The directive which has been referred to is aimed at ensuring the technical and commercial interoperability of toll systems throughout the EU. It proposes to do so by standardising toll collection technology and establishing a European toll service to ensure the commercial interoperability of toll systems. The objective of the European toll service would be to ensure the interoperability for users of the electronic toll systems that have already been introduced at national or regional level by member states, as well as those to be introduced in future throughout the Union. I will describe the main provisions of the draft directive.
First, it proposes that on 1 January 2005, toll operators must make available to users onboard equipment, suitable for use with all electronic toll systems in service in the Union and in all types of vehicle, which is interoperable and capable of communicating with all the systems operating in the Union. Second, it proposes that, as of 1 January 2008, all new systems brought into service as part of the European electronic toll service only use satellite positioning and mobile communications technology and that the use of current microwave technology cease by 1 January 2012. The third main element is that it proposes the establishment of a European electronic toll service and that member states ensure that the service be available for all vehicles exceeding 3.5 tonnes and vehicles carrying more than nine passengers as of 1 January 2005 and for all other types of vehicles as of 1 January 2010. Essentially it proposes one vehicle, one tag and one account.
Currently electronic toll collection is available on the Eastlink and Westlink bridges. The technology in use is in-car tags using microwave technology to communicate with the toll system. The Drogheda bypass, which is also tolled, does not provide for electronic toll collection as yet. However, as part of the Dundalk bypass PPP scheme, the concessionaire will be required to make electronic toll collection available in 2004 at the toll booths on the bypass and also be obliged to ensure that the in-car unit used for the Eastlink and Westlink bridges will also be capable of being read and processed at the Drogheda bypass. As each PPP contract comes on stream, each concessionaire will also be required to introduce electronic toll collection compatible with the existing system, i.e. in-car tags using microwave technology to communicate with the toll system. As various concessionaires will be providing in-car tags, it is intended that a clearing house arrangement will operate to facilitate payments to be made by the owner of a tag issued by one concessionaire in respect of a toll charge levied by another. Accordingly, it will be possible for an Irish motorist to purchase one in-car tag and pay all tolls within the country using it; that is, one tag, one account.
The implications of the proposal for Ireland are that in the short-term, the electronic toll collection mechanisms currently in use here are compatible with those prescribed in the draft directive, that is the microwave technology-based mechanism. However, the draft directive proposes that the use of this technology must cease by 1 January 2012 and new systems introduced from 1 January 2008 must use satellite positioning or mobile communications technology, which are currently not in use for toll collection in Ireland or anywhere else, although some countries are moving towards their use. As currently proposed, the draft directive could have implications for Ireland in terms of meeting the implementation dates proposed, technology replacement costs and the cost of setting up and participating in a European electronic toll service.
In relation to Ireland's position on the draft directive in negotiations, while we welcome the move toward the harmonisation of technical standards, which is necessary, the feasibility of various aspects needs to be considered further and confirmed. In particular, the proposal to rule out microwave technology for new toll schemes from 1 January 2008 and for existing toll schemes, needs to be considered in more detail. Also, the feasibility of the proposal that toll operators would make available, on 1 January 2005, to users of on-board equipment such equipment, which is suitable for use with all electronic toll systems and services in the Union and on all types of vehicles, remains to be established. Considerable further work is required also on the proposal for the establishment of a European toll service.
The technical feasibility of meeting the binding dates proposed has not been fully established and the cost for those likely to be affected needs to be estimated as well. More preparatory and analytical work needs to be carried out in relation to the issues before binding commitments are made.
The cost implications for Ireland need further consideration and analysis. Some of the issues that need to be borne in mind, however, include the fact that the migration strategy from one technology to another could have significant costs, as it fixes an arbitrary date for the changeover. Reinvestment in new on-board units and new software, coupled with discarding viable systems before the end of their economic life, could prove expensive, particularly as a number of toll roads will open in Ireland in the short-term using microwave technology. It is also likely that the NRA will be required to specify this requirement for schemes awarded prior to the introduction of the new European electronic toll service, which would have further cost implications.
No legislative implications have been identified so far, although toll by-laws and schemes may need to be amended. There have been some negotiations at the working group in Brussels to date and I will give a flavour of those discussions. At the initial consideration of the proposal, member states gave their general initial reactions. There was agreement on the principle of interoperability but member states had difficulties with the proposed time-scale and technical feasibility. There was a further meeting at which the Commission conceded that the target dates should be subject to further consideration. These will now be considered in further discussions and negotiations in the Council working group.
A technical electronic toll committee has also had an initial informal meeting at which strong concerns were expressed regarding the phasing out of microwave technology within a set timeframe. There was a general view that microwave and satellite technology should be allowed to co-exist within time limits.
That is an outline of where things currently stand as regards the draft directive.