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Germany

New German Toll System Works in First Tests

Tests of a German highway toll system for trucks have been successfully completed, giving rise to the hope that the long-delayed project will both come into operation and do so in time for the January deadline.

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Germany may yet get a new truck toll system

The seemingly never-ending story of a German truck toll system -- colloquially referred to here as the toll disaster -- may finally come to a good end. Toll Collect, the German consortium responsible for developing and operating the system, said on Tuesday that the most crucial parts of the satellite-based scheme worked with 99.6 percent precision. Over the past six months the consortium tested so-called on board units in 41 trucks that traveled more than 130,000 kilometers (80,778 miles) on German highways.

Christoph Bellmer, Toll Collects’s chief executive officer, claims the controversial technology is now working smoothly after technical problems held up the project for more than a year.

"We were also able to prove that not only the on-board units functioned without problems but also the entire infrastructure behind them. The system is now able to collect all the data and calculate exactly how much toll must be paid," Bellmer told DW-RADIO.

Bellmer replaced his hapless predecessor, Hans-Burghardt Ziermann, at the helm of Toll Collect in March, after the government threatened to cancel the €7 billion ($8.5 billion) contract in the wake of a series of technical failures.

In a last-minute deal with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the owners of Toll Collect -- among them telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom and automaker DaimlerChrysler -- agreed to pay millions in compensation in exchange for a new chance and a pledge to take German engineering giant Siemens on board at the consortium.

Now the truck toll system is set to become fully operational by January 1, 2005 -- exactly two years after original plans for its introduction.

"One cannot say it is working without a hitch," Hans-Dieter Otto, the owner of a German haulage company which took part in the recent test phase, said. "There are still some places along highways where trucks are not automatically registered. But they were only a few and Toll Collect is certainly able to fix that in time."

Experts criticize test

Experts contend, however, that the testing involving only 41 trucks was little proof of the system's reliability and that a second phase with around 4,000 trucks planned for this autumn will be the ultimate test. The ambitious German toll system uses GPS satellites to track the distance trucks travel on toll roads. Mobile phone equipment will then transmit billing data for processing.

From 2005, trucks on German autobahns are to be charged at least 12 cents per kilometer depending on their size and exhaust volume. German haulage companies have long struggled against the introduction of a highway toll and view its introduction with skepticism.

"This system is still very much cobbled together," Adolf Zobel, head of the German Association of Haulage companies, said. "If it really works will be uncertain until the very last day. Apart form that the system, of course, means an added financial burden for us.“

Over the past year and a half, however, trucks using German autobahns have not been charged, since the government prematurely scrapped its old vignette system in the hope the new truck toll would be up and running by early 2003. The delays led to an estimated shortfall of €3 billion in German state coffers last year alone and has jeopardized a series of big transport investments in Germany.

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