Berlin's highwaytoll deal collapses

17th February 2004, Comments 0 comments

17 February 2004 , BERLIN - In a major blow to its finances and a setback to Germany's reputation for high technology, Berlin on Tuesday announced the cancellation of a deal with a consortium running far behind in setting up a satellite-based highway toll system on trucks.

17 February 2004

BERLIN - In a major blow to its finances and a setback to Germany's reputation for high technology, Berlin on Tuesday announced the cancellation of a deal with a consortium running far behind in setting up a satellite-based highway toll system on trucks.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder blasted the Toll Collect consortium and defended Transportation Minister Manfred Stolpe after the cancellation of the deal saying: "Toll Collect made an offer (which) was unacceptable."

He said his government had rejected the offer because it would have left the German government carrying the main burden of risk for the project.

The Chancellor said Toll Collect could still compete to win a new tender for the project but he stressed: "Without substantial improvements no further talks are a possibility."

Schroeder defended Transport Minister Manfred Stolpe who is under pressure to resign over the debacle.

"This did not fail due to politics. It failed because of technology," said Schroeder, who underlined that it was Stolpe's predecessor who negotiated the contract.

"It is absolutely unfair to try to find any guilt on Stolpe's part," said Schroeder.

Stolpe said Berlin was cancelling its deal with the Toll Collect consortium and would would be suing the group for major damages from lost revenues.

In his letter to the consortium cancelling the September 2002 agreement, Stolpe said the delays would mean lost revenues to Germany of EUR 6.5 billion after Toll Collect's final offer foresaw postponing the system by 28 months.

The toll system on Germany's 12,000 kilometres of superhighways was to have gone into operation on 31 August 2003 under the agreement with the Toll Collect, a consortium of Deutsche Telekom, DaimlerChrysler and the French motorways operator Cofiroute.

The sophisticated system, in which every truck carries an onboard computer to log its location with satellite signals and reports the movements by mobile phone, has been plagued by technical problems resulting in repeated delays.

Appearing haggard and showing his disappointment after an all- night 12-hour session of final talks with the consortium, Stolpe told a press conference that Toll Collect still had two months to present new proposals on the key issues of damages and liability claims.

But for its part, Berlin was pulling out of the deal after the last-gasp talks had produced no real movement, he said. The last offer by Toll Collect had been "inadequate" and the talks had achieved "no reasonable solution" in the issue of liability claims.

Under the agreement with Toll Collect, there was no limit set on the government's claims for any shortfalls resulting from glitches in the system's operation, Stolpe said.

But in the final talks, Toll Collect had made an offer of EUR 500 million per year for liability claims, while also demanding that Berlin drop its current claims and seeking a "unilateral exit clause to the detriment of the federal government", he said.

This was all "unacceptable" Stolpe said, with Berlin now aiming to seek several hundred millions of euros' in damages from badly-needed revenues which had failed to materialize.

He also vowed that Berlin was still keen on having a satellite- based toll system for trucks on Germany's autobahns and that eventually a new toll system project would be put up for tender.

"We need a toll on heavy truck transportation on German autobahns," Stolpe said.

But in the meantime, Germany would have to resort to the low-tech system of highway tax stickers on trucks' windshields.

Stolpe said Berlin had lost EUR 156 million per month for the final four months of last year, and EUR 180 million for January and half that amount so far in February. The EUR 180 million per month shortfall would continue to add up.

The Berlin minister said that with the partners resisting the government's liability claims demands, he had the impression that the consortium members themselves "had no faith in their system".

Their behaviour in the talks had been such that "our trust had gone lost", Stolpe said, at one point saying it appeared that the other side had regarded the state as a "cow to be milked".

In Bonn, Deutsche Telekom expressed its regret at Berlin's cancellation, with a company spokesman saying that Toll Collect had sought to achieve a tenable compromise in the talks with Berlin.

"For example we showed movement in the issues of penalties and liability," the spokesman said. "We now be very carefully analysing the arguments presented by Minister Stolpe."

On the political stage, the oppositon liberal Free Democrats became the first to react to the developments, calling the Toll Collect cancellation a disaster for German industry and for the Berlin government.

Deputy FDP chairman Rainer Bruederle said the tax sticker system would generate only about one-fourth of the revenues which had been planned and repeated his party's call for a parliamentary committee to investigate the debacle.

 

DPA
Subject: German news 

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