This type of ‘free-flow’ motorway, which has long existed abroad, will be widespread in the years to come, with the Normandy motorway being next on the list.
Users can drive at the permitted speed without slowing down or stopping and pass under gates equipped with cameras and sensors that identify their vehicle.
You then have several payment options, explains Pierre Méau, deputy customer director of Autoroutes Paris-Rhin-Rhône (APRR), the group that has converted 88 km of the national N79 – dangerous but free – into the A79 motorway – paying – between Montmarault ( Allier) and Digoin (Saône-et-Loire).
The simplest solution, regardless of the provider, is to obtain a classic electronic vignette.
You can also pay on the premises of the new motorway, either by registering your license plate number and bank details once, or by paying per crossing.
Last option: 16 terminals along the highway where you can pay by card or cash.
“The customer has 72 hours to pay for their trip,” stresses Mr. Méau. Otherwise, a fine of 90 euros will be added, without payment within 60 days even 375 euros. The operator has access to the file of European number plates.
Hand in hand with the development of digital and online payments, the introduction of free payments was demanded by the state when it chose APRR (an Eiffage subsidiary) to build the A79.
All new motorways will follow this model, like the future A69 between Toulouse and Castres, notes the manager.
The system is widely used in many countries, between Johannesburg and Pretoria in South Africa, around Toronto in Canada, on the city highways of Santiago de Chile, in many American states, on the Autostrada pedemontana lombarda near Milan in Italy, on many roads in Norway, on half of the Portuguese motorways or even to Gothenburg or Stockholm in Sweden.
In France, the Société des Autoroutes du Nord et de l’Est de la France (Sanef) transformed the Boulay-Moselle junction on the A4 motorway into a laboratory, removing the physical barriers there in 2019.
Despite some initial incidents, “the system has proven its reliability and customers have become familiar with this new payment system,” assures Arnaud Quemard, the managing director.
Sanef has therefore committed itself to converting the Normandy motorway, on which 32,000 cars drive every day, to free traffic.
“On the A13 and A14 between Paris and Caen there are five barriers with fairly heavy commuting and significant weekend peaks. At each barrier there is a potential cork stop,” explains Mr Quemard.
These barriers will be gradually replaced by gates between mid-2024 and mid-2025. “The goal is to straighten the highway” by returning to nature 28 hectares – the equivalent of 40 football pitches – currently occupied by toll booths, he specifies.
Arnaud Quemard promises time savings, fuel savings and reduction of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
The investment amounts to around 120 million euros, partly covered by a modest annual toll increase. But contrary to what one might think, switching to Free Flow doesn’t save you money.
“Today we have around 150 employees at the toll station in Normandy. To operate the same free-flow highway, we need around 300,” who will primarily be responsible for customer relations, says Ms. Quemard.
“We attach great importance to the retraining of our employees and have assured all our toll employees that we will find suitable employment for them,” he emphasizes.
Among the next motorways to switch to free traffic is the Autoroute blanche (A40) in Haute-Savoie, which the company Autoroutes et tunnel du Mont-Blanc (ATMB) wants to convert “in the medium term”, citing the quality of the road as Reason: air in the Arve valley.