First publishedin ITS International
Slovakia opted for a satellite-based tolling system and following last year’s enlargement it now has the European Union’s largest truck user charging system.
Following its enlargement last year to more than 17,750km, Slovakia’s electronic toll collection system covers more than 40% of its roads - including 13,480km in towns and villages and other minor roads - making it the longest such network in the European Union. The system was designed, developed and is operated by SkyToll, which is contracted to the National Motorway Company under the Slovak Ministry of Transport, Construction and Regional Development.
All vehicles over 3.5tonnes are required to pay the tolls which not only apply to motorways and expressways but also first, second and third class roads. Toll pricing uses a distance-based model using the satellite technology for positioning the onboard units (based on GPS, also EGNOS and Galileo ready). The use of onboard units, of which there are approximately 250,000 registered, is mandatory, with 72% used by foreign-registered vehicles and in 2014 toll revenue amounted to €183million ($204million).
FACT FILE - Slovakia's truck tolling
40% of Slovakia's roads (17,750km) are covered by its truck tolling system - including 13,480km in towns, villages and minor roads.
4,000 the number of road segments in the satellite-based tolling system
21% decrease in trucks using parallel roads once they were included in the toll.
72% of in-vehicle units used byu foreign-registered vehicles
€13.76 - the costs a two-axle EURO V freight vehicle over 12tons travelling the 80km transit road from Hungary to Czech Republic.
€183million ($204million) – toll revenue in 2014.“The system was implemented in only 11 months as there is no need to install tolling gantries,” says SkyToll’s head of strategy and marketing, Miroslav Bobošík. “There are currently more than 4,000 segments modelled in the system and with the satellite technology these segments are made by so-called virtual points. If Slovakia had opted for a microwave DSRC-based technology for toll collection, we would have needed to build more than 4,000 gantries to cover the same network with a toll collection system of equal efficiency.”
Initially launched in 2010, the Slovak Electronic Toll Collection system combines satellite-based GNSS and mobile technology using GPRS for data transfer and while it does include microwave DSRC technology, this is only for the purposes of enforcement and control. The system also complies with European Directive 2004/52/EC which covers the interoperability of electronic road toll systems and two regulations dealing with the data protection in connection with the tolling (122/2013 Coll. and 474/2013 Coll.).
As there are no gantries to build, satellite-based tolling systems offer both financial and practical advantages and in Slovakia’s case the authorities opted for a Design-Build-Finance-Maintain-Operate (DBFMO) model, shifting all responsibility to the contractor. This meant no public investment was required either at or before the launch, and the authority’s risk was minimised with the repayment of investment costs only due to start once the system was operating, and then it was divided into four annual payments.
For truck operators the initial outlay is limited to a €50 ($56) deposit for the onboard unit which is returnable after the unit is handed back. The tolling charges are not only categorised by vehicle type and weight but also by the EURO emission class, prompting some truck operators to purchase new and cleaner vehicles. During the 2014 enlargement this incentive was increased so the differentiation in the per-kilometre charge between the oldest and the newest emission classes for trucks of the same weight driving on motorways was increased to at least 22%. For buses operating in urban areas the differentiation in tolling rates between the oldest and the newest emission class is even wider at up to 50%.
Tariffs are imposed by Slovakia’s distance-based tolling system depending on four main attributes:
- Road class - motorways and expressways; first class roads parallel to motorways; other first class road;, second class roads and third class roads;
- Vehicle category – truck, bus;
- 3,5t – 12t, above 12t;
- Number of axles;
- Emission class (EURO 0 to EURO VI and EEV)
The typical cost for a two-axle, EURO V freight vehicle over 12tonnes travelling on a motorway is €0.172/km. This means to travel the 80km on the most frequently used transit road from Hungary to Czech Republic, the user would be charged €13.76.
Currently there is no tariff differentiation by the time of day or a day of week although the system is capable of implementing this if required.
In 2014 a new tariff was introduced covering first class roads that run parallel to motorways. This is applied to first class roads identified by the administrators as routes truck drivers can use when transiting the country to avoid paying the higher toll on the motorway. Bobošík says: “The Slovak Ministry of Transport wanted to persuade trucks traffic back onto the motorways which are designed for heavy vehicle use and in doing so reduce wear on the first class roads. So the toll rate set on this new category for parallel roads is equal to that operators’ will pay on the adjacent motorways.”
Non-motorway routes and coaches over 12t are included in the Slovakia's tolling scheme
Following the introduction of the new tariff, the Ministry released traffic volume figures for the first class road between the cities of Trencin and Zilina - an industrial region with a relatively high proportion of heavy vehicles. The statistics show a 21% decrease, a fall of approximately 4,000 vehicles, in February 2014 compared with a year earlier.
Simultaneously, the traffic volumes on the parallel motorway increased by some 8,000 vehicles (more than 8%), meaning the decrease of traffic on the first class road was not caused by the lower overall traffic flows.
Truck operators can choose between pre-pay and post-pay regimes. With the pre-paid regime the user purchases credit from which successive toll fees are deducted when travelling on the charged network. Users are not allowed to use the charged network if they have a zero or negative balance. With the post-paid regime, users register and provide a guaranty and receive a monthly invoice.
The satellite technology allows the system to recognise each onboard unit and calculate the position and direction of the vehicle at each virtual point (called virtual gantry). Using that information the toll can be calculated.
Both stationary and mobile enforcement are used to detect violators, with 47 enforcement gantries throughout the country and an additional 30 mobile units. These detect where there is no onboard unit or if it is incorrectly set with, for instance, the wrong number of axles). The violation can be processed directly by the mobile unit if the vehicle is stopped on the road or it can be sent to the responsible administration office in Slovakia.
The foreign trucks pay exactly the same toll tariffs for using the same roads and frequent users (both Slovak and foreign) have the right to get the discounts from the toll depending on the distance driven. Most of those earning these discounts are domestic trucks which use the roads most days although some frequent foreign visitors also meet the discount threshold.
Bobošík says exact cost comparisons remain difficult because of inherent differences such as the size of the charged network, the number of users and the services that are provided. For the system in Slovakia, SkyToll provide not only the central IT system, servers, technology maintenance operation and customer services but it also purchased the onboard units and the enforcement system.
“In addition,” he says, “most of the 17,700km of roads in the Slovak network are in the lower class categories whereas most of the 1,400km in the Czech Republic’s tolled network are motorway - as is the case in Poland (2,600km) and Austria (2,200km). The other countries have implemented microwave technology and are now facing the problem of expanding the charged network because costly, roadside infrastructure is needed.”
Miroslav Bobošík Head of strategy and marketing at SkyToll
His company faced a similar challenge at the beginning of 2014 when the tolled road network was enlarged from 2,447 to 17,762 kilometres – a project that was completed inside three months.
“The satellite technology not only provides flexibility to change the charged network, it is also cost-efficient. The implementation of, or changes to, such systems can be completed in a very short time because there is no need to build more gantries,” says Bobošík.
“The other important point is the high recognition rate and the efficiency of satellite-based toll collection. In Slovakia the recognition rate throughout the operating period has been well above 99% - even on the low-class roads with a high number of crossings where microwave technology would need tolling gantries.”
Some have voiced concerns that road charging will drive businesses and people away from the rural areas because the cost of getting goods to market will be increased to unsustainable levels. Indeed some Slovak truck operators were worried about the possible negative effect of the proposed enlargement of the charged network by the beginning of 2014, so to evaluate the impact it would have, the Slovak Transport Research Institute conducted a study.
At the time some of the roads were charged but had a zero tariff meaning only 1,223km of new charged roads (with the rate more than zero) were to be added. The Institute has calculated the impact on the overall operating costs of the truck companies increased by 2.5-4.5%.
“Overall this system has helped the Slovakian government address three issues: recouping the cost of the damage heavy vehicles cause to the roads; persuading truck drivers to use the motorways, and incentivising fleet owners to use cleaner vehicles,” says Bobošík.