Road Network Operations
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Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) Tolling

A Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) is more likely to travel longer distances than a light goods vehicle – in some cases crossing borders and travelling through countries to reach distant customers. Tolling of heavy goods vehicles is aimed at regulating their use of roads. It helps ensure that HGVs pay a contribution towards the cost of providing and maintaining the road infrastructure they use – even if vehicles are registered in other countries. Taxes and charges are most commonly levied on the basis of distances travelled and annual permits. Its deployment may be limited to a strategic road network or apply to all roads.

The first use of taxing HGVs for distance travelled, was in New Zealand in 1975. Since then, the practical implementation of regulating HGVs use of roads by means of taxes and charges has evolved significantly and can be based on route and time of travel as well as distance travelled. The requirements for accuracy of charging and the enforceability of schemes have evolved to the point that HGV charging is now a proven ITS application – technically and operationally.

Globally, the densest networks of actively regulated HGVs are in the European Union – as illustrated in the figure below. This includes the UK, where the HGV levy was introduced in April 2014. Elsewhere in Europe, Switzerland and Norway have implemented schemes – and there are other examples in Australia, North America and sub-Saharan Africa. Transit nations such as Austria, Germany, Namibia and Switzerland have developed their own regulations based on some mix of road types, time and distance, with variations of charges depending on emissions class of the vehicle.

Charging of Heavy Goods Vehicles in the EU (as of 2015) Source: European Commission

HGV tolling does not depend on the existence of a general ETC tolling regime for all vehicles – but can make use of it.

Most commonly, an HGV tolling policy is stand-alone (such as in Austria, Germany, Namibia and Switzerland) – but where part of the road network already imposes tolls on all vehicles, HGV tolling can be integrated into a general tolling policy (such as in the USA). The tolling policy defines the operational strategy and technology requirements. In all cases, there needs to be:

  • an adequate legal framework
  • a process to record road usage for every HGV participating in the ETC scheme
  • the means to check that every HGV is complying with the requirements
  • a method of enforcement if an HGV is found to be non-compliant (See Back Office/Enforcement)

HGV tolling can be achieved by:

  • charging based on usage (similar to ETC)
  • time-based licensing, often known as a ‘vignette’ scheme

The relatively low cost of tags and roadside identification systems suits an HGV scheme that has a very limited number of roads or border crossings (See Methods of Payment). On Board Units (OBUs), able to determine vehicle location via Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) allow an HGV tolling scheme to be deployed on a much larger road network and enable differentiation of charges according to type of road or other factors.

The vehicle location technologies used in ETC also support other objectives – such as the management of HGVs conveying hazardous materials (‘Hazmat’), fleet management, cross-border pre-clearance, cabotage regulation, and detection and enforcement of overweight vehicles (See Freight and Commercial Services).

Variable pricing

Charges may also vary according to a HGV’s emission class or other factors. Examples include:

  • access fees for HGVs whose emission classes exceeds advertised limits, such as the London Low Emission Zone (LEZ) (Ref. 4) or the Clean Trucks Fee (CTF) levied on loaded container movements at The Port of Los Angeles (US) (Ref. 5)
  • national charging based on distance travelled (measured by odometer readings at the port of entry and exit), mass, dimensions and vehicle configuration as used in Namibia (Ref. 6);
  • localised access fees, varied due to a vehicle’s emission class such as the Congestion Charging scheme in Milan (Italy) and the German HGV charging scheme (LKW Maut) (PDF 6503 – Case Study LKW Maut - Electronic Tolling , Germany).

Advice to Practitioners

The starting point of some of the HGV charging schemes (for example, Switzerland, Germany and the Czech Republic) was a paper ‘vignette’ (a time-based permit) that was displayed in the windscreen of vehicles that used the main road network. The labels are designed to be checked manually but some are not very secure since they can be modified or forged. The UK scheme uses the vehicle’s number plate to check whether a vignette has been paid (recorded on a central database) – rather than a paper sticker. Alternatively:

  • where a toll is based on the distance travelled by foreign-registered HGVs a manual record reading of the mileage – on entry and exit – can be taken from the odometer (located in the cab or on a wheel hub) by an authorised person. This system is used by the Mass Distance Charging scheme in Namibia;
  • RFID, DSRC and GNSS are commonly used to measure road usage for either a few or a number of routes. (See Technologies & Processes);
  • a simple tag system may be economically justified if HGV charges are applied only on the motorway network;
  • an OBU can be used to record vehicle movements and calculate the total charge for a fixed period (such as a day, week or month) if HGV tolls are based on a combination of time of day, distance travelled and position (or type of road).


A back office is needed to manage the database of HGVs and enforcement operations (See Back Office/Enforcement). If charges are not related to usage, an annual charge can be levied on all HGVs (for example, the UK’s HGV Levy). Compliant vehicles can be confirmed by comparing vehicle number plates with a centrally held database of vehicles and payments made.

The cost and time to register HGVs for tolling should not be underestimated. It is recommended that sufficient vehicles are registered before HGV tolling commences – to reduce the initial strain on the enforcement operations. Compliance checking may always require some combination of mobile inspectors and unmanned, static roadside systems. Static systems can operate at lower cost with higher accuracy on busy roads compared with manual checks. Occasional users may be able to register manually for every trip (such as in Germany).

Legacy, Obsolescence & Upgrade Issues

HGV tolling exists in many forms – from vignettes to GNSS-based schemes with static enforcement and mobile inspection teams. All European HGV tolling schemes that have migrated from a vignette system to HGV tolling have chosen DSRC, GNSS or some combination of these, supported by fixed and mobile enforcement. The unit cost of a GNSS-based OBU is higher than an RFID or DSRC tag – but the initial cost must be weighed against the cost of operations and the number and type of roads to be tolled.

Migration is feasible:

  • from a technologically simple solution (such as the UK scheme that requires HGV vehicle operators to register number plates);
  • to the most flexible automated solution (such as a self-declaring GNSS-based German and New Zealand schemes).

The adoption of standards or harmonisation of systems provides flexibility for migration – particularly in relation to the format of vehicle number plates and account details from tags and GNSS-based OBUs. Periodic monitoring of new technologies (and standards) to help plan for the long-term, is recommended.

Issues for developing economies

Cross-border HGV movements bring their own challenges:

  • lack of mutual recognition of (non-criminal) traffic offences across borders may make the enforcement of tolls against foreign-registered vehicles difficult and expensive – which may result in high levels of non-compliance;
  • a policy of freedom of movement of labour and goods between countries may limit the scope to stop vehicles entering or leaving countries;
  • transit nations will be exposed to vehicles from countries with different roadworthiness standards – and it may not be possible to have a single HGV tolling solution that suits all vehicles.

Various solutions exist:

  • schemes based on a tamper-resistant annual vignette for motorways enforced by manual checks of registered vehicles and ANPR cameras linked to a database of participating vehicles;
  • large vehicle fleets, with sophisticated GNSS-based fleet management systems, may provide an opportunity for vehicle operators to self-declare their road usage – although their OBUs would need to be trusted and self-declarations would need to be available for detailed audit from time-to-time;
  • in general, the most ambitious HGV tolling policies will need GNSS-based recording of road usage – which will need to be supported by comprehensive enforcement
  • occasional users may be offered alternative registrations options (See Back Office/Enforcement).



NZ Transport Agency, 2013. Road User Charges, NZ Transport Agency, New Zealand Government

Swiss Federal Department of Finance (Switzerland):

German LKW Maut scheme operator:

Transport for London (UK):

Port of Los Angeles:

Road Fund Administration (Namibia):

Pickford A. and Blythe P. (2006) Road User Charging and Electronic Toll Collection, Ch2, Artech House, Boston (USA) and London (UK)

New Zealand Government. Road User Charges Act, 1977.

Reference sources

Pickford A. and Blythe P. (2006). Road User Charging and Electronic Toll Collection, Ch2, Artech House, Boston (USA) and London (UK)

New Zealand Government. Road User Charges Act, 1977.

  1. NZ Transport Agency, 2013. Road User Charges, NZ Transport Agency, New Zealand Government

  2. Swiss Federal Department of Finance (Switzerland):

  3. Transport for London (UK):

  4. Port of Los Angeles:

  5. Road Fund Administration (Namibia):