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Truck toll bridge in Germany

Source: Fotolia / mitifoto

With the introduction of HGV tolling on federal motorways in 2005, the Federal Government ushered in a step change, moving away from the funding of federal trunk road construction through taxation and towards the "user pays" principle. Since then, the tolling scheme has been widened in two stages (on 1 August 2012 and 1 July 2015) to cover around 2,300 km of four-lane federal highways. In addition, on 1 October 2015, the weight threshold for vehicles subject to tolls was lowered from 12 to 7.5 tonnes maximum permissible weight.

In a third stage, HGVs have had to pay tolls for the use of all the approximately 40,000 km of federal highways since 1 July 2018. The legal basis of these measures is the Fourth Federal Trunk Road Toll (Amendment) Act of 27 March 2017 (Federal Law Gazette I, p. 564). Uniform toll rates apply on federal motorways and federal highways.

Since 2011, the revenue generated by the HGV tolling scheme – after deduction of the costs for collection, enforcement and toll compensation measures – has been used exclusively for the federal trunk roads. In 2018, the scheme generated about 5.1 billion euros. With the extension of the HGV tolling scheme to all federal trunk roads and the adjustment of the toll rates on 1 January 2019 by the Act amending the Federal Trunk Road Toll Act and amending other Road Traffic Legislation of 4 December 2018 (Federal Law Gazette I, p. 2251), we are expecting average annual toll revenues of around 7.2 billion euros for the years from 2018 to 2022. Given the urgent need for investment in the structural maintenance and upgrading of the transport network, the tolling scheme makes a major contribution to transport infrastructure funding.

By varying the toll rates according to the pollutants the vehicles emit, the tolling scheme also provides hauliers with an incentive to efficiently deploy less polluting vehicles and supports a modal shift of freight traffic to the rail and waterway modes.

In addition, weight categories were introduced on 1 January 2019. Especially with regard to lighter commercial vehicles with a maximum permissible weight between 7.5 tonnes and 18 tonnes, this categorization, in comparison with the former categorization by the number of axles, further contributes to allocating infrastructure costs more fairly among road users.

The Federal Trunk Road Toll Act further provides for toll relief for natural gas powered vehicles and electric vehicles over different time periods, in order to support the market ramp-up of these vehicles.
For the time being, electrically powered vehicles are completely exempt from HGV tolls for an indefinite period. This includes all-battery electric vehicles, externally chargeable hybrid electric vehicles and fuel cell powered vehicles.

Natural gas powered vehicles are completely exempt from HGV tolls in 2019 and 2020. As of 1 January 2021, a reduced toll rate will apply, which is 1.1 cent less expensive per kilometre than for a comparable diesel vehicle that meets the Euro 6 standard. This includes HGVs powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). In general, corresponding vehicles with a bivalent drivetrain (e.g. dual-fuel operation with Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and diesel) also benefit from the toll relief if certain requirements are met (For details, see the website of the Federal Office for Goods Transport). However, the toll relief does not apply to vehicles powered by Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).

In Europe, there are currently different tolling systems using different toll collection equipment. The European Electronic Toll Service (EETS) provides the possibility of paying HGV tolls across borders on tolled European roads with only one on-board unit and one EETS provider. Further information (in German) on the European Electronic Toll Service can be found on the Federal Office for Goods Transport's website.

Collecting tolls and enforcing payment

The Toll Collect company was awarded the contract for toll collection and automatic checking using enforcement gantries. Users wishing to participate in the automatic collection of tolls using an on-board unit have to register with Toll Collect. Comprehensive information on the procedure and on the functions of Toll Collect can be found on the company's website. As an alternative, it is possible to register with an EETS provider (see above) and to participate via this service in the automatic collection of tolls using an on-board unit.

With its satellite and mobile communications-based tolling technology, Germany has one of the most modern tolling systems in the world. First and foremost, this means that new route and charge data can be transferred without the need for sophisticated roadside infrastructure and without the vehicles having to visit a garage. The vehicle parameters that are relevant to the collection of tolls as well as the journey data are transmitted in encrypted form by the on-board unit to Toll Collect’s data processing centre. The toll is calculated there. Payment of the tolls is monitored by stationary automatic enforcement gantries on motorways and by enforcement posts on federal highways. In addition, the Federal Office for Goods Transport has mobile enforcement vehicles and portable enforcement gantries, which are used on bridges over federal motorways and federal highways. Users who pay no toll or an incorrect amount are committing an administrative offence and have to pay a penalty charge or fine in addition to recovery of the toll.

The Federal Trunk Road Toll Act stipulates that data generated in connection with tolling may only be used for the specified purpose. Data collected at enforcement gantries or enforcement posts must be erased immediately after the enforcement action if the vehicle is not subject to tolls. Moreover, images of vehicles and registration number data may be processed only for the purpose of tolling.

Infrastructure cost study as a basis for calculating toll rates

In accordance with the relevant EU directive the level of HGV tolls must be based on the actual infrastructure costs. These are primarily the costs of constructing, upgrading, maintaining and operating the road network.

The statement of infrastructure costs was most recently updated in 2018 for the period from 2018 to 2022. The calculation methodology used for the 2002, 2007 and 2013 statements of infrastructure costs was continued. Like in the previous statement of infrastructure costs, external costs caused by air and noise pollution have also been calculated. Under the Infrastructure Charging Directive, these external costs may additionally be allocated to infrastructure costs.

Financial assistance programmes for the harmonization of tolling systems

Given the conditions of competition in Europe, the Federal Government launched two open-ended programmes in 2009 to ease the burden on the German road haulage industry.

The (De Minimis) Programme to Promote Safety and Environmental Protection in Road Haulage Companies Operating Heavy Goods Vehicles (in German) pursues the objectives of permanently enhancing road haulage safety and reducing the adverse environmental impact of road haulage.

The aims of the Programme to Promote Initial and Continuing Training, Skills Development and Employment in Road Haulage Companies Operating Heavy Goods Vehicles (in German) are the development of sector-specific skills among the workforce and a reduction in the shortage of mobile workers.

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