Competition for highway toll system revs up

MORE than 50 companies want to build and operate Slovakia's first electronic highway toll system, a project that has attracted substantial national and international attention.

MORE than 50 companies want to build and operate Slovakia's first electronic highway toll system, a project that has attracted substantial national and international attention.

The winner of the tender will sign a 14-year contract to build the system for a 2,435-kilometre road network and operate it for 13 years. The company or consortium will have the option of extending the contract for the system, which will collect tolls from vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, by an additional five years.

The terms of the tender for operating the highway toll system were published in the EU official bulletin on July 19, and the deadline for requesting a tender package and enrolment in the tender was July 27. The next deadline is August 30, the date by which the companies must submit their qualification documents.

In early December, the National Highway Company (NDS) will choose five of these applicants to submit their official bids for the tender.

The NDS estimates the value of the order at Sk20 billion (€598 million) without VAT, but they restrained from guessing the final price.

Currently, Slovakia has a system of highway stickers. Drivers can purchase a one-year pass or passes for shorter time periods. But they pay a flat price regardless of their mileage.

With the new electronic toll system, drivers will only be charged for their actual mileage. The estimated prices for the highway tolls depend on the weight of the vehicle and will range between Sk1.90 and Sk6.23 (€0.05 and €0.18)

However, highway stickers will remain in place for passenger cars until approximately 2013, which is when EU legislation requires Slovakia to install an electronic toll system for all the motor vehicle traffic on the country's paid roads.

The NDS says there was an immense interest in the tender. Spokesman Marcel Jánošík confirmed that 54 firms had requested the tender package by July 30.

"We expect that the number of firms [submitting their qualification documents] will be significantly lower," Jánošík told The Slovak Spectator, adding that some of the companies might also form consortiums.

Bidding companies must have a shareholders' equity of least at Sk800 million (€23.9 million), with an annual turnover of at least at Sk3 billion (€89.7 million) and current liquidity of at least Sk1.1 billion (€32.9 million). The companies must also make a deposit of at least Sk10 million (€299,000) to guarantee their bids.

In July, the Slovak cabinet also approved the rules for electronic toll tariffs on the paid sections of highways and roads, which would be installed starting in 2009. The cabinet approved rates 20 percent lower than those proposed by Minister of Transportation Ľubomír Vážny, which will keep the tariffs similar to those in the Czech Republic and Austria.

Vážny expects annual revenues from tolls to be about Sk4.5 billion (€135,000), the SITA newswire wrote.

The original proposal suggested tolls for trucks weighing from 3.5 tonnes to 12 tonnes be set between Sk3.18 and Sk3.44 (about €0.10) per kilometre without VAT, depending on the emission class of the vehicle. For heavy trucks weighing more than 12 tonnes, the toll was to have been Sk6.77 to Sk7.86 (€0.20 to €0.24) per kilometre, depending on the number of axels, the SITA newswire wrote.

The electronic toll network is to consist of 346 kilometres of highways, 207 kilometres of dual carriageways and 1,882 kilometres of first-category roads.

To avoid local inflation to the prices of goods and local transportation, 560 kilometres of roads inside cities and towns will be free of charge.

"It will bring money to the state budget," Ján Mikula of the Žilina-based Transportation Research Institute told The Slovak Spectator. "The cabinet wants to invest the tolls they collect in road construction. It will benefit drivers."

The institute has studied European trends in highway tolls and found that European countries have been extending their paid highway networks, according to Mikula.

"For Slovakia, the most advantageous system would be a satellite system," Mikula said. "It would also provide other services, like identifying the location of car accidents, or freight management."

The technology for installing an electronic toll system for passenger cars, expected after 2013, should be much simpler, Mikula said.

He added that charging passenger cars for using certain sections of the roads will open up several issues.

"The philosophy is that trucks should be charged for damaging the road since their weight affects the road surface," said Mikula. "Passenger cars, which make up 90 percent of road transportation, do not damage the road surface, but rather create traffic congestion and thus cut social and work hours.

"Also, passenger cars cause 80 percent of accidents, which are direct expenses for the state, which pays for the police and emergency services and also for health care. However, that will all be discussed in 2013."

Sanef, Siemens, Slovak Telekom, Kapsch, the ToSy consortium and the Italian company Autostrade are among companies that have expressed interested in the tender.

Siemens has been declaring its interest in supplying the toll system for two years, the company told The Slovak Spectator.

"Along with creating a more just system of toll collection, the state would gain an effective tool for administering its national transportation policies," Siemens spokesman Tomáš Král said.

The company supplied a city transport toll system for Transport for London and was a co-supplier of electronic highway toll systems in Switzerland.

However, Sanef has also been carefully monitoring the highway toll situation in Slovakia over the past couple of years.

The company would tailor the project specifically for Slovakia's needs, Sanef's Bruno Corthier told The Slovak Spectator. He added that Sanef supplied the toll system for the Golden Ears Bridge in Vancouver and the Dublin M50 beltway. Kapsch, a company which has specialised in electronic highway toll systems for 15 years, said that it aspires to join international know-how with local firms' experience and knowledge of local conditions.

Kapsch has provided toll systems to 26 countries, Sylvia Košťálová of Kapsch TrafficCom told The Slovak Spectator.

The national telecom operator Slovak Telekom (ST) is also interested in constructing the toll system.

"ST is part of the international group Deutsche Telekom, which through its T-Systems Enterprise Services division has experience operating a satellite system for electronic toll collection," Ján Kondáš of Slovak Telekom told The Slovak Spectator.

The Satellic Traffic Management company, as a 100-percent subsidiary of T-Systems Enterprises Services, operates a new toll collection technology, he added.

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