Proposing a single unified electronic toll system for Europe would be one of the simplest and probably one of the least controversial issues that would be beneficial to everyone.

I wrote an article which appeared in the January 8th, 2017 issue of The Pavlovic Today in which I pointed out that while the Moving Ahead for Progress In The 21st Century Act (which is often referred to as “MAP-21”) had stated that the U.S. was intended to have a single unified electronic toll system by October of 2016, we still have no fewer than 13 or 14 different state and regional electronic toll systems, only some of which are interoperable with each other.

By contrast, the European Parliament has never proposed a single unified electronic toll pass system which drivers could use to pay tolls on all of the highways and bridges and tunnel crossings in all of the EU countries.

As of 2019, there are 751 Members Of The European Parliament.  Throughout the course of the 2020s and the 2030s, The European Parliament will have to address some of the most complex and controversial issues that Europe has faced since the 1990s.  Proposing a single unified electronic toll system for the entire continent would be one of the simplest and probably one of the least controversial issues that they’d need to address because a single unified electronic tolls system would be beneficial to everyone.

Companies which operate commercial trucks, companies which operate buses, and tourists all travel between countries frequently; a single unified electronic toll pass system would potentially benefit everyone who lives or works in Europe.

National Systems

There are presently more than twenty different electronic toll pass systems in use throughout the roads in Europe.  Drivers in Austria have the option to use either the Videomaut, the Gomaut or the AutoPass EasyGo systems.  In Belgium, only trucks are required to pay tolls, and truck drivers in Belgium can use Belgium’s Satellic system.  Drivers in Croatia can use Croatia’s ENC toll pass system.  The Czech Republic is another country in which only truck drivers are required to pay tolls, and truck drivers in the Czech Republic have the option to enroll in the MYTO CZ Premid toll pass program.  Beginning effective as of January of 2018, the Road Administration in Estonia has added a new road tax system which applies to commercial vehicles which exceed a certain weight, and truck drivers can now pay the tolls in Estonia via the Go Swift system.  

Drivers in France can opt to use the Telepage Liber-T pass system.  In Germany, people can enroll in the LKW-MAUT toll pass system.  

There are presently four different toll pass systems in use in Greece; drivers in Greece can sign up for the E-Pass, the E-Way, the O-Pass or the FastPass systems, all of which are used on different roads, though the Greek government is presently in the process of linking those four systems together in a program called the Greek Interoperable Toll Systems, or “GRITS.”  

Drivers in Hungary can use the HU-GO system.  In Ireland, drivers can opt to enroll in Ireland’s eToll system (which is also called “Eazy Pass,” which is not related to the Easy Pass or the “E-Z Pass” system which is used in the northeastern and the midwest states in the U.S.)  The Telepass system is used on the highways in Italy.  In Latvia, drivers of commercial trucks which weigh over a certain weight have to pay to drive on the major highways, and these fees are charged via a vignette system.  There is also a congestion charge for all drivers who drive into the city of Jurmala.  People who are driving commercial vehicles which exceed a certain weight also have to pay fees which are charged via a vignette system when they drive on the highways in Lithuania.

There are no tolls in Malta, but there is a congestion charge for driving into the capitol city Valletta.  When people drive into Valletta, surveillance cameras record their license plates, and then the owners of the vehicles are billed directly.  This congestion charge could also easily be linked to a continental electronic toll pass system if such a system existed.

The highways in Portugal use the Via Verde and the Via Livre systems, and Poland has the VIA-Toll system.   Slovakia has the SkyToll system, and drivers in Slovenia can enroll in Slovenia’s ABC DARS Go system.  Switzerland is not an EU member state, but it is part of the Schengen Area, and drivers in Switzerland also use a vignette system to pay tolls.  

The toll passes can be either electronic tags (which are also referred to as “transponders”) which drivers affix to the inside of their windshields with suction cups or velcro strips, or the passes can be vignettes, which are stickers which drivers place on the windows or the side view mirrors of their cars, motorcycles or trucks.  Vignettes function slightly differently than tolls insofar as vignettes charge fees based on the amount of time that a driver spends on a specific road, whereas tolls charge a designated fee when a driver enters or exits from a road. Every time a driver drives through a toll, overhead sensors record that the vehicle has passed through that toll, and the fee for that toll is added to the driver’s monthly bill.

There are various methods of payment available to drivers.  All of the toll systems that I’ve mentioned allow for drivers to have their monthly bills automatically deducted from their credit or debit cards or from their bank accounts, and drivers also have the option to pay their accounts directly through the websites of the different toll pass systems.  Companies which operate trucks and buses have the option to set up commercial “fleet” accounts, in which they can enroll multiple vehicles, and they receive multiple toll pass tags. In some countries, drivers also have the option to pay their bills from their national or regional toll pass accounts in person at various offices.

The governments of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Turkey and Serbia are in preliminary negotiations with the European Parliament regarding applying for EU membership, and Kosovo is also viewed as a potential candidate for applying for membership.  Many prominent political analysts believe that all of those countries except for Turkey are likely to join the EU at some point in the mid 2020s. If the European Parliament were to approve linking all of the tolls on the roads within the Schengen Area together into a unified system, this would also benefit everyone who drives in the countries which will be joining the EU throughout the course of the 2020s as well.

Drivers in Bosnia and Herzegovina currently have the option to use Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ACC system to pay tolls.  People who drive on the roads in Serbia use a toll pass system which is called the ENP system.   

Interoperability

Some of these systems are already interoperable with each other, but there are still several systems which are not yet linked to any other toll systems throughout Europe. In Spain, drivers can enroll in the VIA-T toll pass system, and this system is interoperable only between France, Portugal and Spain.  Denmark and Sweden share the BroBizz toll pass system.  The AutoPass EasyGo system is used to pay toll roads in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Austria.  Norway is also not an EU member state, but it is within the Schengen Area, so the European Parliament does have the option to discuss issues which directly affect the movement of commercial cargo as well as people into and out of Norway.

The countries which share toll pass systems are the result of agreements between the governments of those countries, these are not the result of any EU agreements or legislation.  When the highway authorities within different countries decide to agree to share toll pass systems, this always makes traveling between those countries easier. Drivers need to only enroll in one system when they travel in multiple countries.  However, most of the toll pass systems that are used within the EU member state countries are not linked to the other electronic toll pass systems in the other EU countries.

There has been some progress in recent years towards interoperability.  A company called Union Tank Eckstein Gmbh And Co. (UTA) has issued a transponder which can be used to pay almost all of the tolls in Europe, and this transponder is also accepted for payment at many gas stations.  However, the transponder that UTA offers is only available for trucks, it is not available for passenger cars. The system that UTA offers is the result of the administrators at a privately owned company recognizing that it makes life far easier for people who drive between different countries frequently if they can carry only one toll pass than if they need to carry numerous different passes for different systems in different countries.  Again, this is not the result of the administrators within the European Parliament deciding that the numerous toll systems which are in use in the countries within the Schengen area could easily be linked together so that everyone who drives any vehicles anywhere within the Schengen area countries will have the option to subscribe to one single service which would issue a transponder to them which they could use to pay all of the tolls when they travel throughout Europe.  

Linking Different Toll Pass Systems Together Involves Technologies Which Have Been In Use Since The 1980’s

As I pointed out in the article that I wrote about the single unified electronic tolls system in the U.S., the technologies which would be needed to link the tolls on the highways in each EU member state are based on relatively simple technologies.  The concept which forms the basis of the technologies that are used in an electronic toll pass system had originally been proposed in the U.S. in 1959, and various transportation and highway agencies researched prototype versions of these technologies on different roads in the U.S. throughout the 1960’s and the 1970’s.  The first electronic toll pass system in the world was installed at the tolls in Bergen, Norway in 1986.

Although there are slight differences between the toll systems that are presently in use in the different countries throughout Europe (for example, some of the toll systems which are in use throughout Europe are applicable only to commercial vehicles, whereas all drivers are required to pay tolls at other toll systems), linking the various systems together would involve some relatively simple technologies.

The technologies which are used to link numerous tolls to a central data bank which is used to bill drivers are very similar to the technologies which we use every day when we access the internet via our laptop computers, our desktop computers and our cell phones.  Highway authorities and departments of transportation encrypt their data so that they can easily access their own records, drivers can login to their own accounts, and all of the data is secure.

How Would A Proposed Unified Electronic Toll Pass System In Europe Affect Drivers In The U.K.?

There are presently no fewer than four separate electronic toll pass systems in use in the U.K.; the Dart-Tag, the M6 toll tag, the Fast Tag and the Severn Tag systems are all used to pay tolls on different highways and at bridge and tunnel crossings in England.  

 The U.K. government’s withdrawal from the European Union is still an ongoing process, the terms of the U.K.’s withdrawal have not been finalized yet.  Therefore, it is not known yet whether how a single unified electronic tolls system for Europe would be linked to the tolls in the U.K.

The governments of Denmark, Sweden and Austria did not face any complex legal challenges when they agreed to include the tolls in Norway in the AutoPass EasyGo system.  Assuming that the U.K. government follows through with their plan to fully withdraw from the EU, it would probably be a relatively simple legal process to allow the tolls in the U.K. to be included in a system which includes all of the tolls on the roads in all of the EU member state countries.

Other Uses For Toll Passes In Addition To Paying Tolls

Unlike the U.S., in which electronic toll passes can also be used to pay for parking at the lots in some airports, in Europe, most of the toll pass systems that I’ve mentioned in this article are only used to pay tolls.  However, it would probably be permissible to expand the system to also include the option to pay for parking in the lots in some airports as well as at train stations, bus stations and the parking lots at passenger ferry terminals because airports, trains, buses and passenger ferries are considered to be part of Europe’s public transit infrastructure.  

In recent years, the agencies which operate electronic toll passes have begun to install overhead scanners which enable drivers to use their toll passes to pay other fees which are involved with traveling in a handful of the countries in Europe.  The AutoPass EasyGo system which is used in Austria and in Scandinavia can now be used to pay the fees when drivers bring their vehicles on board passenger ferries. Portugal’s Via Verde system is accepted for payment at some gas stations as well as at some fast food chains.

What Can You Do?

If you are a citizen of any of the EU countries, or if you study or work in any EU countries and you feel that it makes more sense for people who travel between the EU countries frequently to be able to carry one (1) toll pass rather than carry up to 25 different transponders with them when they travel throughout Europe, then talk to your MEP’s or write to them about this issue.  Even if you do not own or drive an automobile, a single unified toll pass system would still benefit you because a single unified electronic toll pass system would speed up the pace at which truck drivers are able to deliver cargo throughout the continent.

It is the MEP’s job to discuss matters which their constituents feel are important to them.  If you do not mention this to your MEP’s, then your MEP’s will have no way of knowing that this is an issue which you feel is important in terms of making it easier for people to travel throughout the continent in the twenty-first century.

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed...