Government Sees Delays, Higher Costs for Highway Toll

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Picture source: Reuters

Germany’s controversial move to a system of distance-based tolls for foreign cars using German highways will be more expensive than planned and will not start until at least 2020, according to internal documents seen by Handelsblatt.

The consultation documents were prepared for Germany’s ministry of transport last year by a number of external consultants and government agencies, at a cost of over €6 million, or $6.4 million. The detailed plans, running to over 500 pages, make it clear that the scheme cannot come into force until 2020 at the earliest, even if legal hurdles are cleared this year. Public statements from the transport ministry previously suggested it could be in place by 2019.

The scheme will be run in a complex cooperation between a private contractor and several state agencies. These include the Federal Motor Transport Authority, or KBA, and the Federal Office for Goods Transport, or BAG, which will be responsible for checking drivers on the country’s highways.

The report emphasizes that the scheme should be designed with future expansion in mind, 'in particular to buses, coaches, and motorbikes.'

The plans suggest the scheme’s costs will be greater than original estimates. The extensive infrastructure will include over 500 BAG staff needed just to monitor the system’s users, with 163 new vehicles, according to the documents. This is twice the number originally suggested.

Specifications for the private contractor tasked with running the system are laid down in detail, including everything from call centers and payment points to online apps. The firm eventually chosen will receive an annual payment of €136 million. The plans do not specify capital requirements for the eventual operating company.

In a possibly contentious clause, the report emphasizes that the scheme should be designed with future expansion in mind, “in particular applying to buses, coaches, and motorbikes.” Responding to inquiries from Handelsblatt, the transport ministry emphasized that official tendering documents had not yet been finalized.

The original planning for the system of road tolls led to a protracted dispute between the German government and the European Commission, on whether the proposed Autobahn toll was discriminatory against foreigners and against EU law.

The two sides later came to an agreement, under which Germany is to alter the plans to make them compliant, with the commission dropping a case taken to the European Court of Justice on the subject.

The consultation documents estimate the cost of setting up the system at around €380 million, with arrangements to exempt German drivers initially costing a further €137 million per year. The rising cost of the scheme – some €20 million has already been spent on early planning phases — has caused disquiet among German parliamentarians.

The car-toll scheme has above all been promoted by the Christian Social Union, the right-wing Bavarian allies of chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the party of current transport minister Alexander Dobrindt.

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