Ten years after it was first mooted by the European Commission, a plan for a European Union-wide electronic system for the payment of tolls is only crawling forward. A scaled-back version of the plan is now trying to regain some of the lost momentum. Katka Krosnar and Siegfried Mortkowitz report.
A truck crossing five European countries has to have five onboard units for electronic road tolls.
What’s wrong with this picture?
“That is not a state-of-the-art solution for the 21st century,” says Hubert Resch, project coordinator of the European Union-funded Regional European Electronic Toll Service (REETS).
Efforts to bring interoperability between the various electronic toll systems across the European Union have been around since 2004 when the European Directive 2004/52/EC established a framework for the so called European Electronic Toll Service (EETS).
The idea is to allow drivers to use one subscription contract with one service provider and one piece of on-board electronic equipment across the entire region.
But that is clearly easier said than done as multiple delays caused by everything from failure to designate conciliation bodies necessary for billing disputes to failure to formalize test requirements for onboard units show. And despite recent efforts to regain some of the lost momentum, the future of the project continues to look uncertain.
“The EETS should have been operational in October 2012 all over Europe,” says Jan Willem Tierolf, ITS coordinator at the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment and chairman of the Stockholm Group, an informal platform of national authorities for the adoption of EETS. “From that date, it should have been possible for everyone with this one onboard unit and one contract to drive through all the toll domains of Europe. However, it’s March 2014, and it is not operational anywhere.”
Bumps in the road
The list of problems holding things back goes on and on.“The EETS service provider must conclude contracts with all the EETS toll domains,” Tierolf says, noting that there are about 200 such toll domains. Another problem is that the business case for European service providers is very weak.
The cost side is too high,” Tierolf says. “That’s because we have a multiplicity. We can have a hundred different sets of requirements from all those toll domains.” In addition, because there is no European CE marking process for onboard equipment, service providers have to get approval, certification and field tests in all toll domains involved. “That is a show-stopper,” Tierolf says.
To speed things up, the European Commission is now trying to get a scaled-back version of EETS off the ground. The project, known as REETS, is being led by ASFiNAG, the Austrian state-owned motorway operator responsible for building, maintaining and collecting tolls for Austria’s highways. And it aims to cover the electronically tolled primary road network of seven E.U. members – Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain – as well as Switzerland.
The countries were chosen on the basis of them already having an electronic toll charge system in operation together with a large amount of international traffic using their roads.
REETS: A scaled-back EETS
“In June of this year, there will be an evaluation moment, based on what has been produced in terms of ideas, proposals and possibly agreements,” Tierolf says. “All the players will take stock and see if they are ready to give commitments to start contract negotiations for real deals starting later this year.”
The European Commission will carry out its own evaluation into whether there are tangible results towards implementation. This evaluation is earmarked for the second half of 2014.
According to Resch, REETS aims at “filling in white spots” necessary for implementation, such as data exchange formats. Partners in the project are also developing a common understanding, particularly regarding service components to reduce business uncertainty for EETS providers.
They are working on providing proposals for common and cost-saving solutions such as data-exchange hubs and on suggestions for common test procedures. And they are trying to attract other stakeholders, such astoll equipmentmanufacturers and the IT industry, as well as other prospective EETS providers to foster the deployment of the project.
A separate activity will establish a platform for facilitating bilateral negotiations between toll chargers and EETS providers. If sufficient commitment to going ahead and implementing is given in mid-2014, REETS could begin operating around 18 months later, according to Resch.
“For the [European Commission], a key element for decision on whether to go ahead is whether partners want to participate in a pilot, to what extent and to what timeline,” he says.
The need to build a critical mass
Despite the many setbacks, Resch is optimistic. “This is a good solution, the technology is ready, and there is no technical reason not to go ahead,” he says. “Its success depends on persuading someone to take the first steps, and then the others will follow. … The main challenge is bringing stakeholders together and convincing them that EETS is a good solution. … However, partners have to take a longer-term view. Costs will rise in the short term but will bring savings in the medium term, in around five years.”
In the meantime, a variety of E.U. members have pursued their own interoperability projects on road tolls. Germany and Austria have launched TOLL2GO, an interoperable tolling system that uses the same onboard unit for both countries. Similar cooperation is being developed between Spain and Portugal, where onboard units and contracts from one country can be used in the other, and among Norway (with 45 toll domains), Sweden (with two bridges involved), Denmark (a few bridges) and Austria.
These may help build a critical mass. But Tierolf cautions against excessive optimism. “EETS is not there yet,” he says. “Sometimes, in a black mood, I would consider that ‘yet’ just a courtesy to my European Commission friends. But I remain hopeful.”
(For more on EETS, see The impact of eCall, EETS and ITP on fleet telematics, part I, The impact of eCall, EETS and ITP on fleet telematics, part II, and The impact of eCall, EETS and ITP on fleet telematics, part III.)
Katka Krosnar and Siegfried Mortkowitz are regular contributors to Telematics Update.
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