Monday, 6 August 2012

Russian truck tolls: World's largest distance based road user charging system?

Whilst European countries continue to roll out new distance based truck toll systems (with 3 under development and 6 in operation), and US states progressing at various paces VMT, the announcement that Russia will be introducing a distance based toll system on federal highways changes the entire scale of heavy vehicle road pricing.

According to ITS International, the Russian Ministry of Transport has prepared a draft law to require all commercial vehicles over 12 tons to pay for the use of Federal Highways on a per km basis.  The report indicates that a single operator will be set up, it will ensure all vehicles are equipped with the necessary On Board Unit (OBU) and will use the Russian GLONASS GNSS system (originally the Soviet response to GPS, but now getting substantial investment as an alternative by the Russian Government).   The report suggests that the price per km would be at least US$0.11.   This is cheap compared to the minimum rate charged in Germany of around US$0.17 per km and New Zealand of US$0.20.  Still, there is plenty of scope to have a wider range of charges.

Another report suggests that net income (after capital and operating costs) will be about US$12.77 billion per annum.  The assumption appears to be that the charge is additional, and wont replace any existing taxes.   This is substantial, but without immediate access to figures of annual vehicle kms, the picture is not entirely clear as of yet.

It appears Siemens is in partnership with NIS GLONASS to progress the project (although this report misconstrues it completely).  The long term goal is for all main roads to be charged and all vehicles to be subject to the charge.   When you consider the scale of this, it is seriously ambitious.   There are over 5 million trucks registered in Russia, but only a fraction of those are over 12 tons.  Around 200 billion ton/km of freight are moved by road in Russia every year.   About 72% of trucks sold in Russia are Russian made.


It is fairly obvious that distances in Russia are on a scale and extent that beats any other country, but also that highway maintenance can be extremely expensive, particularly when traffic densities are low and so fixed costs are a high proportion of all costs.  

The logistics of getting vehicles installed will be enormous, and I would suggest that requiring it of newly registered vehicles first would be a good start, with existing registrations required to be installed as registration dates come due.

Undoubtedly if Siemens is responsible for this, it will be one of the grandest projects of its kind in the world.   If this is extended to all main roads, as is the intention (and will be necessary in cities to avoid traffic diversion) then it will be a grand scale operation.  The payment systems and the communications systems needed (given the dearth of mobile phone coverage in parts of the country) will be interesting.  It will be evene more interesting if the talk of it being extended to ALL vehicles happens, although I suspect issues of privacy will come to the fore for fairly obvious reasons.

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