Payment for Speed and Comfort
Belarus has launched a national electronic toll collection system (e-toll) on a number of motorways
The global practice of charging drivers for using certain motorways has a long history and its necessity is quite clear – high-quality toll roads are quite lucrative for any state. The main share of the profits goes into road service development, construction of new motorways and renovation of existing ones. All this does not only contribute to safer passenger and cargo transportation, but also boosts reputation of transit states. Belarus is one of these countries.
Since 1996 Belarus has been operating one toll road, namely M1/ E30 road from Brest to the Russian border via Minsk. There were only four non-automated toll collection gates along the motorway. Drivers had to stop and hand in cash to pay the toll, which was a bit inconvenient. That was why it was decided to launch BelToll, a new fully automated toll collection system.
In February 2012, the Ministry of Transport and Communications of the Republic of Belarus and Austrian-based Kapsch TrafficCom AG signed an investment agreement to set up an electronic system to cover a 2,700km motorway network in the future. According to the agreement, after the investor commissions every new stage of the system it becomes public property. Last autumn, the BelToll trademark was developed.
The system was launched on 1 July and toll collection started on 1 August. This is the official date of the beginning of BelToll’s commercial operation. According to the Ministry of Transport and Communications, initially, toll collection was supposed to start a month earlier. The Ministry and the investor decided to postpone the commercial operation due to the low number of registered users as of 1 July and a somewhat slow registration process. Thus, vehicle owners were given one more month to complete the registration. Nonetheless, it was only two weeks before the official launch on 1 August and one week after that BelToll service centers got swamped with an extremely high inflow of registration applications.
The first stage of the Belarusian e-toll system is complete. It has cost € 120 million. Today it covers 815km of motorways including the entire length of M1/E30 motorway Brest (Kozlovichi)–Minsk–the Russian border (Redki) and some sections of the motorways M2 Minsk–National Airport Minsk, M3 Minsk–Vitebsk, M4 Minsk–Mogilev, M5/E271 MinskGomel, and M6/E28 Minsk–Grodno– the Polish border (Bruzgi).
The second stage is due to be completed by 1 January 2014, and two more stages may follow. However, they may require signing additional long-term agreements. The total cost of the investment agreement with the Austrian partner is € 267 million.
Principles of Operation
The main advantage of the e-toll system is that it is based on short-range wireless communication technologies allowing drivers to go through a toll collection gate without having to stop in order to pay. Motorists can go at any speed within the maximum speed limit and without changing the lane. The payment is done automatically when they pass under corresponding portals equipped with laser sensors, video and photo cameras that record the vehicle data. Vehicles must be equipped with onboard devices, a small electronic payment device installed on the windshield. There are two types of onboard devices that differ in sizes (for cars and trucks).
They are distributed for free. However, a user must pay a deposit
before installing one. Onboard devices have pre-recorded information about the vehicle and toll amounts must be prepaid. When the prepaid amount runs out it has to be topped up. To do so, a driver can use Visa, MasterCard, BelCard, cash or a fuel card.
There are 48 BelToll service points in Belarus. As of 1 August, they distributed about 49,000 onboard units. In the subsequent two weeks the number doubled. It is noteworthy, that the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Belarus set up a special commission to monitor the work of e-toll operating companies and to make sure that they address customer concerns. Members of the commission monitor and analyze incoming information and respond to emerging problems.
Everything Under Control
It goes without saying that such a sophisticated system as BelToll cannot operate without a control
body indentifying nonpayers. Toll collection is carried out 24/7 by the Traffic Patrol Department of the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Belarus. The investor has supplied the Department with 16 specially equipped vehicles to patrol motorway sections of the BelToll network. They also monitor 15 motorway checkpoints on the country’s border.
There are two types of violations in terms of toll collection in Belarus, namely nonpayment and underpayment. The latter happens when vehicle owners, for instance, are registered in the system but declare fewer axles than their vehicles actually have. This is important as the toll amount depends on the number of axles and the total admissible weight of the vehicle and ranges between € 0.04 and € 0.12 per 1km. As for nonpayment, it happens when there is no onboard device installed, when it is malfunctioning or expired. The penalty varies from € 50 to € 100 for cars and from € 130 to € 260 for trucks depending on the type of violation.
By the way, every car has its own customized onboard device which cannot be transferred to another vehicle even if it belongs to the same company. Such transfer is equivalent to toll underpayment.
If foreign road users fail to pay the penalty for some reason on the road or at the border, they will be charged within a year when reentering the country. As for Belarusian violators, the information about them goes to the central database and they will have to pay within 30 days upon receiving the notice. If they fail to pay before the deadline, an administration procedure will be launched which may result in a more sizeable penalty.
Complicated Yet Promising
It took a year and a half to prepare and launch the new e-toll system, including the development of the legal framework, design and installation of equipment. This was a quite complicated project due to its novelty, time constraints and a necessity to elaborate a great number of accompanying legal documents. It is clearly one of the most important projects for the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
One of the objectives of the new system is to raise profitability of the transportation sector and subsequently increase its funding. The main goal of the Belarusian Ministry of Transport and Communications is to improve not only toll roads but also the national motorway network in general.
However, we have to keep in mind that the investment agreement with Kapsch TrafficCom AG is a commercial project. The system was built without any budget resources and according to the agreement the Belarusian side has to reimburse the cost of the BelToll infrastructure development to the investor within three years. This is where the income from toll roads will be spent on.