HANDELSBLATT EXCLUSIVE Transport Ministry to Open Bids for Toll System

After years of controversy, Berlin is finally ready to accept tenders for a highway-toll system, but it still faces opposition from neighboring countries, which say the system is discriminatory.
Yes, there's a cover charge. Picture source: Reuters.

It has been a long-time coming, but the transportation ministry is finally ready to open the bidding process for Germany’s controversial highway toll system for passenger vehicles. The European Commission on Wednesday gave the green light to Germany, ending a long-running dispute between Brussels and Berlin over the toll system.

European officials had alleged that the system discriminates against foreign drivers. In December, the transportation ministry agreed to reform the legislation to address Brussels’ concerns. With the dispute now resolved, the transportation ministry plans to open the bidding process in June for the toll system, according to Handelsblatt’s government sources.

Though Germany has resolved its dispute with Brussels, it still faces opposition from its neighbors. Austria has announced that it will file suit with the European Court of Justice. The Czech Republic and the Netherlands have suggested they might make a similar move.

Though everyone has to pay a toll, Germans drivers are compensated through a reduction in their car taxes.

Vienna complains that the system still discriminates against foreign drivers. Though everyone has to pay a toll, German drivers are compensated through a reduction in their car taxes. Austria’s Transportation Minister Jörg Leichtfried said the European Commission was wrong to give Germany the green light, saying the toll system would open the door to discrimination between EU member states.

“Everyone is being asked to pay up, just not the Germans. That’s indirect discrimination based on nationality and is not consistent with EU law,” said Mr. Leichtfried, a center-left Social Democrat. The transport minister sees a good chance the court will rule in Austria’s favor.

For now, however, the toll system is moving forward. It’s expected to cost about €6 million or $6.6 million, according to documents obtained by Hanelsblatt. Those documents detail the system’s specifications and were prepared by lawyers from Greenberg Traurig, KPMG, PwC and TüV Rhineland in 2016.

The Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, recently allocated €10 million for the system under pressure from Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt. The system, scheduled for completion by 2019, is expected to bring in €136 million in annual revenues.

Two separate contracts will be issued, the first for the technology used in the control system and the second for the collections system. The federal government will operate the control system, but private companies will install and maintain the technology used in it. Private companies, on the other hand, will operate the collections system. Potential bidders include a host of toll-system companies, such as Kapsch of Austria, Autostrade of Italy, Deutsche Post, Accenture and ticket brokers such as Eventim.

Daniel Delhaes reports on politics, transport and airlines from Handelsblatt's Berlin office. To contact the author: [email protected]