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Electronic road pricing for heavy vehicles: The German model

As much as 35 per cent of truck kilometres travelled on Germany’s motorways (autobahn) is generated by foreign trucks. These trucks impose considerable maintenance and other costs on Germany (Wikipedia, 2009). The scheme is of interest to Australia because of the range of technologies used and because regional issues in Australia – the high number of interstate trucks accessing the roads of NSW – parallel those faced by a country experiencing large levels of traffic from foreign countries.  The German system is the only comprehensive electronically-based tolling system operating anywhere that addresses the issue of pricing freight transport.

Operations of the German scheme began in January 2005 a new toll system was introduced on the 12,000km of German autobahn for all trucks with a maximum weight of 12t and above (Road Technology, 2009). The new tolls for trucks are based on the distance driven in kilometres, the number of axles and the emission category of the truck. The average charge€0.13.5 per kilometre (about 24 cents Australian) was increased in September 2007. The tax is levied for all trucks using German autobahns, whether they are full, empty, foreign or domestic. A deficiency is that road weight is pre-assigned and doers not reflect the loads carried – the gross tare.

The toll system was constructed and is operated by a company, Toll Collect, with investment cost €700m ($1/3b Australian) on behalf of the German Government. The system can monitor between 1.3 and 1.5 million trucks, travelling an estimated 23 billion km/year. The tolls collected, are €2.4bn per year ($4.3b Australian) which are used on road improvements and new road construction.

The toll system relies on On Board Units (OBU), manual payment terminals and on payments via the internet.  OBUs work via GPS and the on-board odometer or tachographwhich is used as a back-up to determine how far the lorries have travelled by reference to a digital map. The mobile p-hone technology GSM is used to authorise the payment of the toll via a wireless link. Over 90 per cent of all tolls are collected by OBU.

Manual payment is available for vehicles not equipped with an OBU. There are over 3,500 toll payment terminals in service stations or rest areas. For those who wish to pay the toll in advance there is also an option of paying via the internet. Total truck registration was approaching 1 million in early 2008.

In addition to 300 toll checker gantries placed throughout the country, enforcement relies on mobile patrols, consisting of a fleet of 300 vehicles with 540 officers of the Federal Office of Freight. The officers patrol the autobahns, checking vehicles and drivers to see if they have paid the toll or have the OBU installed.

The system offers cost and technology indicators for heavy vehicle pricing in Australia.  The desire of Australian authorities to use tare weight as a basis for pricing could be accommodated by tweaking the technology or by asking drivers to estimate tare weights on embarkation and programming this into OBUs.


Road Technology, 2009, at Accessed 16 May 2009.

Wikipedia, 2009, at Accessed 16 May 2009.




HT Linda O’M.

7 comments to Electronic road pricing for heavy vehicles: The German model

  • MikeM

    The German system was implemented 2 years behind schedule due to various technical and contractual delay. The late introduction resulted in an estimated loss of €3bn in uncollected tolls,

    While such a system could make economic sense in Australia, only a lunatic would encourage the NSW government to try to implement it. If the absolute debacle of the T-Card smart card transport ticketing project is any indication(claim and counter-claim currently before the courts), the government flounders with any project using technology more complicated than concrete mixers.

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  • derrida derider

    I’m with MikeM – its a good idea done competently, but that rules out NSW. Sorta like the stance a few conservatives had before the Iraq war that it would be a good idea if George Bush Snr did it but a disaster if Junior did …

  • Sir Henry Casingbroke

    We are revisiting the online discussion of April 23 when you said (smugly) I was wrong. But your post now vindicates my comments. It is technically feasible to charge per loaded weight with self weighing instruments carried aboard the truck. We have fewer roads than Germany and could have a single national roads administration if we wanted to, as we do in respect of aviation and telecommunications.

  • hc

    Jack, They don’t measure tare weight and charge for it. They assess charges by the size of vehicle. This works OK in Europe where loads are fairly standardised but not in Australia where fully-laden road trains can carry 120 tonnes.

    My impression after some recent meetings with TCA is that, indeed, the weight problem can be dealt with. So I don’t disagree with your conclusion and if I rejected it before I should be punished.

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