Satellite-based technologies provide great advantages for electronic tolling systems, especially when compared to traditional tolling systems that rely on roadside infrastructure.
The flexibility of satellite positioning technology allows for all road categories to be tolled – not just motorways, highways, or expressways. Rather than tolling specific road networks, satellite technology enables cost-effective tolling of particular vehicle categories on the entire road network. Today, GNSS-based electronic tolling solutions are used to charge trucks above 3.5 tons for road usage on the entire national road network in European countries such as Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Belgium, Russia, and most recently in the Czech Republic. Bulgaria launched its satellite-based tolling system in 2020 and Poland plans to do the same in 2021. Using satellite-based technology not only generates greater toll revenue but eliminates the problem of congestion caused by traffic diversion; vehicles subject to tolls are no longer motivated to drive on alternative routes in order to avoid the distance-based fees since all roads can be tolled without the need for roadside infrastructure.
Thanks to recent advancements in Global Navigation Satellite Systems technology, positioning accuracy now enables satellite-based On Board Units (OBUs) to determine whether a vehicle has passed a tolled road segment, even in challenging environments where reliable satellite reception has been a problem. Consequently, the motivation for implementing microwave-based tolling solutions – that require costly construction and maintenance of gantries along all of the tolled routes – has declined significantly.
Microwave gantries built within the past 10 years are already being scrapped.
Now that satellite technology has become universally affordable for open road electronic tolling, more and more European states are implementing national truck tolling systems based on GNSS technology. The Czech Republic, which invested heavily in roadside infrastructure for its electronic tolling system in 2007, contracted SkyToll and CzechToll in 2018 to replace the existing microwave-based system with a satellite scheme at the end of 2019 – making most of the gantries installed throughout the country obsolete. With the new satellite-based tolling system, the operational costs in the Czech Republic have been cut in half while the size of the tolled road network has been doubled. Furthermore, trucks will no longer be motived to travel on first-class roads to avoid paying the distance-based road user charge. Also Poland announced its plans to scrap most of the microwave gantries that have been installed throughout the country, even though they were all constructed within the past 10 years!
With GNSS technology,the operational costs of the tolling system in the Czech Republic have been cut in half while the size of the tolled road network has doubled.
With EETS, road users can select a single Toll Service Provider and will need only a single GNSS-based On Board Unit to travel all over Europe.
As satellite-based tolling technology spreads throughout Europe, we are witnessing a complete transformation of the way nationwide tolling schemes are operated. Until recently, each country had a single national toll operator, with a specific OBU hardware designed exclusively for the payment of distance-based tolls on its own road network. In the coming years, we will witness the European Electronic Toll Service (EETS) sweeping across Europe. Road users that are obliged to pay distance-based tolls will be able to select a single Toll Service Provider, equip their vehicle with a single GNSS-based On Board Unit, and can travel throughout Europe without having to register in each individual country.
Belgium was the first country to launch a nationwide tolling scheme that accepted EETS service providers from the very beginning, in 2016. In the meantime, five companies are now accredited EETS providers in Belgium – and others are currently in the accreditation process. Of course, these new Toll Service Providers plan to offer their services in other European member states once EETS is enabled in each country (both from a technical and legal point of view). Indeed, electronic tolling is undergoing a major transformation in Europe and we can anticipate the spread of GNSS-based tolling systems around the world as well.