Slovak company SkyToll has filed a complaint with the Czech competition watchdog over the transport ministry’s decision to award Austria's Kapsch a three-year extension of its contract to operate the country’s electronic road toll system, local media reported on September 26.
The Czech government approved extending Kapsch’s contract in July, postponing the scheduled launch of a tender by three years to 2019. The government said the agreement will safeguard the CZK10bn (€370mn) or so currently raised each year, but angered rival bidders that claim to be able to operate the tolls more cheaply. The issue only illustrates the opposing forces pulling at the disparate parties making up the government, the almost unrestrained influence of powerful local business figures, and the associated economic risks.
A consortium led by SkyToll, as well as Hungary’s state-owned toll company NUSZ, had already placed bids to operate the system, despite no tender having been launched. Transport Minister Dan Tok of Ano, however, insisted in March that the offers were unrealistic. Kapsch’s existing ten-year contract was originally set to expire at the end of 2016.
The Czech Republic introduced the e-toll collecting system in 2007. Currently, tolls are paid on 1,400km of motorways and high-speed roads. Toll collection amounted to CZK9.7bn in 2015. Since the launch of the system, the state has collected almost CZK70bn in tolls. SkyToll claims to be ready to save the state CZK500mn per year by charging CZK1.5bn in operation costs.
The tender is one of several issues to split the main parties in the Czech coalition, with leader CSSD lobbying for SkyToll. Coalition partner Ano - led by billionaire Andrej Babis - has blocked that effort.
The operator of the toll system next door in Slovakia, SkyToll is owned by closely-held financial group J&T. The Slovak company bought SkyToll CZ in March from Petr Kellner, the richest Czech, who owns the satellite systems and mobile networks on which SkyToll operates.
Tok claimed in July that the transport ministry needed more time to organise a tender properly. The CSSD backed off its challenge, clearly worried that the country could be left without any system to collect tolls. SkyToll has regularly threatened legal action against Prague throughout the drawn out debacle.
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