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Photos: Germany's road charging tech

On the autobahn, checking out the truckers
By Tony Hallett, Contributor on
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1 of 7 Tony Hallett/ZDNET

On the autobahn, checking out the truckers

For two years Germany has had an electronic road-charging system for heavy goods vehicles on the autobahn.

One way the scheme is policed is by these vans, 300 of which roam the country's major routes.

BAG (or Bundesamt für Güterverkehr in German) is the Federal Office for Heavy Goods Transport. The scheme is a mix of satellite technology - GPS, though a future move to Europe's Galileo system is likely - roadside cellular networks, wireless LANs and point-to-point infrared.

Toll Collect runs the road charging. It is a joint venture whose major partners are DaimlerChrysler and Satellic, a unit of Deutsche Telekom's T-Systems services business.

Photo credit: Tony Hallett

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All lorries on German roads over 12 tonnes must pay. Most are fitted with terminals. An infrared beacon (pictured) atop the BAG vans can check against these terminals. Or checks take place against numerous gantries running over the motorway system.

Lorries from outside the country can apply for the same terminals (fitted in a few hours at certified garages) or buy temporary passes at roadside outlets or over the internet. The authorities then check a number plate against the database of those who have paid.

A GPS signal from each vehicle is mapped onto each terminal. Roadside technology uses the GSM infrastructure to convey information such as distance travelled back to central computers.

Photo credit: Tony Hallett

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The inside of the BAG vans can call up all sorts of vehicle details. Charges vary according to number of axles and emission levels.

So far there is no variation according to route on the autobahn or time of day, though the government is believed to be considering these options.

Photo credit: Tony Hallett

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If a driver is stopped, after checks show no payment has been made, they can be made to cough up while out on the road. Here a highways officer issues a payment in a lay-by.

So far fewer than two per cent of heavy goods vehicle drivers have been found to be at fault.

Photo credit: Tony Hallett

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The system is even equipped to take credit card payments.

Photo credit: Tony Hallett

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The officers aren't tied to the vans. Handheld units can be used to check vehicle details.

Photo credit: Tony Hallett

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Here a more complex unit connects back to the van using a flavour of wi-fi.

So far the scheme, since January of 2005, has collected around €6bn for the German government. There are 120,000 registered users and 1,400 service partners - such as those who install terminals.

Satellic executives have shared their know-how with visiting officials from all over the world, they told silicon.com. Countries that rely heavily on road systems, such as Australia and the US, have taken a look, while there has also been interest from Central and Eastern Europe (for example the Czechs are pressing ahead with road-charging) and further east, as far away as China.

Transport for London, which set up London's Congestion Charging scheme with service group Capita, is also believed to have shown an interest. Governments around the world recognise it is important that different countries and even areas within countries such as cities don't all use different technology.

One official said: "No one wants the situation where drivers need six or seven different terminals [on their dashboard]."

Photo credit: Tony Hallett

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