For fleets transporting goods between the UK and Europe, this year has presented further challenges for drivers. Additional border checks have caused increased traffic, and in April, trucks in Europe saw their waiting times at border crossings increase by 28%, compared to pre-crisis levels.

With tight schedules and little margin for error, fleets are looking for ways to simplify processes and save time. With 75% of the EU’s inland freight travelling by road, navigating European toll systems is perhaps the most costly, complex and confusing process of all for international fleets.

Shell announced the launch of its Shell European Electronic Tolling Service (EETS) earlier this year. Designed to reduce the number of on-board units (OBUs) required by drivers, as well as admin and paperwork, Shell’s tailored tolling solution offers fleets a single platform for managing everything from toll payments for roads, bridges and tunnels, to discounts, refunds, invoicing and data management.

MT spoke to Sarah Llewelyn (pictured), head of Shell Fleet Solutions, to find out how the new Shell EETS Solution can help fleets simplify cross-border tolling in Europe.

How much of an issue are European tolls to HGV drivers ?

The lack of toll interoperability has been a prevalent issue in the fleet industry for over a decade but, until recently, has remained a largely unspoken issue. In Europe, there are 110,000km of motorway across the Continent that have tolls, with over 100 toll-roads across 30 different countries. Yet each country has different toll collection schemes, with 20 different toll operators in France alone.

What has compounded the issue is that different countries have different criteria for toll payments. These can vary depending on the time of day or the weight of your vehicle. In the UK, tolls only apply to vehicles over 12 tonnes, however in Germany, tolls apply to vehicles heavier than 7.5 tonnes, and in Belgium and Czech Republic it is above 3.5 tonnes.

Increased demand due to Covid-19, coupled with the fact that companies are maximising loads as a means of improving efficiency, means that it is becoming increasingly difficult for drivers to comply with country specific demands for toll payments. If drivers end up paying the wrong amount, or struggle to operate a country-specific toll payment device and don’t pay at all, they can incur substantial fines; in Belgium this can be up to €1,000. This places unnecessary pressure on drivers, needless to say the time and attention this takes away from the job at hand.

Explain how EETS works...

The lack of toll interoperability presents a significant issue for fleets. The European Electronic Toll Service's directive aims to simplify the process of paying tolls, proposing a single on-board unit OBU that is compatible with all European road charging systems.

As it currently stands, European tolling requires vehicles to have OBUs, and these differ based on country, provider, regulations and technology. Fleets travelling across Europe often need lots of different OBUs, which are expensive, generate additional admin for fleet managers and clutter up dashboards.

Shell is at the forefront of driving toll interoperability. We wanted to make it simpler for fleets to comply with tolling regulations and manage payments, while avoiding additional costs, to make journeys as seamless as possible. We’re proud to say that our tolling solution for international fleets offers customers the most comprehensive coverage across Europe, covering 27 countries today. Our tolling offer is also tailored, enabling our international services experts to work with our customers to match the solution to the geographical needs of their fleet. Customers are paired with as few OBUs as possible, meaning that in some cases they can complete toll payments in over 12 different countries using a single OBU, helping to negate the risk of unforeseen fines.

Registering vehicles for different OBUs and then managing them is a time-consuming process for fleet managers. To help simplify this process, Shell only requires fleet managers to complete a single registration form, and once set-up, fleet managers can manage all their fleet expenses through the Shell Card, including fuel and non-fuel spending such as parking, ferries and truck washes. They will also receive a single set of invoices in their own currency, managed through Shell Fleet Hub, offering greater clarity and transparency when tracking fleet spending.

How much take-up to the scheme has there been? How pleased are you with the level of interest?

A universal solution for European toll interoperability is something we’re committed to driving forward, and we have over 30 years of experience in fleet tolling payments, so while we are conscious that there is a need for a unified solution, we know that it’s not an instant fix.

We first brought our Shell EETS solution onto the market two years ago, and it was available in a small number of countries. Transport companies, who understood the vast variation between national schemes, were initially unsure about whether our solution could be technically robust enough to accommodate this, so we like to call this our year of discovery.

Fast forward to now, and customers have a greater understanding of how our offer can provide them with a future-proof solution and we are incredibly pleased with the uptake! We are seeing a pique in interest levels from transport companies looking to sign-up to our Shell EETS Solution, and on average, across our markets, around 10% of our current customer base are currently using the solution, which is a significant result for one year of being widely available to markets, and we hope that this will continue to grow as our coverage increases .

What do heavy duty fleet managers and drivers see as the main benefits?

Tolling can be costly and complex for fleet managers and drivers alike. Our Shell EETS Solution has been developed with simplicity in mind. For drivers, the main benefit of the solution is that it saves them time, as it helps to limit the number of on-board units they have to manage whilst they travel. Drivers can be confident that their journey is covered by our EETS tolling network, meaning that they can drive through tolls and focus on reaching their destination safely, without the additional pressure of navigating toll payments and worrying about incurring fines. Additionally, drivers can use our Shell EETS Solution to access other services on the road, such as guarded parking.

Fleet managers are responsible for registering their fleet vehicles and managing OBUs and payments. Fleets can spend, on average, nearly £30 per vehicle per annum on OBU rental fees alone, however this doesn’t take into consideration the admin time for registration, installation and management. With the Shell EETS Solution, our Shell experts work with customers to find the solution best suited to the needs of their fleet. The fleet manager then only needs to complete a single registration form and can have the OBUs shipped directly to their company. As a plug-in device, OBUs can be self-installed to save time.

Once it’s up and running, our Shell EETS Solution acts as a single payment platform for tolling, and fleet managers receive a monthly set of invoices for all charges. Our experts also provide customers with additional documentation to support them with their OBU, such as emergency procedures and tips on usage. We know that fleet requirements are constantly evolving, and so is our coverage across the continent. Automatic updates mean that more countries can be added to the Shell EETS Solution, when required, limiting disruption and reducing admin time.

Any drawbacks?

Choosing our Shell EETS Solution helps to simplify tolling in the long-term, but the migration process will require a bit of time investment in the short-term. Fleets need to factor in time to terminate existing agreements with other providers, remove old boxes and install new EETS boxes – although this a simple process, it does need to be accounted for.

Our team of international services experts are available to work directly with customers to guide, support, and advise on how to best manage the migration process in order to limit disruption, as we understand that with busy and demanding schedules it can sometimes be challenging.

Why now to launch the scheme? Is it linked to concerns over Brexit disruption?

The EETS directive has been in the making for many years and its revision was only formally adopted in 2019 by the European Commission so, it doesn’t have any direct links to Brexit. As a newly launched concept, our Shell EETS Solution has been available in other European countries for about a year now and has been very well received, hence why we decided to expand the offer and launch it in the UK too.

The impact of Brexit and the uncertainty it has generated for fleet operators has arguably made EETS even more important. With Shell EETS Solution, transport companies will have the peace of mind knowing that there is a seamless solution ready for them to continue conducting their business in Europe, with the support available to help them navigate any new requirements.

How do you see Brexit panning out for international haulage and are the government doing enough?

With the uncertainty of today’s climate, and how the status of Brexit is constantly evolving, we don’t want to speculate at this stage with anything that may be factually inaccurate.

Explain the pressures the Covid situation is putting on fleets and drivers...

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK had the most advanced e-commerce market in Europe, accounting for 7.94% of GDP in 2019. The UK ships around 53 parcels per capita each year, the second highest number of any country in the world. A further shift in consumer behaviour caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has only served to increase this number, with around 40% of people believing that they will continue to shop online more now, than prior to the outbreak.

While this increasing volume of deliveries presents a significant growth opportunity for road freight fleets, it has also placed additional pressure on drivers to meet demands, and with little margin for error, fleet managers need to ensure operations are as efficient as possible. We’re so pleased to be able to provide fleets with our Shell EETS Solution during this period, as time-consuming payment processes are handled automatically by the Shell EETS box, alleviating additional pressures on drivers. Equally, the box uses satellite and road-side equipment, which limits contact with operators at toll plazas, helping to ensure driver safety.

What other pressures are fleets facing?

While delivery fleets have faced unprecedented demand, others within the industry have had to pause operations. This change of pace, whether slowed down or sped-up, has meant that many fleets have been under pressure to generate operational efficiencies wherever possible. Earlier this year, we also launched Shell Telematics, which provides customers with data-led insights into fleet operations, designed to improve efficiency and productivity.

To remain competitive, and keep pace with new legislations, fleets are also having to become more sustainable by reducing carbon emissions. Last year, we launched our carbon-offsetting programme, enabling fleets of any size to tackle less-avoidable emissions and drive carbon neutral by protecting and replanting forests, while they work towards longer term solutions.

Do you plan to develop EETS and add more benefits?

Shell Fleet Solutions’ aim is to provide customers with end-to-end solutions, providing a mobility hub for customers, that helps them generate efficiencies wherever possible. Tolling is simply the starting point.

In addition to continuing to expand our coverage across the Continent, we’re looking to incorporate a roadmap of services into the offer. We’re currently piloting a driver app in another market, which includes – amongst other functionalities – the provision of Track and Trace data based on the EETS OBU, and we hope that this will be launched on a wider scale in 2021. In addition, we’re currently exploring options for driver-friendly payment options in response to a rise in contactless payments due to COVID-19.

Are there any competing schemes and initiatives out there? How is EETS better?

As I mentioned earlier, there isn’t currently one universal EETS box that covers all road charging schemes in Europe but we offer one EETS box that can cover 12 countries, and eventually hope to cover them all in one device. With this in mind, it’s important to consider competitors with two different lenses.

First of all, we have national road charging schemes, the alternative to using an EETS solution. The main advantage of Shell EETS Solution is that as a tailored solution, it pairs customers with as few OBUs as possible, meaning that in some cases, fleets can benefit from a single device, from a single supplier, and receive a single invoice for payment. This makes the process much simpler and more convenient for fleet managers as they can replace multiple boxes with a single device, which reduces costs from usage fees and management time.

Secondly, tolling with Shell differs from competing EETS providers, as we can cover the fuel and non-fuel needs of a fleet with our range of mobility services. We are able to offer customers Shell fuels through our network on key transit routes, meaning both the refuelling of vehicles and drivers is taken care of. From setting restriction on card usage, to CCTV at sites, we have the latest fraud and security tools built-in to give fleet managers control and peace of mind, 24/7. And our VAT refund partnership with FDE, the leading service provider in Europe, means we can support business cash flow with quick recovery in over 20 countries. With FDE, we’re closely monitoring the changes in VAT refund regulations, particularly surrounding Brexit. This allows us to inform our customers of any changes as soon as possible and sign them up to new conditions. It’s this expertise that helps to generate additional savings.

Additionally, as we’ve had more than 30 years in the industry, we’ve developed strong relationships with our three partners, including our strategic partner Toll4Europe, who has helped us to expand our coverage across the continent.

What has impressed you about the way fleets have handled the pandemic? Any specific examples of good practice among hauliers?

The UK fleet industry has been committed to meeting demands, whether this is delivery fleets continually bridging the gap between the manufacturers and the loading bay, international fleets upholding strict schedules and keeping our world moving despite facing delays at borders, or NHS vehicle fleets continuing to save lives.

Equally, for fleets who are not on the frontline and experiencing uncertainty within their business, I have been so impressed with their resilience and resourcefulness, as many have used this time to consider ways that their fleet could become more efficient or sustainable, helping to drive our shared industry goals forward.

To find out more about Shell’s EETS Solution, and how it could help to simplify tolling for your fleet please visit: www.shell.co.uk/eets