Best practice on show in Brussels


The annual Road User Charging conference was held in Brussels for the fifth time in its 11 year history, welcoming speakers and delegates from over 20 different countries across Europe and North America. Returning chairman Keith Mortimer of Wyeval Consulting began the event by echoing a sentiment familiar to policy makers androad users across the globe: “What’s in it for me?” These words were repeated throughout the event before being addressed directly by a panel of experts representing each component of the road pricing fraternity.

The State knows best?

Dr Stephen Ladyman, former UK minister of state for transport, opened the conversation by explaining that all significant political decisions are determined by timings: “Politicians have limited room to manoeuvre. What will the public allow, what will they pay for and what compromises can politicians live with?” asked Ladyman. To this day, congestion costs the British economy billions of pounds in lost revenue and reduced productivity, a familiar problem for most developed economies and indeed an increasing concern for many developing countries.

“All governments have a limited window of opportunity to take bold initiatives when money can be spent and hard decisions can be made. Every time an administration is re-elected this window becomes smaller,”says Ladyman.

Mirroring recent issues in France under François Hollande’s administration, the failure of the previous UK government to introduce a comprehensive road pricing scheme was ultimately due to a lack of political capital.

Responding to the problems encountered by politicians, Kallistratos Dionelis, secretary general of ASECAP, noted that politicians were not necessarily best placed to implement new road pricing projects: “They have the best tools, but are not the experts.”

Frederik Rasmussen of the European Commission argued that the element of choice and ensuring a benefit that outweighs the cost was top of the priority list for users. In order to achieve this result, the European Commission remains in favour of moves towards a distance based charging model, which would allow governments to generate more revenue for investment in the transport sector. Rasmussen was also keen to stress that while road user charging has the potential to improve roads and encourage positive behavioural change, the impetus had to come from individual states: “The European Commission is not first in line in terms of implementation, member states are.”

Sacha Hatteea, head of HGV levy and charging at the Department for Transport, cited a mixed picture in the UK and suggested that there would always be negative perceptions from the general public, who worried about privacy and monitoring. Further concerns included the fear of being left worse off and uncertainty over the impact on public transport: “Time benefits must be tangible and outweigh the costs. If you want to create a modal shift, you need to improve other forms of transport.”

Success story

20 years ago, the Swiss Government passed two decisive votes which marked the beginning of one of Europe’s road user charging success stories. Responding to a growth in freight transit traffic across the alps, the Swiss government made the decision to stop extending the road network and mandated that goods transit traffic be made by rail. “The votes created the constitutional basis for a heavy vehicle fee (HVF) and implemented a polluter pays principle”, explained Ueli Balmer, deputy head of transport policy at the Federal Office for Spatial Development.

The shift towards greater use of rail was largely supported by the general public, although better infrastructure was necessary to support this plan. To ensure public acceptance of the proposal, the government undertook an extensive outreach programme, describing each aspect of the HVF. Arguably the most important contribution towards a positive public reaction was the decision to invest two thirds of the HVF revenue into rail. “The transport infrastructure needs to be seen as a whole package. People need to see where their money is going”, said Balmer. The result was a clear approval, with 57 per cent of the public voting in favour of the HVF.

Despite not being a member of the European Union, the Swiss engaged in a similarly enthusiastic communication offensive, encouraging EU officials to visit Switzerland and view the changes being made. “Make clear there is a problem to all potential partners and show how your solution is well suited to solve the problem. Explain the benefits and defeat the fears”, advised Balmer.

A model for European interoperability

Another successful case study presented at the conference came from the Irish National Roads Authority, which manages PPP contracts for 10 major toll roads across the national network. “Virtually all of Ireland’s commerce and industry depends on road links”, said project manager Colum Lynch. Ireland features a variety of tolling systems, ranging from single point tolling and standard plazas to open road express lanes with DSRC. In each case the concessionaire provided the tags. Interoperability provisions were stipulated in each PPP contract.

Under the earlier stage PPP model there were no independent toll service providers. “The introduction of independent service providers created a step change in the market, necessitating a new contractual arrangement”, said Lynch. While these new providers were welcomed, the obligation to be interoperable with each other remained.

In 2012 the National Roads Authority began developing a new interoperability model based on flexibility and a market oriented approach. “The contractual model allowed companies to assume greater autonomy and responsibility”, explained Lynch. The new solution retained a basic system of information exchange, combined with enhanced data exchange mechanisms and the facilitation of a technical solution to support the toll charger and toll service provider. The system was further “future proofed”, by facilitating EETS requirements and allowing growth in European interoperability.

Lynch stated that the market of the future would be determined by the nature of the relationship between toll chargers and service providers: “The value of the service will be a commercial decision.”

Seven times larger

In one of the most keenly discussed presentations, Miroslav Bobosik, director of strategy and marketing, outlined the achievements made by Slovak operator Skytoll. First launched on 1 January 2010, the satellite based charging scheme covered 991 segments within the national road network. Over the following four years, this was slowly expanded to reach 1,132 by 31 December 2013. On the morning of 1 January 2014, Skytoll went live with its largest network expansion to date, extending the number of tolled segments to 4,294. “The number of KM within the network rose from 2,477 to 17,162,” said Bobosik. All motorways, first, second and third class roads now fall under the national toll network.

Along with the changes to the chargeable network, there were new tariffs and a re-grouping of the emissions classes. Bobosik proudly announced that the updated network was the largest scheme of its kind in Europe and covered 40.7 per cent of all roads in Slovakia. “This was achieved without having to build new toll gates,” said Bobosik.

Game changer

In 2001 the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) established the road user fee task force, with a mandate to develop a design for revenue collection that would replace the existing system. Since that time, Oregon has led the way in distance based charging and plans to welcome the first 5,000 users on 1 July 2015. Using commercially available technology, ODOT will allow road users a clear choice for how they report their mileage: “Choice makes all the difference,” said Jim Whitty, manager of the Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding.

Having made the decision to go with an open architecture, Whitty hopes that the system will allow for an evolution of technologies: “Creating a per-mile charging system that is flexible, scalable and geographically unlimited.”

Throughout his keynote address, Whitty emphasised the importance of building political support and interaction with all key interest groups. “In 2012 we travelled around the state and found that people have different reasons for opposing the scheme,” said Whitty. The contentious issue of user privacy was again addressed by allowing each user a choice over their reporting method and provider. These included: basic reporting from the car’s odometer, advanced reporting using vehicle location and a manual reporting option when driving off Oregon public roads. “Users will be able to select their reporting device from the marketplace,” he explained. Users will similarly be given multiple options of how to pay once an invoice has been received.

Time will tell whether Oregon’s mileage based fee project is successful, but with states such as California, Washington and Nevada undertaking formal studies, and many others showing an active interest, the future looks bright for road user charging in Oregon and across the United States.

Timeline for launch of Oregon RUC Programme

Autumn 2014:
Validation of account managers

Autumn 2014 to Winter 2014:
System modifications for account managers
Component testing for ODOT account managers
Component certification for commercial account managers

March to June 2015:
Field test set up and operations

1 July 2015:
Launch of Oregon RUC system

Organisations attending the Road User Charging Conference 2014 included:

Association of European Vehicle Logistics
Attica Tollway Operations Authority
BT Signaal
Continental Automotive
D’Artagnan Consulting
DKV Euro Service
Department for Transport, United Kingdom
Ericsson AB
European Commission
European GNSS Agency
European Investment Bank
Federal Office for Spatial Development, Switzerland
Flemish Government
General Directorate for National Roads and Highways, Poland
Hungarian Transport Administration
IBI Group
Intertoll Europe
Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, Netherlands
Ministry of the Brussels Capital Region
Ministry of Transport and Communication, Finland
National Roads Authority, Ireland
National Toll Payment Services, Hungary
Norwegian Public Roads Administration
Oregon Department for Transport
PMO DuurzameMobiliteit
Ptolemus Consulting
Sanef ITS
Shell Oil Products
Toll Collect
Transport & Mobility Leuven
Transport Logic Ltd
T-Systems International
Union Tank
University of Amsterdam

Article taken from the November 2014 issue of RUC Magazine