Despite the fact that the Macedonians have the lowest salaries in Europe, they still pay very expensive tolls. The compensation for one kilometer by car is 2,6 denars, and the adoption of the new toll price in 2014 was justified by VMRO-DPMNE, which claimed that the global economic crisis has ended and the compensation must be increased to the prices the drivers had paid until 2008.

Most of the disadvantages of the high price of the tolls is felt by the locals and the ones that travel on daily basis to work or study in Skopje. They are forced to pay almost twice the price of the tolls that citizens crossing identical mileage in neighboring countries pay, because the Public Enterprise for State Roads did not open the possibility of monthly or annual toll tickets that provide discounts for regular drivers.

Drivers in neighboring countries pay less

For comparison, each citizen in Serbia has the right to purchase monthly or annual toll ticket for any destination. The price of the monthly ticket is equal to the toll price for a given destination multiplied by 40. In addition, the toll price in Serbia for 1 km by car is 1,9 denars, and from 1 July this year it was increased to 2,1 denars. In Greece, locals that travel on daily basis through a given toll booth along the Thessaloniki-Athens motorway get a discount of up to 80% on the monthly ticket for this service.

In Albania, citizens that live along “Ibrahim Rugova” motorway get discount for regular travels during the month. For 80 eurocents a driver from Kukës can drive along the entire motorway to Tirana. In Kosovo there aren’t any toll booths, and citizens pay a single road tax when registering the vehicles.

Finally, Bulgaria is the only neighboring country that has no toll booths on their highways, but the road tax is paid by a vignette. Instead of paying for a kilometer, Bulgarian drivers pay for driving for a certain period of time. The electronic vignettes can be bought online and can last up to 1 weekend, 1 week, 1 month, 3 months or 1 year. The longer the period, the cheaper the vignette per given period of time.

Our eastern neighbor is not the only one in Europe that uses this payment system. Other countries that use vignettes are: Austria, Romania, Moldova, Switzerland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czechia, Hungary and Latvia.

Toll booth vs vignette

Professor Verica Danchevska from the Technical Faculty in Bitola believes that the high price of the Macedonian tolls is not adjusted to the life standard of citizens. She also states that there is not a coordinated attitude among experts about the existing method of payment. The system is favorable for some citizens, because all users pay per kilometer.

-A disadvantage of the system is that there are no benefits for the users who pass a great number of kilometers during the year – emphasizes the professor.

On the other hand, some experts consider that those who use the roads much more frequently need to pay a larger amount, because it is them who amortize the roads more.

Macedonian tolls draw money that are not adjusted to the life standard of citizens. Photo: Bojan Blazhevski

According to the director of the Public Enterprise for State Roads, Zoran Kitanov, Macedonian drivers do not pay the highest toll prices. He emphasizes that Serbia has a closed pay toll system which means placing a toll booth on each exit or entrance on the motorway, including toll booths in front of the border crossings.

Unlike Serbia, Macedonia has had an open pay toll system for decades. This means that toll booths that collect payment for passed kilometers are placed on certain points on the highways.

-With the open pay toll system, you sometimes gain, and sometimes lose – says Kitanov.

As an example he gives the citizens of Kumanovo travelling towards the Serbian border and who, through the open pay toll system, never pay for the kilometers passed on that part of the motorway.

Furthermore, the director of this public enterprise believes that the vignettes as a system have been wrongly presented to the Macedonian citizens.

-Nobody tells that the vignette should be purchased in advance, before you go out of the city, on a regional road or on a motorway. What does that mean? If you drive from Centar to Drachevo only once in 15 days, you should pay the entire price – states Kitanov.

With the introduction of the vignette system for payment, large part of the citizens would be disadvantaged, because even for one trip to a lower city rank they will need to buy a vignette. Kitanov says that even if the trip is only 2 km on a regional road, the vignette system requires you to pay the entire price for a week or a month.

The vignette as a system is also disputable in the European Union which, with the latest decision, urges its member states to adopt a new system according to which citizens would pay per kilometer. The replacement of the vignette system with electronic payment in the EU should be implemented by the end of 2023 for buses and trucks, while cars will have to become part of the new payment system no later than 2027.

However, professor Danchevska stressed that the current manner of pay toll in Macedonia is obsolete.

-Due to increased use of vehicles, toll booths will not have the capacity to receive all vehicles from the road infrastructure – she said.

In many European countries, a contemporary electronic system for payment without stopping has already been introduced, which should be implemented in our country as well.

The implementation of electronic toll payment is more than three years behind schedule. Photo: Bojan Blazhevski

The Public Enterprise for State Roads recently implemented an electronic system for toll payment, that provides discounts from 2 to 7% for drivers if they pay by smart card or tag. The major beneficiaries of the new system are transport companies and truckers. They can get a 7% discount because a requirement for discount is to put an amount of over 300.001 denars on the electronic payment device. However, this is a minimal discount for individual drivers and does not make a great difference in the yearly amount they pay for toll.

Revenues increase together with citizens’ dissatisfaction

The fact that tolls represent a hen that lays golden eggs for the Public Enterprise for State Roads is shown by the data on collected revenues and number of vehicles that paid over the years. For a period of only 5 years, the finances gathered from toll payment have increased for about 12,7 million euros. From 27,8 million euros in 2014, the revenues from this tax went up to 40,5 million euros. At the same time, the number of paid toll by cars in 2018 rose to 41.133.515, or nearly 10 million vehicles compared to 2014.

German Filkov from the Center for Civil Communications believes that tolls among citizens are perceived as a direct cost for which they do not receive much in return.

-The motorways have potholes and are badly marked, the side-road signalization has faded, there aren’t any functional rest stops and similar other necessary conditions like in other countries. The tolls in our country are expensive in regard to the quality and conditions of the roads – said Filkov.

The truthfulness of this statement can be verified if we analyze the latest toll price increases. The price of tolls has increased by 35% in July 2014. In November the same year, the Government of that time took a 18.7 million euro loan from EBRD for implementation of the electronic system for toll payment on Corridor 10. Although it was promised that this system will be operational by the beginning of 2016, citizens have been paying for both toll systems for several years now.

The implementation of the electronic system is more than three years behind schedule, although the loan for this project has already been withdrawn. At the same time, Macedonian drivers pay for the employees who perform the existing manual collection of tolls, which was already supposed to be replaced with the new payment method. Despite the fact that the implementation of the electronic system on Corridor 10 is late, there is novelty –  the tender  for additional 15,3 million euros for electronic collection of tolls on Corridor 8, as well as for construction of 3 new toll booths on the motorways Miladinovci- Shtip and Kichevo – Ohrid. With the latest EBRD loan, the value of the upgraded toll collection system grew to 34 million euros.

Unfavorable loans from the past are repaid by tolls

Director Kitanov says that through toll revenues, the loans taken for construction and reconstruction of road infrastructure are being returned. He cited the example of the first installments of 22 million euros from a loan from Exim Bank of China, which is due in July.

-What we have saved will be used to pay the installment in July – emphasized Kitanov.

The Chinese loans, worth 580 million euros, were drawn by the Macedonian government in 2013. In the year when the toll price went up for 35%, the Chinese company “Sinohydro” launched the construction of two motorways Miladinovci – Shtip and Kichevo- Ohrid. One year later, we heard the “bombs” released by SDSM where they talk about the commission of 5% that was given for the selection of adequate company that would build the Kichevo-Ohrid Motorway.

In the 14th “bomb” it can be heard how the estimated value for the highway grew together with the proposed commission that would go to representatives of the ruling party. All of this, of course, should be paid by citizens/drivers through toll, road tax when registering the vehicles and with the excise on oil fuels. Hence, the lowering of toll prices seems an impossible mission for the current government. However, the budget must be filled in order to repay the loans, interests and commissions.

Author: Bojan Blazhevski