Thursday, 7 April 2016

Slovenia to have network heavy vehicle toll in 2017

ITS International has reported that Norwegian toll provider Q-Free in consortium with Telekom Slovenia. Q Free confirms in its own press release as well.  The contract is for US$111 million (€99.99 million), which is for system delivery, including back office, "toll tags", service, maintenance, communications and systems integration.  There will be a 10 year service and maintenance element, with a three year possible extension.  The DARS (Slovenian Motorway Company) motorway and expressway network is 610km long.  
Slovenia's vignette charged road network

Slovenia's current heavy vehicle toll road network
Slovenia's road user charging policy is a curious combination of manual tolls for heavy vehicles only (trucks and buses) on main highways and a vignette (time based charge) for light vehicles.  The heavy vehicle toll rates are based on distance.  Note the heavy vehicle toll includes buses and coaches, not just trucks.  Slovenia is, of course, a major transit point between Italy/Austria and Croatia, Hungary, with transit freight (and passenger) traffic growing now Croatia is an EU Member State.

Ptolemus reports that there were three failed bidders (Kapsch, Autostrade and Skytoll), but most interestingly,  it is a conventional DSRC tolling system that is being implemented, not a GNSS based system - essentially updating the manual toll system in place for heavy vehicles to be more akin to the systems in Austria, Czech Republic and Poland.   The new system will expand to apply to all motorways and expressways in Slovenia, not just those currently subject to the toll. One report estimated an increase in expected revenues of €13m per annum due in part to the expansion of the tolled network and the improvement in traffic conditions.

It probably makes financial sense to simply convert manual tolls to electronic free flow on this relatively small network, as it updates what DARS already has.  There are long term operational cost benefits, and reductions in delays for heavy vehicles.  However, the decision to reject GNSS technology for now means it could not be extended beyond much of the motorway/expressway network economically, and the chance to build an ITS application sector on top of it (like Hungary has done).  As DARS is a commercial highway company its decision may be assumed to make commercial sense.  

I don't have further details as of yet, but it appears that the system has been procured in the conventional manner, not a PPP, so that DARS  will continue to own and operate the toll system.  However, the procurement of this system has been problematic over some years, with the initial call for interest in August 2011, but then suspended in March 2012, restarted in February 2013 and stopped again, with the current tender having been launched in July 2015.

The choice of a DSRC approach reflects it being the lowest cost tender.  Newspaper Večer has reported (Slovenian) that, saying that the other tenders were priced at €110.11m (Skytoll and Iskratel), €114.6m (Autostrada, Cetis and Engineering Informatics) and €114.96m (Kapsch).   Kapsch has a minority shareholding in Q-Free as well.  DARS says the Q-Free consortium had the highest scoring, and those who object may appeal.

There has been a request from Kapsch to audit the procurement according to Delo (Slovenian). Claims include that the tender documentation changed and that the specifications gave the winning bidder an advantage.  Concerns over the transparency around procurement of systems in other countries are known in the industry, so there is understandably sensitivity by both DARS and bidders.  It would be a shame if there were substance to allegations and concerns to delay the project further.   One concern is that because Q-Free bought Slovenian Company Traffic Design in 2014, that this gave it an advantage.  One report claims (Slovenia) that much of Traffic Design's business was obtained without competitive tenders, but representatives of the company and DARS strongly deny there were any irregularities.

Curiously,  DARS published a press release (Slovenian) on 30 March (after the announcement of the winning bid)  responding to allegations of irregularities in the procurement of the toll system.   It would appear it is not the end of this issue.

I have used Google Translate to extract the DARS press release in response to allegations, so apologies for the fractured English:

In connection with the reporting of some media that the implementation of the procurement procedure "Establishment and operation of multitrack electronic toll system in free-flow traffic on motorways and expressways" occurred organizing tenders and irregularities DARS d.d. denies such biased statements and strongly rejects any complaints about any organizing and editing your bids so by DARS d.d. as a third party. DARS d.d. All offers submitted by tenderers in any procurement procedure, led by DARS d.d., therefore, be kept in a specially protected room at the headquarters of Dunajska 7, Ljubljana, in the same way DARS d.d. also keeps the tenders received during the procedure.

The process is carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Public Procurement Act and the Act on the legal protection in public procurement procedures, so DARS d.d. during the course of the procedure will not land on the media influences and pressures. Also due care providers DARS d.d. He will not comment on the process, which is still in progress, regardless of the pressures of some of the media. Following this process, the public will be duly informed.

We emphasize that, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Procurement Act public opening of the bids in the presence of the media, suppliers and all stakeholders. Following the decision the client has all the bidders, at their request, granted access to both the tenderers who have submitted offers as well as documentation of the client. Among the insights all providers in accordance with the provisions of the Public Procurement Act and the Companies Act, protect their interests and on the basis of a decision on the protection of business secrets is a subscriber data offers all the providers that have been marked as business secret deals adequately protect (blanketed with several layers of paper). Consequently, the bid documents of all bidders correspondingly increased.

Once again firmly and strongly reject all allegations of irregularities opening and management process.

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