Congestion charge in Budapest – the possibilities of technical implementation

Similarly to more large cities in Europe it is expected that the congestion charge system will be introduced in Budapest as well. It is a good idea to study the question in terms of technology since it is a major traffic informatics challenge. The expert of the Best Way Traffic Ltd dealing with evaluating traffic data thinks that there are various options of building up the system; at the same time, the selected technology must meet various planning, implementing and operating standards.


One of the most important question of the congestion charge is to find the solution to controlling vehicles entering and exiting the zone – by means of various technical solutions (by cameras, controlling points located on bridges or through GPS tracking ). It is,however, important in all cases that the system controlls each entering point and no gaps are left concerning entering and exiting points.


The camera based technology is the most accepted form of charging the congestion fee all over Europe. The automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras located on the entering points record on every traffic lane the time and place of entering as well as the duration of stay within the Congestion Charge Zone and the billing system works basing on it.


„The number of entering points is a key issue in case of camera based systems. For instance, in Budapest, supposing that the Hungary beltway and the Margit boulevard will be the entering boundaries, about 1000 cameras should be settled in approximately 260-280 intersections, upon estimation of Best-Way. In comparison with other major cities, this task is executed in London by 197, while in Milano by 43 cameras;the explanation for the differences lies in the various city structures.Cameras must work at least during paying periods, it means, not only the installation but the maintenance must be continuously guaranteed as well. Another possibility is to make the bridges of Budapest payable.This latter solution would lead to a more simply and more transparent system, moreover, about 50 cameras would be enough for monitoring the eight bridges of Budapest – Ferenc Szvétek, expert of Best Way Traffic Ltd. said.


Tamás Bagossy,expert of WebEye Hungary Ltd. said:” As in case of highways,one can make the road usage in Budapest payable too, by means of GPS-based tracking.The on-board unit, the so-called OBU installed in the vehicle records namely the position of the vehicle and tracks its movement. GPS-based congestion charge systems don’t allow drivers to avoid control points, since the on-board unit detects the entire route. Besides,data arriving from the telematic device installed in the vehicle can be used for various other purposes, for instance, for navigation or for obtaining vehicle diagnostic data. At present it can be said, the acquisition cost of technology is high,but we must not forget, one should have to install the on-board unit in all vehicles, not only in trucks like in case of highways.The current trends show that the future lies in developing GPS systems. All this is proved by the fact that GPS-GSM systems are installed in an increasing number of produced vehicles, already during the manufacturing.”


The creation of the complementary infrastructure is an essential condition for introducing an efficiently operating congestion charge system – beyond the cautious technological planning.Practically speaking, it means the development of the community traffic- with special regard to the suburban buses and trains- respectively the enlargement of P+R és B+R places on the area of zone boundaries. The survey of Best Way Ltd. indicates that at present there are approximately 3600 free P+R and B+R places; this amount is far less than it would be necessary concerning the size and conditions of the city.



Background material – International examples




London is the largest city in Europe where the congestion fee has been introduced.The present system was introduced on 17 February 2003.The fee was charged on most motor vehicles operating within the Carge Zone in central London between 07:00 and 18:00 / from Monday till Friday/. The standard charge is £10 for each day. It must be paid by midnight on the day of travel, otherwise the forgetful drivers are obliged to pay fine. Registered cars which emit 100g/km or less of Co2 and meet the Euro5 standard, vehicles with 9 or more seats, motorbikes, police cars, ambulance cars, taxis and public transport vehicles receive 100% discounts.The congestion charge may be paid via CC Auto Pay / automatic payment system),by sending SMS, through a telephone call, online (90 days in advance),in selected shops or via post.The control is executed by automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras. If the fee is settled on day of travel(or has been charged in advance/ the photos will be automatically deleted from the database.The camera network / 197 cameras/ records vehicles entering and exiting the zones. Tfl’s /Traffic for London/ report in June found that the number of chargeable vehicles entering the zone had reduced by 30%, while there were overall increases in the number of taxis, buses and especially bicycles. The daily profile of traffic flows had changed, with less traffic after 9:30 am and a peak immediately before and after the end of the charging period. The overall level of traffic of all vehicle types entering the central Congestion Charge Zone was consistently 16% lower in 2006 than the pre-charge levels in 2002.. The research made it clear that only a small air quality improvement could be expected from the introduction of the charge.




Milano is the other large city where the congestion fee has been implemented. The so-called Area C system was introduced in January 2012 replacing the previous charge system Ecopass/implemented in 2008/. The charge applies to every vehicle entering the city centre on weekdays (except Saturday) from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm. Residents inside the area have 40 free accesses per year and a discounted fare. Access to the area is forbidden for diesel Euro 3 or below, gasoline Euro 0.Electric vehicles, motorcycles and scooters, public utilities' vehicles, police and emergency vehicles, buses and taxis are exempt from the charge. The ticket must be paid at the latest within midnight of the following day. Access to the area is the city centre called “Cerchia dei Bastioni" (via 43 entrance points). The access points are electronically monitored by surveillance cameras. 7 out of these 43 access points are limited to public transport vehicles. The surveillance cameras detect the entering vehicles and transmit the collected data to a computer which recognizes the vehicles, their classification (residents, duty vehicles, free access ones) and the corresponding due charge The first month showed already noticeable effects.Cars entering the boundaries decreased of 33%, with a total of about 700,000 vehicles A substantial decrease in traffic congestion in the restricted area was also reported, while traffic outside the area remained unchanged. The congestion charge did not appreciably affect pollution levels, with the exception of black carbon level, which decreased of about 30% .Data from the first two months showed a decrease in traffic also outside the restricted zone, The reduced congestion in the city center resulted in increased average speed for public transport. The average speed in the morning peak hour (8-9 am) for surface public transport was about 10%.




The congestion tax was implemented on a permanent basis on August 1, 2007,after a seven-month trial period for the entire city center. The amount of tax payable depends on what time of the day a motorist enters or exits the congestion tax area. There is no charge on Saturdays, Sundays, public holidays or the day before public holidays, nor during nights (18:30 – 06:29), nor during the month of July. The payment method differs from the examples described previously. The congestion fee is charged not for the entire day, but for the occasion, the maximum amount of tax per vehicle per day is determined. A bill is sent to the vehicle owner at the end of each month. The vehicle owner is responsible for the payment of the tax, the bill must be paid before the end of the next month. The tax may be paid directly via a website or over the telephone by credit card, there is an option for a direct debit arrangement that allows the tax to be automatically deducted from the vehicle owner’s bank account when the bill is due. More than 60% of payments is carried out automatically, by means of an identifier device placed in the vehicle.Some classes of vehicles are exempt from the congestion tax: buses with a total weight of at least 14 tonnes , emergency services vehicles, diplomatic corps registered vehicles, motorcycles military vehicles, foreign-registered vehicles. Vehicles passing the control points are identified through automatic number plate recognition. The equipment, consisting of cameras, laser detectors, antennas, and information signs are mounted on a set of gantries at each control point/18/. The automatic number plate recognition has its shortcomings. Number plates from Finland and Lithuania have a similar format compared to Swedish number plates, with three letters and three digits. The system can't see the difference, and a Swedish owner might falsely be charged. Also stolen and forged plates have caused false payment demand on innocent people.