SLOVAKIA’S system of electronic highway toll collection for vehicles over 3.5 tonnes was launched more than a year ago, but complaints by truckers are continuing to roil the road transport industry. In an effort to demand solutions to what they say are ongoing problems with the system, disgruntled members of the Union of Motor Carriers of Slovakia (UNAS), declared a one-month strike alert in mid January. UNAS is dissatisfied with what it calls the unfair burden placed on road cargo transport in Slovakia.
“Nobody among us knows the official stance of the Slovak government on toll collection, or on the dubious tender which ended [with the contract to build and operate the e-toll system] in Cypriot hands,” UNAS head Jaroslav Polaček said on January 15, as quoted by the TASR newswire. He was referring to the fact that former opposition leader and now transport minister Ján Figeľ is having to defend, before the European Commission, the controversial selection under the previous government of a consortium – one of whose members is Cyprus-registered – to build and operate the toll system. “Because of this we are announcing a strike alert until February 15 to give the current government room to deal with our requirements.”
UNAS regards the e-toll system as operating poorly and fines for truckers for bad setting of their onboard units (OBUs; used to track vehicles by satellite and measure their road use) as potentially bankrupting.
The truckers of UNAS have several demands. They want collection of highway tolls to be halted until the mega-tender – its reported value is around €800 million – is checked by an international auditor; collection of the car tax to be moved from regional governments to the state to prevent regional differences; for the car tax to be decreased in order to remove international discrimination; and for the taxes collected to be used exclusively for the repair and maintenance of roads.
They are also calling for truckers to be compensated for their increased costs via a refund of the excise tax on fuels, and for a cooperation agreement to be signed between UNAS and the Transport Ministry, according to UNAS’ website. UNAS gives the government one month to negotiate over their demands. If they do not, the truckers say they are prepared to repeat the action they took at the beginning of 2010, when they blocked Slovak roads.
A day before UNAS declared its strike alert the Ministry of Transport set out plans to halve fines for violations of the e-toll collection system from July 1. The cabinet intends to discuss the new legislation in late February or early March, the SITA newswire wrote. The ministry is already working on several proposals to improve the current e-toll system.
“This process started earlier,” said Arpád Érsek, the Transport Ministry state secretary, as cited by SITA. “There were more proposals, but this is one of those which we knew we were able to carry out most quickly.”
Ľubomír Palčák, director of the Transport Research Institute (VÚD), based in Žilina, interpreted UNAS’ demand to halt collection of tolls until the tender is checked by an independent international analyst as being more political than practical.
“I think that the toll system works and this is making somebody angry,” Palčák said, as cited by SITA. “After one year of its operation it is necessary from the viewpoint of the ministry to do proper analyses about the scope of road sections subject to payment of tolls [and decide] whether or not to cancel some or to introduce the toll on new ones.”
Palčák also called for an analysis of the toll on business and on the country’s economy.
“We already know that the impact on the prices of basic goods with regards to the toll is minimal or effectively none,” said Palčák, adding that this is in contrast to predictions made by UNAS a year ago. “We are also looking at the impact on businessmen-hauliers, but this must be objective. More than 40 percent of the toll income is from foreign hauliers. We must be interested only in local businessmen.”
According to Palčák, it is necessary to look at a potential change in the rates from the point of view of variability. He proposes to increase rates at peak times in order for the toll to work in a more regulatory way. Moreover, he argued, toll rates should be more differentiated from the viewpoint of each truck’s environmental impact, in order for the toll to motivate truckers to use more environmentally-friendly trucks.
“It is necessary to work actively with interoperability in order that hauliers within the EU have only one onboard unit and one contract,” said Palčák. “These are themes with which it is necessary to deal; here hauliers should be active and not bring additional politics into the matter.”
According to Palčák, as quoted by SITA, the toll will be used increasingly as an instrument of European transport policies in order to employ its regulatory function and simultaneously harmonise conditions for road transport with less burdensome alternatives, especially rail transport.
SkyToll, the operator of the electronic toll system, collected almost €141.6 million last year. Out of this, tolls collected for use of highways and dual carriageways accounted for €87.5 million and tolls collected on selected first-category roads totalled €49.6 million. Transit ticketing, used when a foreign trucker buys a pass just for one-way transit via Slovakia, accounted for €4.5 million. Of the total tolls collected, foreign firms paid over 42 percent, the SITA newswire wrote.
At the end of 2010 over 188,885 active OBUs, of which over 66 percent were used by vehicles from abroad, were registered in the e-toll system. Vehicle operators prefer the pre-paid toll system. This system is more popular with foreign truckers and as many as 88 percent of all registered vehicles use it. In the case of Slovakia, the proportion of truckers opting to prepay was 66 percent.
The e-toll system covers over 2,400 kilometres of highways, dual carriageways and selected first-category roads in Slovakia.
24. Jan 2011 at 0:00 | Jana Liptáková