Road toll system baffles visitors

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Thousands of drivers of foreign-registered vehicles on Norwegian roads aren’t paying road tolls, not necessarily because they’re trying to cheat the system, but because they don’t understand how the automatic toll system works. Some end up getting a surprise bill in the mail after they’ve arrived back home.

Norway's automated system of paying road tolls puzzles many foreign motorists, who either get away without paying or end up getting a bill in the mail when they return home. PHOTO: Views and News

Norwegian officials can only hope the visitors pay the bill, reports newspaper Aftenposten. Not only is it a challenge to track down the home addresses of the visiting foreign motorists, but it’s an expensive process to press any charges against those who don’t pay. Fjellinjen, the company that collects toll revenues for the municipalities of Oslo and Bærum, wrote off NOK 13 million in losses on foreign motorists last year alone.

Foreign motorists owed a total of NOK 100 million in road tolls nationwide last year, reported Aftenposten. Only about half of the money has actually been collected.

That’s largely because manual toll booths on highways and at toll gates into central urban areas have been replaced with an automatic system that scans license plate numbers. Most Norwegian motorists have subscription gadgets on their front windshields that yield a green “plus” sign as their car drives by the scanner, and offer a slight discount on the road tolls. All registered car owners get a bill in the mail when the amount of tolls tied to their license plate number passes a certain level.

Most car rental companies have such gadgets, and collect tolls from their customers. For foreign visitors with their own cars, especially tourists driving around Norway during the summer, the relatively new system is confusing. “The last time we were in Norway, we stopped at the toll booths and paid the tolls,” Stephan Schmitt, a German tourist from the Frankfurt area, told Aftenposten. “Now we see that the toll booths are gone, and we have driven on at least four stretches of toll roads, without paying.”

Collection efforts underway
The tolls, however, are supposed to be paid by all motorists using the road, not just Norwegians. The state highway department (Statens vegvesen), local toll collection companies and some car parking firm have thus enlisted the aid of a company in London called Euro Parking Collection that tracks down home addresses of the registered owners of cars passing through the toll gates. They find many in the national registries of car owners around Europe, based on pictures of license plates taken by the scanning equipment at the toll gates.

The tolls are waived in some cases, when the actual amount of the toll owed is less than the costs of collection. One Dutch couple on holiday in Norway with their car registered in The Netherlands could confirm that they’ve never received a bill in the mail, even after three trips to Norway.

‘Visitors’ Payment’ program
Meanwhile, state highway authorities are also hoping that more foreign tourists will sign up for a so-called “Visitors’ Payment” program (external link), through which they pre-pay a certain amount from which tolls are deducted as they pass toll gates. Nearly 40,000 well-meaning foreign drivers signed up for the program last year, double the number from the year before.

All those unaware of the Visitors’ Payment program, however, can just keep driving in Norway but risk getting a bill in the mail later. At least one couple was mentally prepared for that as they drove their mobile home near Ålesund last week. “We expect we’ll get a bill in the post,” Monique Schophorst from Amsterdam told Aftenposten.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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