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German Road Toll Prepares for Launch

After a catolog of catastrophic technical faults and management blunders, Germany’s road toll system for heavy vehicles is now scheduled for a January launch after its successful test phase ended on Wednesday.

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Signs reminding drivers of the toll will be nationwide by January

The three-month test phase for Germany’s ambitious satellite-based toll collect system for trucks on German highways, or Autobahns, came to an end on Wednesday.

But many experts believe that the introduction of the system is likely to cause havoc at terminals near border-crossing points and might further tarnish Germany’s reputation as a leading high-tech country.

Following a series of catastrophic technical faults and management blunders, Germany’s high-tech highway toll system for heavy vehicles is now scheduled to be up and running in January.

After the intensive testing came to an end on Wednesday, both the federal transport ministry and the consortium running the deal, TollCollect, are confident that they've overcome the long delays and are ready to go.

Technical experts involved in the project say the test phase went smoothly and that the satellite-based system is working well. But others don't share this confidence. Some, like Karl-Heinz Schmidt, managing director of the federal association of freight transport and logistics, predict that the start of the program will result in utter chaos.

Shortfall in on-board units

Lkw Maut in Österreich, LKW Fahrer mit so genannter Go-Box

Schmidt believes that by January only some 250,000 German trucks will be fitted with on-board units required to automatically process the route data. Manfred Stolpe, the transport minister himself said earlier this year that around 500,000 would be needed to make the operation run smoothly. Schmidt says he expects the majority of drivers from home and abroad will have to pay the toll manually at fuel station terminals or border crossing points in January

“With so many trucks without onboard units, lots of drivers will have to go to a terminal for manual payment once they’re in Germany,” Schmidt told DW-Radio. “But there are many problems involved in that. Firstly, at these terminals you can communicate in only four languages -- Polish, Spanish, French and German. A driver from, say, Belarus, Russia or Latvia will hardly be able to find his way about, will he?”

In addition, Schmidt lamented that there were no adequate parking space for the trucks near these terminals and that, all in all, Germany was approaching a chaotic situation “with drivers running around in despair and roads congested.”

The transport ministry in Berlin is much more positive. While it acknowledges the potential problems that manual toll payment may cause, it says that large teams of police and border guards will help exasperated truck drivers at the terminals.

Concerns over toll collect software

Mautstellen Terminal

However, Karl-Heinz Schmidt is also concerned about the reliability of the toll collect software. He’s heard from many truck drivers during the test phase that they would have been forced to pay more than what they had calculated.

“For the toll collect system and the software in use, we’ve sort of invented a new Autobahn network. Distances between exits are very often not calculated correctly by the software, so in many cases hauliers will have to pay more than they actually should. I add, though, that the software is still being given the finishing touches, and I hope that irregularities will be eliminated.”

The TollCollect consortium prides itself on having published a German road toll atlas which explains everything a driver should need to know about the system in 23 languages. There will also be a special drivers' hotline just in case something goes wrong.

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