This week true believers in telematics and intelligent transport systems will gather at Convergence 2004 in Detroit and the World ITS Congress in Nagoya, Japan, to hear glowing forecasts for the future.
For those gathered in Nagoya, though, a reality check is as close as the nearest expressway.
Japan's electronic toll collection system has been a three-year flop. The system gained users only after the government offered incentives and removed popular alternative toll-payment methods.
The flop shows that intelligent transport systems should serve the needs of motorists - not bureaucrats and technology geeks. Consumers want convenience, ease of use and low costs. They won't pay for more.
For the uninitiated, here's how electronic toll collection works: As a driver passes through a toll, an antenna electronically reads account information from a transponder in the car. The toll is deducted electronically from the account.
The problems already were brewing in 2000, when Japan's advisory Road Council predicted that 50 percent of motorists would adopt electronic tolls "at an early date."