Paying for travel with ‘virtual’ money

Electronic road toll system extended and joined by public transport
By Dmitry Kovalev

Since early July, more Belarusian roads have become liable for tolls, joining the M1 Brest-Minsk-Russian border highway. Sections of the M2 (from the National Airport to the Mount of Glory), M3 (from Borovlyany to Logoisk), M4 (from Privolny to Cherven), M5 (from Privolny to Maryina Gorka) and M6 (from the city exit to the M6 / M7 fork) will soon involve the paying of tolls. At some future time, the whole length of the M4 and M5 will become payable. The toll system is being made as easy as possible, to avoid delays on the road.

Beltoll origins
The current toll system of paying cashiers at gates can cause delay at busy times, although the M1 only has four places where tolls are collected. The new Beltoll system — launched on July 1st — does not use barriers, avoiding queues. However, it does have its own peculiarities which primarily tackle truck drivers and tourist coaches. Passenger cars and mini-buses registered within the Customs Union, alongside motorcycles and special vehicles, can pass free of charge through Belarus. However, trucks and tourist coaches need to register into the national toll system — either through the beltoll.by website or at special booths which opened on June 3rd in all regional cities, and at some border checkpoints. From early July, booths also opened at fuelling stations along payable roads. Payments can be made in Belarusian or Russian Roubles or Dollars or with a fuel card (like a bank card, it can be used to pay for fuel and related goods at fuelling stations worldwide).

Signal on windscreen
After signing for his toll unit and leaving a deposit, each driver receives his on-board device, adjusted to designate a passenger car or truck: 4 Eurocents per kilometre of toll road for cars, 8 for those driving two-axle trucks or buses, 10 for vehicles using three axles and 12 for trucks with four or more axles.

The device is installed under the vehicle’s windscreen, inside a box, flashing to show each section of toll road driven. Lengths of sections vary between 800m and 40km, due to infrastructure; frames are found more often where interchanges and intersections appear. When ready, drivers can return their device to receive their deposit.

Electronic bus payment
Bus passengers are also enjoying a new system of ticket sales, such systems are being developed for the railways and urban transport. Meanwhile, if railway workers haven’t progressed further than intentions and electronic registration and ticket sales (as this sharply increases tariffs for transportations), communal workers from the Transport and Communications Ministry are working much more actively and electronic toll system should become operational even before the 2014 IIHF World Championship kicks off. Its pilot variant will have been tested in Baranovichi till the end of this year.

On entering a bus, passengers swipe their prepaid plastic card to signal their journey starting and scan again on leaving, to show the length of their trip (if you forget to swipe, payment is withdrawn for the maximum journey possible). Drivers can only issue cash receipts and accept payments for ‘whole’ journeys.

The price of cards varies to reflect their term of validity: from one day to one year. The significant deposit means that it’s only viable to purchase cards if you plan to use them for longer periods of time. These can then be topped up via ATMs countrywide. Those entitled to free travel will receive their own special cards and single-use paper tickets will remain for mid-length journeys.

Inspectors will patrol the bus network to check that passengers have cards and have swiped them. Alongside GPS-navigation and electronic information boards at bus stops, this should significantly increase efficiency, ensuring the regularity of transport and comfort. Passenger volumes will become apparent, allowing reorganisation as necessary. Even those travelling just one or two stops will benefit.

Minsk’s metro is also testing its own electronic payment system; a bright red box is being installed next to the ticket barrier at Akademiya Nauk (Academy of Sciences) station, allowing instant payment via SMS-message this summer.

Ticket evaders
Inspection officers will be using 16 vehicles initially to check that road users are complying with the new system. Anyone failing to display an on-board device in correct operational order for the type of vehicle will be penalised. Devices are also non-transferable, with fines relating to the cost of a maximum journey across Belarus: 815km. Someone driving a bus with three axles would have to pay 81.5 Euros but fines may reach up to 1,000 Euros. On the spot fines will be requested when drivers re-enter the country, with no period of limitation.

Tolls can be avoided if particular sections of road are bypassed but, of course, this will take drivers away from the speediest routes. As most people agree: time is money.
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