Justin Hamilton speaks to the Russian Federal Road Agency as they prepare to launch the world’s largest nationwide toll
On 8 December 2008, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin began the long journey towards a nationwide road pricing scheme for heavy goods vehicles with the ratification of Russia’s transport strategy 2030. The document was intended to create a cost effective infrastructure, providing affordable transport for public and freight users.
The significance of this document came with a clear shift in direction towards the user pays principle across Russian highways. Elena Semenova, head of legal and PPP at the Federal Roads Agency (FRA), explains how research began into road pricing policies shortly after the introduction of this document, ‘the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation invested in research and development (R&D) on scientific principles behind technical and technological toll collection solutions on federal motorways for owners (users) of vehicles with GVWR over 12 tons: collection, introduction, testing. The Ministry funded this R&D for two years between 2010 and 2011’. Public hearings soon followed, leading to an acceptance that a long-term solution based on a sound plan was necessary.
“The most popular opinions were that a balance between the destructive effects of growing load on roads and developing the road infrastructure is only possible through as framework of compensation. Introducing a PPP format approach was regarded as one of the options, including a concession based on a life-cycle contract”, says Semenova.
The scale of the toll is unmatched anywhere else in the world. The scheme will cover 50,774 km of Russia’s highways, representing approximately four per cent of the total road network. The so-called ‘dual-system’ solution will integrate the receivers of radio signals from both GPS and GLONASS within a single on board unit (OBU). As Semenova explains, “The system makes positioning more accurate as the receiver picks signals with a higher stability from more satellites. It can track in the two orbital satellite constellations, rather than working with a single GNSS”.
Once operational, it is forecast that the scheme will generate an additional 50 billion rubles (€790 million) for the federal road fund on an annual basis. Far less than the sums realised in Germany and broadly comparable to the €777 million raised in Hungary across a much smaller network. Semenova cautions that the payment is, “neither a tax nor a duty and will not lead to dual taxation.”
While each road network is different, proving the efficacy of the tracking solution is something that can only be done through testing and operation. As with many public procurement projects, it is vital advocates can point to clear results. This scheme is no exception.
“[The dual system] is a proven approach that has been in worldwide use in professional geodesic instrumentation applications and is now extensively used in simple user devices.
We have been closely tracking the practices of other countries, especially those where systems such as ours have been built and operated. The German system is of particular importance. It is not possible to replicate all of the German solutions in Russia. However, some of them can be instrumental if tailored to local realities”, adds Semenova.
Gaining acceptance from industry bodies and road users for a new scheme is often more challenging than the practical implementation. Proposed projects in Britain, the Netherlands and, most recently, France have all failed because road users could not be convinced of the benefits. Yet in each of these cases the public authority was primarily responsible for spreading the message. The FRA has adopted a very different approach.
“Raising awareness among users about the terms and methods of payment and other toll system related issues will be covered by the media from the list made by the concession operator. Maximum accessibility and spread of information among vehicle owners being a general requirement”, says Semenova. “The federal agency is a bridge in communications among the operator, users of the system, public authorities at various levels and affiliated businesses.”
Semenova also points out that the toll will deliver direct benefits and value for money to HGV drivers and operators, noting that the scheme will “help transport operators reduce costs for repair and operation of vehicles.”
So far, feedback from drivers and vehicle owners has been mixed, ranging from, “plain irritation to absolute support. All those debating the matter are common in requesting that all the collected money is spent alone on improvement of the road infrastructure.” This is certainly an area where all parties can agree.
While HGV charging schemes remain the lifeblood of the European road pricing industry, passenger cars represent the real holy grail. Nonetheless, it is unlikely we will see the tolling framework extended to passenger vehicles in this case anytime soon.
“Quite shortly, the Russian Ministry of Transport and the Federal Road Agency will conduct research into the social and economic outcomes of extending the existing system to vehicles over 3.5 tons, like in many European countries”, advises Semenova. While the HGV charge goes live on the 15 November, the wait for a passenger car distance based charge goes on.
Countdown to Launch:
• 22 November 2008: Prime Minister Putin signs declaration 1734-p, approving the transport strategy of the Russian Federation to 2030. The strategy includes a suggestion to shift towards a user pays concept for Russian roads.
• 2010 – 2011: The Ministry of Transport engages in research and development into the ‘scientific principles behind technical and technological toll collection solutions on federal motorways for users of vehicles over 12 tonnes.
• 29 August 2014: The Government issues declaration 1662-r, appointing private company RT Invest Transport Systems Joint Stock Company as sole concessioner for the tolling and collection system.
• 15 November 2015: Expected start date
Article taken from the April 2015 issue of RUC Magazine