legitimately.

Megow uses the software to identify violators who drive through the tolls without paying. He can also use it to help law enforcement find criminals and provide irrefutable evidence in court. The system makes it easy to attach a digital video to an e-mail, but Megow says he has only used this feature in criminal cases because of privacy issues. “We must be very careful,” he says. “We only send video to aid law enforcement and only after getting a court order.”

“We get a lot of subpoenas to help find bad guys using the roads,” Megow explains. “I have also had to testify on the legitimacy of the New Jersey toll system quite a few times, and it has always held up in court.”

(For more information: Derek Rodner, vice president of product strategy, Agilence, phone: 856/366 1200, ext 112; e-mail:[email protected].)