Ep. 29 — Should you take that toll road to save time?

Billy Lo
3 min readApr 1, 2021


Image by Mediamodifier from Pixabay
Tradeoffs can be agonizing when you don’t have easy access to good data

If you drive in North America or Europe, you often have to face this simple tradeoff: Time Savings vs. Toll Charges. The decision is actually not an easy one. Time Saving is dependent on traffic conditions on two different routes; even the toll charge is not straightforward because it varies based on time of day and/or day of the week.

So we have little choice but to take an educated guess, every single time.

My colleague Dinesh inspired me to tackle this. Upon searching for existing solution, I was quite surprised none of the navigation apps offer useful info. So I gave it a try.

HERE (formerly NavTEQ) has a fleet telematic API for toll charges along any route, I just need to generate two routing requests (one allowing the use of toll roads; and another avoiding toll) for calculating the time savings.

The end result? I named the tool - Toll or Not. Let me show you the web version first.


An impactful software engineer in today’s world does not have to be a 10X guru in a specific platform or domain. It can be about blending components together in creative ways; just like a master chef does when he or she makes a cool dish.

Sure, a master chef still possesses strong fundamentals. But it’s his/her knowledge on the ingredients available and creativity/boldness that sets him/her apart.

For us, the ingredients are APIs, widgets, open source libraries, data sets and ML models. Broad awareness to them is very valuable. 1+1 can equal 3.

Here are a few ideas on how to broaden your choice of ingredients:

  1. Subscribe to newsletters such as ProgrammableWeb.com to check out new APIs being brought onto the market.
  2. For data sets, many cities/governments have Open Data initiatives (e.g. Open Data Canada and Open Data Toronto) that include a rich catalog; from census data to traffic light locations in the city.
  3. For widgets and open source libraries, I rely on curators on GitHub who put together awesome lists like these.

Back to the “Toll or Not” decision support feature, I like it a lot (thanks Dinesh), so I added the same capability to my driving assistant app. You can pick up the latest version from Sidekick-App.com.

That’s all for now. Until next time. Stay safe!

Sidekick-app.com (v4.2) for iOS