Norbert Schindler takes a look at why three Eastern European countries are ditching traditional toll gantries
Let them eat Torta
TOLLING: EASTERN EUROPE ROUND-UP
Imagine a world in which roadside infrastructure is no longer needed for distance-based tolling. Three Eastern EU member states are on their way to making that dream a reality. Bulgaria is set to be the next country to introduce nationwide tolling for trucks above 3.5 tons in August 2019, on 80 percent of its road network, based on satellite technology.
In the Czech Republic, the new CzechToll-SkyToll Consortium is currently replacing the outdated DSRC-based system with a GNSS-based solution similar to the one successfully operated by SkyToll in Slovakia since 2010. Also Poland announced plans to replace its microwave-based tolling system, in operation since 2011, with a satellite-based solution. In other words, hundreds of costly gantries that were erected at considerable cost across Poland and the Czech Republic over the past decade are now being scrapped.
After an exceptionally long period in bidding for the renewal of the Czech tolling system, CzechToll and SkyToll are now busy preparing for the new GNSS-based solution that will be ready for deployment by the end of 2019. After being awarded the contract in September 2018, they have 14 months to take over the operations of the existing system. For the new tolling system, which will operate from 2020 to 2030, approximately 450,000 new satellite-based On Board Units will be distributed. Most importantly, the first-class road network will finally be tolled – as was the original intention when the first operations contract was signed back in 2006.
When the Czech Republic launched its tolling system on approximately 1000km motorways and expressways in 2007, the tolled road network should have been extended to another 1000km of national first-class roads within a year, as was defined in the contract. However, the cost of expanding the tolled road network by constructing microwave gantries on first-class roads proved to be prohibitive - the contractor was, for all intents and purposes, let off the hook and eventually only 180km of these roads were tolled. Finally, after more than a decade, the Czech Republic will finally be able to realize this extension – using satellite technology. SkyToll already demonstrated in 2014 how it was able to extend the tolling system in Slovakia from 2,447km to 17,762km in just a few months.
When the bids for the new satellite-based solutions were submitted in March 2018, there was a remarkable difference between the price of the satellite-based solutions being offered in the Czech Republic. Whereas the winning CzechToll-SkyToll consortium offered the solution for CZK10.79 billion (€417 million), the incumbent Kapsch Consortium submitted an offer for CZK13.50 billion (€522 million). T-Systems, which has been operating the German TollCollect system since 2005, offered a solution for a whopping CZK48.90 billion (€1,889 million). Most interesting for the Czech taxpayers, perhaps, is the fact that the new system operated by CzechToll and SkyToll – which will cover nearly twice the distance of the current tolling system – will cost about half of what was paid for the system installed and operated by Kapsch.
Poland appears to be following the Czech example, doing away with hundreds of microwave gantries that have been incrementally installed throughout the country – in order to expand the tolled road network, gantry by gantry. To overcome this seemingly Sisyphean task of implementing the tolling system on all of its major routes, the Polish government has been developing plans to upgrade and eventually replace the existing system with satellite technology.
In 2016, an international market consultation was initiated with the objective to issue a tender for the operation of the National Toll Collection System from 2018 to 2024. After just one year, this process came to an abrupt stop and eventually, in November 2018, the responsibility for operating the National Toll Collection System was transferred from the General Directorate for National Roads and Motorways (GDDKiA) to the General Inspectorate of Road Transport (GITD). Just two weeks after this transfer of operations from one public organization to another, the Minister of Infrastructure, Andrzej Adamczyk, and the Ministry of Digitization, Marek Zagórski, held a joint press conference to announce the creation of a “completely new” toll system. The Polish Institute of Communications, a National Research Institute supervised by the Ministry of Digitization, was appointed to develop a new concept for National Toll Collection System within the following six months.
The priorities of this new system were outlined at the press conference, including:
- The use of GNSS technology (“as recommended by the European Commission”),
- Data transmission using the cellular systems (LTE / 5G) and Big Data,
- Ensuring the security of personal data and storing sensitive data in Poland,
- Being EETS-compliant from the beginning,
- Being compatible and able to cooperate with other state-operated ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) systems
- Improving the safety and efficiency of road traffic.
Once the Institute of Communications completes its studies, the Minister of Infrastructure will join the GITD “to decide on the optimum solutions… to be launched in the beginning of 2021.” Such an ambitious undertaking would be need to be executed in record time, of course, so surely a detailed implementation schedule would be firmly in place, one might think. However, all attempts at obtaining more details about the planned schedule – particularly with respect to the tender process – have proven futile. Alas, even though we will be kept in the dark longer than we would like, the new tolling system in Poland is sure to grab our attention in the near future.
Much further to the South, Bulgaria chose to implement satellite technology for its nationwide tolling scheme from the very beginning. The contract for constructing the system was awarded in 2017, and includes both the GNSS-based tolling solution for trucks above 3.5 tons and an electronic vignette system for passenger vehicles. The e-vignette was launched in January 2019, with some initial complications (after which a number of public officials involved in the project had to step down).
Nevertheless, the implementation of the truck tolling system is well underway, with the launch set to take place in August 2019. The toll will cover up to 18,000km of national roads and will implement the European Electronic Toll Service (EETS) from the very beginning. After Belgium, Bulgaria is the second country to support EETS - as well as the “National Service Provider” concept introduced in Hungary in 2013. In contrast to Belgium or Hungary, however, no “default” national provider has been contracted that would guarantee the required level of service to enable the compliant use of tolling system in Bulgaria for all potential users. It remains to be seen whether enough service providers will be ready to take the commercial risk of providing the toll service from the first day of operations – especially given the relatively short period of time before the system goes live.
Some Hard and Painful Lessons Learned
Even though satellite-based tolling was proven to be an effective approach to nationwide schemes back in 2005, when Germany launched its ground-breaking “LKW Maut” system on 12,000km of motorways, the Czech Republic and Poland learned the hard way that the construction of microwave-based gantries was perhaps not the best investment on behalf of tax-payers. Once you invest in all that infrastructure, it is a painful realization that all that hardware is not affordable when you need to expand the tolled road network - as Germany and Slovakia have done with their GNSS-based systems with relative ease.
It’s no wonder, then that the tendering for a “system upgrade” in the Czech Republic and Poland were so many years in the making.
Finally, though, these countries will be able to enjoy cost-effective tolling solutions that GNSS technology makes possible. Bulgaria also promises to become a leading example of establishing a comprehensive national tolling scheme without the need to invest heavily in roadside infrastructure. The Bulgarians are especially bold, however, being the first country to launch a tolling solution and not investing a single euro cent (or “stotinki”, to be more exact) in On Board Units that all trucks will need to electronically pay their distance-based tolls. It remains to be seen if in you can have your Bulgarian torta and eat it too.
Norbert Schindler is the founder of GNSS Consulting, based in Vienna, Austria