Beware of the barrier-free toll trap

Published on 08/03/2024

Beware of the barrier-free toll trap

Faced with barrier-free toll systems across Europe, motorists need to navigate carefully to avoid unexpected fines when travelling.

On their return from a holiday in Austria, several ACL members had the unpleasant surprise of receiving a taxed warning in their letterbox. The reason: an unpaid toll. A fine that can quickly rise to 3,000 euros if the motorist concerned does not pay it quickly. This was all the more surprising given that the members in question had purchased an Austrian vignette for use on the country’s motorways. The only problem is that Austria does not have a harmonised network for motorway taxation, a situation that is also far from harmonised in Europe.

In Austria, the vignette is not enough

To drive on Austrian expressways, you need to buy a vignette (ranging from €8.60 for a day to €96.40 for a year), which is essential and is mainly available from ACL shops. However, depending on your route in Austria, having a motorway vignette is not enough. For example, the Bosruck and Gleinalm tunnels are subject to a special toll that can be a real trap. These are tolls without barriers. This “free flow” system is designed to keep traffic flowing smoothly by avoiding the need for motorists to stop. Instead of barriers, cameras scan number plates.

How to pay at a barrier-free toll booth

The solutions vary from country to country. For Austria, it is possible to pay online by buying a digital toll ticket. Several options are available. Simply enter your number plate and make the purchase online. On site, motorists can choose a lane dedicated to on-site purchases.

If you are a member, ACL can advise you on your route and whether or not you need to buy this toll ticket. More generally, whatever your destination, ACL can provide you with all the information you need on tolls, regulations in force and roadworks in progress on your forthcoming routes.

For other countries, such as France and Italy, you can also obtain a toll tag that automatically debits the toll from your bank account. It is also possible to pay online after passing through. In France, motorists have three days after passing through a free-flow toll plaza to pay the toll. After that, a €10 penalty is added to the toll. After 15 days, the charge rises to 90 euros. Finally, after two months, a fine of 375 euros will be added to the toll charges. On the spot, it is often possible to stop at a motorway service area provided in the direct vicinity of the toll plaza in “Free Flow” in order to pay at a pay station.

Towards widespread use of “Free Flow”

In Europe, many countries have opted for this type of toll, always with the idea of freeing up traffic. In France, the nearest is at Boulay in Moselle (near Metz), just 80km from Luxembourg. France will gradually increase the number of structures of this type. According to Vinci, a French motorway operator, other motorways such as the A13, A14, A69 and A40 will soon be equipped with barrier-free toll plazas. Find out more about the Bip&Go electronic toll subscription.

In the European Union, twelve countries offer free motorway travel: Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and Spain. But here again, there are a few exceptions. Between Sweden and Denmark, certain sections are still subject to a charge, as is the case in Spain. There is also an exception in Belgium, with the Liefkenshoek tunnel in Flanders. Passing under the Scheldt, this route allows you to avoid the saturated Antwerp ring road for €5.60 by car. What’s more, each country has the right to change its toll regulations. So it’s important to be well informed and to plan your journey carefully.

A few years ago, Germany wanted to charge foreign users for its motorways. In 2019, the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg ruled that this was discriminatory, forcing the German government of the time to back down. Finally, Malta is the only EU country without a motorway.