Open source and VAS: The future of road pricing in Bulgaria

January 15, 2016 by  
Filed under Blog, ETC

In early 2015, the Bulgarian Road Infrastructure Agency (RIA) announced plans to introduce a GPS/distance based charge for heavy good vehicles (HGVs) travelling in the country. On the 13th February 2015, the RIA signed an agreement for the provision of consultancy services with the World Bank. “The agreement signed [was] the first serious step to the introduction of tolls in Bulgaria,” explained head of department Miroslav Tsenov.

As part of the agreement, the World Bank was charged with conducting an exhaustive analysis of existing satellite, GSM and DSRC charging schemes before submitting a vision for a fully electronic, EETS compatible system. The target was to achieve a minimum annual revenue of BGN400 million (€205 million).

Paper vignettes for all vehicles were first introduced in 2004 and have collected an average of BGN200 million (€102 million) per annum. “These funds turn out to be insufficient for the qualitative maintenance and repairs of the entire national road network,” explains Tsenov.

Firm recommendation

The World Bank has concluded that a GNSS based toll across all motorways and a variety of 1st and 2nd class roads represents the most viable option. In order to achieve this, the report’s authors have recommended replicating the Hungarian model (Hu-GO), which does not mandate the installation of a specific on board unit (OBU), as is the case in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. Rather, the proposed method will utilise existing in-cab technology such as FMS, telematics devices and smartphones. Drivers will also be given the choice of pre-purchasing a specific route-ticket, which is also an option in Russia’s new GNSS based scheme.

It is easy to see the attraction of the Hu-GO approach, especially when compared to other GNSS schemes. It took six months to build at an initial cost of only €75 million. This is compared to the five years it has taken to establish Belgium’s Viapass network at a lifetime cost of approximately €1.4 billion. Russia’s own Platon network was installed at an estimated cost of RUB30 billion (€362 million) and has, thus far, encountered a series of technical and operational problems. It is clear from the report that the World Bank does not anticipate such issues arising in Bulgaria. In fact, the Bank has laid out an ambitious timeline, which would see the procurement phase beginning in July of this year and full implementation complete by February 2018.

Value added services

VAS devices

Hu-GO currently has 22 different device suppliers

The openness of the Hu-GO system allows for potentially unlimited value added services (VAS), including parking payments, FMS, access control, usage-based insurance and bCall/eCall etc. The ability to integrate any reporting device also creates a more competitive environment and lower costs for consumers, potentially increasing the acceptance of the scheme. Ongoing protests in Russia spark memories of burning tyres and agricultural waste in Brittany; reminding us all that that the acceptance of the scheme should not be taken for granted and that VAS can help to improve the driver’s perception of the charge.

Indeed, the World Bank has placed user acceptance at the heart of its vision for Bulgarian tolling, as outlined in the proposed four stage approach:

  • Allow “interoperability” in accordance with European law,
  • Allow flexibility to meet future needs and unimpeded upgrade,
  • Be user friendly to gain public acceptance,
  • Assist Bulgaria meet its security obligations and the fight against crime.

Alongside an open satellite tolling scheme for HGVs, the World Bank envisions a replacement e-Toll for light goods vehicles (LGVs) and passenger cars. Interestingly, Austria also has plans to upgrade its own paper vignette to an electronic version, demonstrating once again that nothing happens in isolation when it comes to electronic tolling in Europe.

For a full investigation of the Hu-GO scheme, comparison with other national ETC programmes and detailed examination of VAS, see our ETC Global Study.


3 Responses to “Open source and VAS: The future of road pricing in Bulgaria”
  1. Claudiu says:

    Wind of change is blowing in Eastern Europe! The Hungarian example seems now to be rational. I wonder if Romania will chose the Hu-Go type scheme or will adhere to the expensive Belgian model. Romanian press already said a new tolling system will be adopted in 2017…

  2. Frank says:

    That’s not my reading of the report. Reading the report in more detail it seems that the intention isn’t a cut and paste of the Hu-Go TDS approach. The main similarity seems to be that all OBUs would not be provided through the Toll Charger. So more like an EETS approach. For most of the transit traffic entering Bulgaria, Bulgaria isn’t their destination point in the EU so they will need an OBU that works everywhere else as well.

  3. Hi Frank and thanks for the comment. I would agree that a straight cut and paste is not necessarily the intention and certainly the report does outline the potential disadvantages of TDPs in terms of added risk and complexity. There are certain differences in the method of enforcement as well.
    Where is see a replication of the Hungarian model is in the ability to utilise existing in-vehicle technology. You’re right in a sense that drivers would need a device that works everywhere else (“one device” as EETS stipulates), but a large number of vehicles already have this in the form of a telematics black box, GPS fleet tracker, smartphone etc. The device does not need to be a specific OBU like we see in Germany, Belgium etc., which is in fact a barrier to EETS.
    I would argue that the proposed option of a “route pass” for occasional users is also derived from the Hu-Go scheme. In fact, this means that occasional transit traffic would not need to buy an OBU at all. The repeatedly made link with FMS in the report is something further influenced by the Hu-Go model. I imagine the proposed SPE will also be very similar to the Hungarian National Toll Payment Service Plc, although admittedly, the SPE model is by no means unique.

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