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January 4, 2005

Road charging: taking its toll

After a 16-month delay due to technical problems, Germany's road toll system began operating on January 1, 2005. The toll system, which will impose an additional burden on Germany's haulage and logistics sector, has some staunch critics, but if successful, could influence other European countries to consider similar schemes.

By CBR Staff Writer

German officials have announced the successful launch of their highway toll system.

German government officials have announced that LKW Maut, Germany’s new road toll on heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), has made a smooth start in its first few days of operation. The trucking industry had predicted traffic chaos as the trouble-plagued system finally began operating but the German ministry of transportation announced that so far, all parts of the system are working flawlessly.

The new system charges trucks weighing over 12 tons to use any of Germany’s 12,000km autobahn network. According to vehicle type, trucks are charged between 12 cents and 27 cents per kilometer, with on-board sensors allowing for satellite tracking. Foreign trucks, which make up around one third of trucks operating in Germany, must also pay the charges, whether tracked by on-board sensor or made to pay manually.

Problems with the tracking technology set back the toll’s introduction by 16 months, but now that charges are in place, truck operators will immediately feel the extra costs. One transport union estimates that the toll will increase costs for German logistics companies by an average of 17%.

In an industry already beset by high fuel prices and low profit margins, this could spell trouble for operators that are unable to pass on the costs to customers. In turn, customers might well pass these costs on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Alternative modes of transport, such as rail or inland waterway are an option for some transport customers to get their goods to market, but they could prove highly impractical by comparison.

The Maut toll was introduced to relieve the pressure on Europe’s busiest motorway system. The expected E2.4 billion yearly revenue is to be reinvested in Germany’s transport infrastructure. The new toll appears to have got past its early problems and, should it prove successful in improving the efficiency of Germany’s transport network, it may inspire other European governments to implement similar schemes – the consequences of which could be dramatic for supply chains across the continent.

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