The European Union has just introduced new rules aimed at making a pan-European interoperable electronic tolls system a reality, as part of its goal to bring about a freer movement of vehicles throughout the bloc.
The new EU measure, known as the European Electronic Tolling Service (EETS) Directive, came into force in April. The main points focus on easing the rules for the access of toll domains to provide electronic services, specifying the rules on the entitled remuneration for EETS providers and introducing a system to exchange information between countries to identify owners of vehicles so as to combat fraud in which drivers do not pay road fees because they are registered abroad.
The new directive strives for the goal of making it possible to pay tolls across the EU with only one subscription contract and a single on-board device, contributing to the objective of a single market.
“This agreement will pave the way for modern European electronic tolling rules, contributing to a seamless travel experience for our road users,” Violeta Bulc, European Commissioner for Transport, said in November when the European Parliament and Council reached an agreement on EETS.” It will also be an important step towards one on-board unit, one contract and one bill."
It hasn’t been a smooth ride. The European Commission kicked off attempts for EETS with a 2004 directive. However, in 2017 it concluded that the objectives have been “largely unattained.” In other words EETS isn’t a reality in the EU today. Europe’s tolling market is made up of a significant number of electronic toll systems, which are different in technology as well as the procedure for collecting tolls. It creates barriers to the operation of the internal market, constraining the free flow of EU cross-border traffic. It touches the core principle set by Brussels of free trade and movement of goods.
It’s a burden, economically and in paperwork, for lorry drivers and transportation companies to register the vehicle and install a device in each country they drive through. The European Commission estimated the need to hold multiple devices to represent a cost of more than €300 million a year. Windscreens with several devices glued on to take into account the different electronic toll systems are not rare on European motorways.
Promoting smooth journeys for EU road users is also important for the bloc’s growth considering the sector’s key role in the economy. Transportation on roads accounts for around 75% of total inland freight transport in the EU, according to statistical office Eurostat. Rail transport represents most of the rest. Freight transport is a driver of the European economy and provides for significant employment.
Measures that reduce transaction and logistical costs could lower final prices to consumers.
EETS “is a way of reducing barriers in Europe and is a useful measure to facilitate movements in the context of a Single Market,” said Paolo Beria, professor of transport economics at Milan’s Polytechnic. “It reduces costs and boosts simplification.”
There is significant growth potential for EETS, consultancy firm BearingPoint said in 2016. It calculated that the EETS roll revenue is expected to reach about €12.3 billion in 2030 compared with around €8.3 billion at the time of the study. This indicates steady growth for some 15 year, highlighting the attractiveness of the EETS market.
A reliable user-friendly, cost-efficient and uniform tolling system across the EU could lead to changes in transporting along the roads.
“There could be more structured pricing policy from a single European electronic tolling system,” said Professor Beria. He indicated as an example one in which tolls are set to be cheaper at night rather than during day, pushing freight to travel more when it costs less.
One of the features the new directive aims to resolve is the lack of common rules on the exchange of information on toll offenders between EU nations and the legal basis to allow violators to be prosecuted, so as to recover unpaid tolls once the foreign-registered vehicle exits the country. The European Commission estimates the loss of revenue at about €300 million a year.
The new EETS directive specifies that each member state must appoint a national contact point with the power to conduct automated searches on data regarding vehicles and their owners for identification. In order to respect privacy rules, the exchange of data between countries can only take place between national contact points using a specific software. Once the owner of the vehicle that didn’t pay the toll is identified, he or she must be informed that a fee hasn’t been paid and also of the legal consequences of such a violation in the country where it occurred.
Furthermore, the new directive adopts a gradual approach as it scraps the current costly obligation of EETS providers to service all electronic toll domains in the EU. Now they are allowed a more limited domain coverage. Providers will have to cover all EETS domains in a given country within 24 months and in at least four EU countries within 36 months of registration.
Living in a digital world where almost everything appears available with the touch of a button new opportunities are expected to arise for companies to provide technologies and services around tolling systems, experts predict. With the progressive use of smartphones and their technological advancement in recent years, many see a possible role of these devices for tolling.
EU countries must adopt the new EETS directive by October 2021
The new measures aim to remove the hurdles that are keeping EETS from going mainstream and slowing down journeys within a mostly passport-free EU.