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

Date: Friday January 15, 2016

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

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.

VAS devices

Hu-GO currently has 22 different device suppliers

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.