BERLIN -- Germany's much-delayed highway truck toll could be launched in two stages from the end of the year, although the issue of damages with operators Toll Collect remains unresolved, the transport minister said on Wednesday.
Manfred Stolpe told reporters before a parliamentary transport committee meeting that the consortium, which involves Deutsche Telekom, DaimlerChrysler and Cofiroute, had fulfilled the government's requirements.
He added he saw no reason for the contract between the parties to be canceled.
The German government had given the consortium until the end of January to come up with a firm start date for the scheme, which was originally due to be fully operational by the end of August 2003 but has twice been delayed.
Stolpe said Toll Collect had offered to introduce a simpler version of the toll scheme by December 31 this year and a complete system a year later.
Toll Collect had also offered to pay 40 to 70 million euros per month if it failed to meet the new deadline.
By end-2004, the government will have lost 2.8 billion euros in toll revenues, while the consortium is likely to have lost around a billion euros.
Delays to the toll, which is based on a high-tech system that uses satellites to track truck movements and calculate bills, have been caused by technical problems.
At present Toll Collect is paying a fine of 7.5 million euros per month, rising to 15 million euros per month from March.
A spokesman from DaimlerChrysler declined to comment.
The carmaker said earlier this month that costs related to Toll Collect would have only a minor impact on 2003 earnings and that they should also be in a "manageable dimension" for 2004, although it that was more difficult to predict.
Analysts say the financial implications are less important than the damage to the images to the companies involved.
They believe the German government too was also keen to avoid any further embarrassment its canceling of the contract would have caused in the absence of any alternative scheme.