German road-toll talks deadlocked
16 February 2004
BERLIN – Top government officials and representatives of a multi-corporate consortium sat down to last-ditch negotiations Monday on implementing high-tech truck transport road tolls on Germany’s highways and autobahns.
This comes at the end of fruitless marathon weekend negotiations and coincided with news that the federal government is considering seeking a billion euros in loans to help cover revenue short-falls from road tolls which have failed to materialise.
According to information obtained by Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa Sunday, that is less than one-third of the actual shortfall.
Government officials are to huddle in coming weeks to come up with a scheme for recouping some of the remaining EUR 2.5 billion in absent revenues, sources told dpa.
“The talks can go either way now,” Transport Ministry spokesman Felix Stenschke told reporters Sunday. “There will either be an agreement on Monday or the current contract will be considered null and void.”
Germany’s ill-starred toll-collecting technology could be tossed on the scrapheap as a result of the talks between Transport Minister Manfred Stolpe and industry representatives for a consortium headed by Deutsche Telekom, DaimlerChrysler and Cofiroute, the French motorways operator.
The weekend talks started after Stolpe appeared before a parliamentary committee in Berlin this past week to give his assessment of a last-gasp offer from the consortium that is almost six months overdue with its plans to charge trucks that use German autobahns.
At issue is a multi-billion-dollar contract with Toll Collect which was to have implemented a trucking road-tolls system on the nation’s highways late last summer.
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.
The outage of the road-pricing system means hundreds of thousands of trucks are using Germany’s 20,000 kilometres of autobahn free of charge, and the treasury is missing out on 156 million euros in revenue per month. There are no plans for charges for vehicles below 12 tons.
Should Berlin exercise its right to cancel the contract with Toll Collect, which says it cannot get a full system running until 2006, a rival company would take until early 2007 to get any of the tried and tested systems into operation.
Cancellation would leave Telekom and DaimlerChrysler sitting on a fruitless investment and possibly hit their share prices, but politically, the move could be portrayed as a show of decisiveness.
Toll Collect has offered to increase the penalties it pays for late performance, provided the government agree to full compensation for outright cancellation of the contract. So far EUR 700 million is believed to have been invested in the system.
Hundreds of gantries with cameras and lasers have been built across German highways to photograph every passing vehicle and automatically check if those over 12 tons are paying their tolls.
The system marries up the US global positioning system, which enables a moving truck to calculate its exact location down to a few metres, and global-system-for-mobile (GSM) phones, which enable low- cost wireless calls over the whole country.
Huge numbers of onboard units have been installed in trucks, but will probably have to be scrapped and replaced. The system was supposed to be fully automated with bank computers collecting the fees from road users’ accounts.
Government officials say Deutsche Telekom and DaimlerChrysler, which each have a 45 percent stake in the consortium, are already in effect receiving a state subsidy because the new-fangled system could later be re-sold to the military, or for traffic management.
Subject: German news