France goes for barrier-free toll highways

The ‘free-flow’ highway without barriers at toll roads or the so-called “péages”, a system long established in other countries, will soon become the new standard in France. Users can drive at the permitted speed, without slowing down to stopping, by passing under gates equipped with cameras and sensors that identify their vehicle.

The French state will introduce this model on all new highways in the future, AFP reported.

Stringent fines

On Friday, France’s first barrier-free toll road will be inaugurated on the A79 highway in Allier, a department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. The Normandy highway is next on the list. All new highways in France will follow this model, such as the future A69 between Toulouse and Castles.

Users can pay by purchasing a classic electronic toll vignette, regardless of supplier. It will also be possible to pay on the new highway website by registering your registration number and bank details once or paying per trip.

Another option is using 16 kiosks at the highway’s edge to pay by card or cash. “Customers have 72 hours to pay for their journey,” says Mr. Pierre Méau, deputy director of customers of the Autoroutes Paris-Rhin-Rhône (APRR). “If they do not do so, they will be fined 90 euros on top of the toll, and even 375 euros if they do not pay within 60 days. In addition, the operator will have access to the European number plate database.”

Following the example of other countries

The system of barrier-free toll highways is quite widespread in many countries. For example, between Johannesburg and Pretoria in South Africa, around Toronto in Canada, and the urban streets of Santiago, Chile. In many American states, on the Autostrada Pedemontana Lombard near Milan in Italy, on many roads in Norway, on half of the Portuguese highways, and to enter Gothenburg or Stockholm in Sweden, the system is also already introduced.

In France, at the Boulay-Moselle interchange on the A4 highway, the physical barriers were removed in 2019. Despite some initial incidents, the system, which acted as a kind of laboratory, “has proved its reliability, and customers have become familiar with this new payment system,” says Société des autoroutes du Nord et de l’Est de la France (Sanef) managing director Arnaud Quemard.

More jobs and better air quality

Sanef has undertaken to convert the Normandy highway, which sees 32 000 cars pass by every day, to free flow. The five barriers on the A13 and A14 between Paris and Caen will be gradually replaced by gantries. The aim is to straighten the highway by returning 28 hectares, the equivalent of 40 football pitches, currently occupied by toll plazas to nature.

This will lead to time savings, fuel savings, and reductions in CO2 emissions. But contrary to what one might think, switching to free flow does not save money.

Today, on the toll road in Normandy, there are about 150 employees. To operate the same highway in free-flow mode, they will need about 300, mainly dealing with customer relations.

Among the following highways to switch to free flow is the Autoroute Blanche (A40) in Haute-Savoie, which the company Autoroutes et Tunnel de Mont-Blanc (ATMB) intends to convert “in the medium term”, citing air quality in the Arve Valley as the reason.


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