Korean trot singer Jang Yoon-jeong is also known as the “Queen of Tollgates,” as she travels so much around the country to perform. Tollgates are one of the most frequent words associated with highway. The first tollgates in Korea opened in 1969 when the first highway, the Gyeongin highway linking Seoul and Incheon, was built.
After almost five decades, the manned toll collecting booth is still in place today. In booths sized 1.65 square meters, some 6,700 toll collectors around the country work eight hours a day in three shifts, collecting tolls for 2,000 vehicles each day. The Hi-pass system, which allows drivers to make wireless toll payments, was first introduced in 2000 and expanded throughout the country in December 2007. Now, 79.1 percent of drivers use the system. The next stage of technology is the smart-tolling system, which does not require cars to drive on exclusive lanes and able to recognize license plates and automatically charge tolls for cars driving at the speed of 100 kilometers per hour.
Smart tolling was scheduled for full implementation starting in 2020, but it has been put on hold. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport held a briefing session last Tuesday to companies operating private highways and explained that the current cash payment system would be maintained and only pre-registered vehicles would be eligible for smart tolling. The announcement nullifies the ministry’s previous stance of promoting the smart tolling system, which would increase pass speed by more than 30 percent and increase social benefit by 200 billion won. This reason for this reversal mainly stems from job loss concerns of the toll collectors. Some 2,600 employees lost jobs when the Hi-pass system was introduced.
Robot scientist Hans Moravec once said, “Whatever is simple for a human is very hard for a computer and whatever is very hard for a human is very hard for a computer,” known as the Moravec paradox. Whether it is job maintenance or growth, humans and computers should be encouraged to grow in ways what they do best. In a world that is increasingly dominated by machines, how long can we put off smart tolling?