High-tech truck toll system finally launched in Germany

The GPS-based system had been plagued with problems

Germany's high-tech truck toll system began operation on Saturday without a glitch, according to the country's traffic ministry.

That's good news for a system that had been plagued by technical and management problems, resulting in a delay of more than 18 months and billions of euros in lost revenue.

Toll Collect uses Global Positioning System technology to track distances trucks travel on toll roads and Global System for Mobile Communications wireless networks to transmit data for billing.

With the help of GPS and sensors installed in control bridges to confirm the satellite readings, computerized onboard units installed in trucks locate the position of the vehicles, track their routes, calculate toll fees and transmit this data at regular intervals via GSM to a data center for billing. Another 3,700 roadside terminals at service stations are available to drivers who prefer to pay manually.

Trucks weighing more than 12 tons must pay 16 cents per kilometer to use Germany's autobahn network, which spans 12,000 kilometers and is Europe's largest transit system. More than one-third of the trucks using the highway system come from outside the country.

About 800,000 trucks use German highways every day, according to the traffic ministry. So far, about 320,000 of them have installed onboard units, the ministry said.

Toll Collect GmbH, the operator of the road toll, is owned by a consortium of three companies: car maker DaimlerChrysler AG; Deutsche Telekom AG, which is Germany's largest network operator; and French motorway operator Cofiroute.

The consortium suffered a setback when it encountered software problems with the initial onboard unit. It agreed to deploy a simplified version, which is to be replaced with a full version later next year.

The German government says it hopes to generate more than $4 billion annually from the system. It plans to reinvest a large share of this revenue in the country's road, rail and waterway transportation infrastructure.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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