Two on-board units and a vignette, or two vignettes and an on board unit?


Wouter van Haaften looks at why EETS is so important to the cross-European driving community

Wouter van Haaften

Wouter van Haaften

In 2004 the European Electronic Tolling Service Directive (EETS) was established. In 2016 one more EU member state will join the electronic tolling family.

So far so good, but for hauliers that have their business in Germany and the lowlands, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (Benelux), the promise of a true European tolling service has still not been met in 2016. And although the Belgian free flow kilometre charge for trucks from 3,5 tons will kick off on April 1st, this will not bring EETS much closer this year. It will, however, change of the user charging landscape in the Benelux in a rather radical way. In fact it will rip the heart out.

Luxembourg and the Netherlands will remain as somewhat archaic vignette islands in free flow kilometre charge waters established by Germany and Belgium. Sounds great again, but driving from Germany to Belgium with one EU on-board unit will still not be possible, despite the EETS promise from 2004.

One of the reasons is that the German system itself has now become somewhat archaic, being over a decade old. The two systems are not interoperable. In this new road user charge landscape new ways of dealing with it have to be found.

What will happen with traffic that drives from France and Germany into the south east of Belgium? Today, most heavy trucks will take the route through Luxembourg. They need a Euro-vignette for driving in Luxembourg, but they also need the same vignette to drive in Belgium and in the Netherlands. They get one vignette to cover three countries at a fair price of €8, or even less if they buy a long-term vignette.

So, what choices will the hauliers make after this regime change in Belgium? That is hard to say in general. It very much depends on the frequency of the visits and the kind of Euro-vignette (day or long-term) that is being used. An incidental driver will have to buy a day vignette to drive approximately 50 kilometres through Luxembourg either to or from Belgium to France or to and from Belgium to Germany. This puts the kilometre price of the Luxembourg kilometres on €8 divided by 50km is 16 cents per kilometre. That is a bit more than the 12 cents in Belgium, but not enough to reroute the stream of trucks to other roads in order to avoid the Euro-vignette altogether.

If the vehicle has an annual vignette, for instance because it is also driving in the Netherlands and Scandinavia, than the amount per kilometre could be substantially lower than 16 cents per kilometre. One could say that the price per kilometre in Luxembourg calculated in the Euro-vignette is already pretty close to the price that the Belgian regions will charge for driving in Belgium.

The administrative burden, however, is substantial for hauliers in the Benelux and Germany area. Starting in Germany, they can choose between buying a ticket from one motorway junction to another, like buying a train ticket from one station to another, or a professionally installed on board unit. The choice will depend on the kind of use that is being made of German highways. Regular users will probably choose the on board unit.

But an incidental Czech user that travels from the Czech Republic via Germany and Luxembourg to Belgium will choose a ticket and will meet serious obstacles on his way. This does not include the refugee problems in the Schengen area that is bringing back the call for reinstalling border controls within the EU. The variety in road user charge systems de facto reinstalls border formalities.

So, after buying a ticket from the Czech-German border to the Luxembourg border the unfortunate truck driver will have to buy a Euro-vignette for using the Luxembourg highway. Then, after approximately 50 kilometres, he will have to stop again in order to obtain a Belgian on board unit. With this self-installed on board unit he can drive in Belgium as long as he has enough credit on his card. After delivering his goods, say in the port of Antwerp, he can return to Germany the next day. He will first drive to the Belgian-Luxembourg border. There he will turn in his on board unit, get a refund and buy a Euro-vignette. After the 50-kilometre drive through Luxembourg he will stop when entering Germany and buy a kilometre charge ticket to the German-Czech border.

When he has finally returned home he will have become a convinced advocate of EETS.

Just as the Polish driver heading for Antwerp. He will have to travel through the Netherlands, another Euro-vignette country, the same procedures for only about 25 Dutch kilometres at a rate of €8 divided by 25km – 32 cents per kilometre.


This article was first published in Road User Charging magazine Winter 2016