Fee to drive Germany's Autobahn. Also, cities with the worst traffic.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the July 2015 issue.
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Overlooked by the Alte Nikolai­kirche, the goddess Justitia tops the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen (Fountain of Justice), built in 1543 in Frankfurt, Germany’s Römerberg square. Photo by Debi Shank, ITN

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 473rd issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine.

This magazine is supported both by our subscribers, so spreading the word about ITN to travelers you meet will help it grow, and by our advertisers, so taking advantage of their offers — and letting them know where you learned about them — is just as important. 

Every mention helps us continue to bring you travelers’ firsthand reports of their discoveries and adventures outside of the US in addition to news affecting travelers.

 

If you’re planning on driving into Germany after this year, you may find this of interest.

Following years of limited spending on its maintenance, Germany’s Autobahn is showing wear and tear. Hoping to raise money for needed repairs, on Dec. 17, 2014, the German cabinet approved a road toll that, for the first time, would charge noncommercial drivers a fee for using German highways. 

On March 27, 2015, the proposed toll passed its final vote in the Bund­­­estag, leaving it set to be implemented as scheduled in January 2016.

Though the German lawmakers call it a toll, the charge actually works more like a fee. People who want to drive on German highways will be required to purchase road-use badges (stickers) in 10-day, 2-month or one-year packages at 10 (near $11), 20 or 100, respectively, and attach them to their windshields.

At no point will motorists be charged separate, multiple tolls while driving on various German roadways.

According to the plan, both German and non-German drivers will have to purchase the stickers. However, residents of Germany will see the cost of the stickers returned to them in tax deductions, while foreign drivers will have no recourse to recover what they pay. It is estimated that more than 170 million foreign-registered cars cross the border into Germany every year.

Unlike most other countries in Europe, Germany does not currently have a road toll system in place (other than for commercial trucks). However, the countries that do — including Germany’s neighbors, among them France, Austria and Switzerland — do not offer refunds of those tolls to their own citizens in any way. 

Because Germany’s proposed toll will effectively treat non-German drivers differently by not offering them the chance to recoup the costs of any tolls paid in Germany, some countries have complained that the proposed toll is discriminatory against them.

Austria and the Netherlands have both threatened to take the matter to the European Court of Justice. However, German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt contends that the proposed toll falls within the bounds of European Union law.

Cars rented in Germany should be expected to already have the necessary stickers, saving foreign renters from having to purchase them. For travelers heading into Germany, it is anticipated that, like the toll stickers sold in neighboring Switzerland and Austria, German toll stickers will be available for purchase at any border crossing.

 

Speaking of driving, on April 1 the GPS navigation company TomTom (www.tomtom.com) released a list of cities with the worst traffic, based on information collected in 2014 by its network.

The company gathered data on 218 cities around the world and, with each, chose a route that would take 30 minutes to drive in conditions of free-flowing traffic (defined as traffic conditions that did not affect travel time, found most often at night). 

Next, countless times over 230 work days, TomTom recorded how long it took people to drive each route and averaged the figures all together to find the average driving time in each city.

They then took the difference between the base driving time and the daily average in each city and expressed it as a percentage, referred to as the “congestion level.” 

For example, if the daily average was 33 minutes on a route that took 30 minutes to drive with no traffic, that city’s congestion level was 10%. A level of 100% would mean that the commute took an extra 30 minutes, or an hour total.

Using the same method, TomTom also determined the percentage differences between the base driving time and the driving times during peak hours of traffic, during the morning and afternoon rush hours.

Cities then were ranked accordingly. (Just so you know, some famously congested cities like Cairo, Delhi, Bangkok and Tokyo were not included because TomTom was able to measure traffic only where its services were available.)

That brings us to this list of the top 20 cities with the worst traffic, on average, among the places for which TomTom had data. Each city is followed first by its average traffic congestion level (in bold type), then its highest peak-hour congestion level:

Istanbul, Turkey, 58% and 109%; Łódz´, Poland, 56%, 102%; Mexico City, Mexico, 55%, 93%; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 51%, 81%; Moscow, Russia, 50%, 103%; Salvador, Brazil, 46%, 75%; Recife, Brazil, 45%, 82%; St. Petersburg, Russia, 44%, 96%; Palermo, Italy, 42%, 68%; Bucharest, Romania, 41%, 82%; Warsaw, Poland, 40%, 75%; Los Angeles, California, USA, 39%, 80%; Taipei, Taiwan, 39%, 77%; Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK, 39%, 82%; Chongqing, China, 38%, 84%; Rome, Italy, 38%, 71%; Tianjin, China, 38%, 64%; Dublin, Ireland, 38%, 81%; Beijing, China, 37%, 74%, and London, England, UK, 37%, 67%. 

Sydney had the highest congestion and peak levels in Australia, at 35% and 66%, respectively. Vancouver was the city in Canada with the highest congestion levels, 35%, and shared its peak-hour level of 66% with Toronto. In South Africa, the only nation in Africa with TomTom service, Cape Town had the heaviest congestion level, 29%, and heaviest peak level, 72%.

For comparison, the notoriously packed streets of New York City ranked 54th, with a congestion level of 31% and a peak level of 56%.

The complete list and methodology can be found at www.tomtom.com/en_gb/trafficindex.

 

Let’s get off the road. Donna Perelman of Narragansett, Rhode Island, wrote in about a lesson she learned at an airport.

Donna booked flights for Aug. 9 and 11, 2014, with the regional airline Air Iceland (not to be confused with the much larger airline Icelandair).

She wrote to ITN, “For travel in Iceland between Reykjavík and Akureyri, I purchased Air Iceland Netoffers-fare tickets for a total of 173. When I booked the flights on the airline’s website, www.airiceland.is, a pop-up window appeared saying something about extra luggage, but I had no extra baggage to check, just my carry-on, so I never gave it much thought.

“At the airport, I was told that my carry-on bag was too large and had to be checked through. It measured 22x14x8 inches (55.9cmx35.6cmx20.3cm) and weighed just under nine pounds (4kg).

“With the carry-on too big for the overhead bins, I wondered if I could do a hand-off at the plane door, but that was not allowed. I was charged 20 each way to check my bag. I was very upset about the additional charges. I was used to the usual size limits on flights in the US.”

On Air Iceland’s website, under the Netoffers ticket-class option, the pop-up that comes up states, “Please note there is no luggage allowance for Netoffers. Except for 6kg hand luggage…” That message might be interpreted two different ways, but, on the homepage, clicking on the “Information” link brings up a page with several headings, and under “Hand Luggage” it states clearly, “… Maximum size of hand luggage is 55x35x25cm.” (That’s 21½"x13¾"x9¾".)

Ms. Perelman’s experience carries a few lessons. (1) Be sure to read all of the fine print. (2) If the meaning of something is ambiguous or not clear, it may be explained a little better elsewhere. Look for it. (3) Do not assume that the size and weight restrictions on carry-on bags are the same on all airlines or in all countries.

 

A CORRECTION to note —

In last month’s issue on page 44, Susan Jerrick wrote, “I was greatly impressed with David Selley’s letter ‘Tips on Exchanging Currency’,” and an editor’s note indicated that David’s letter could be found in the issue “Feb. ’14, pg. 14.” That actually should have read “Feb. ’15, pg. 14.”

Donna Altes of Napa, California (who has a Feature Article in this issue), pointed out the error. I apologize to all those who went searching through back copies for that item, though I was pleased to learn that readers were following up on it. 

Subscribers with online access can always do a quick search for a title using the search box on our website, www.intltravelnews.com. Or just call us here at ITN at 916/457-3643.

 

Starting now, if you would like to send anything to our Features Editor, Beth Habian, by surface mail, please mail it to our main office: ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. You may continue to send email to Beth at beth@intltravelnews.com, but she is closing her post office box.

Feature Articles can be over a thousand words long and must include photos. Everything else should continue to be sent to us here in Sacramento: any trip reports, letters, travel tips, suggestions, questions, “Person to Person” queries, “Where in the World?” guesses, etc. Most people use email (editor@intltravelnews.com), but we’ll even accept smoke signals and papyrus.

 

Barbara Dozier of Denver, Colorado, wrote, “I was wondering if you have any information on what to do in the event of a death abroad? How do you go about returning the person to the USA or arranging for burial abroad? 

“My husband and I are seniors in good health and we’re planning to travel to Europe. If something should happen to one or both of us, what do we need to have prior to leaving the US and what do we do in Europe? We just want to be somewhat prepared, should the occasion arise.”

Though 10 years have passed since it was printed in our February 2005 issue, the best article that I know of addressing this issue is one written by Betty Patterson of Largo, Florida, after her husband, Jim, died during a trip to France. You can find it on ITN’s website by typing the title (“Coping With the Red Tape of an Overseas Death”) into the search box.

Anyone who has any particular advice that may help someone navigate through the paperwork — or simply better cope — at such a difficult time is encouraged to submit it here. We welcome advice of any nature to share with travelers.

 

Carol Peim and Russell Ault wrote, “We were gifted the April issue of ITN and are now subscribers. Thank you for providing us with a very informative magazine and a way to connect.”

Kathleen Jewett of Kailua Kona, Hawaii, wrote, “ITN is the reading material I look forward to each month. Keep up the great work you are doing!”

And Phyllis Bismanovsky of Mountain View, California, wrote, “I just love ITN. I enjoy reading about others’ adventures and always find ideas for my next trip. I have contributed articles and have used other readers’ referrals for guides and tour operators. All for $24 a year. What a bargain!”

Remember, if you patronize one of ITN’s advertisers — or even just call to inquire about something — let them know where you saw their ad. They’ll appreciate knowing they’re getting noticed in ITN.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
Overlooked by the Alte Nikolai­kirche, the goddess Justitia tops the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen (Fountain of Justice), built in 1543 in Frankfurt, Germany’s Römerberg square. Photo by Debi Shank, ITN

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 473rd issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine.

This magazine is supported both by our subscribers, so spreading the word about ITN to travelers you meet will help it grow, and by our advertisers, so taking advantage of their offers — and letting them know where you learned about them — is just as important. 

Every mention helps us continue to bring you travelers’ firsthand reports of their discoveries and adventures outside of the US in addition to news affecting travelers.

 

If you’re planning on driving into Germany after this year, you may find this of interest.

Following years of limited spending on its maintenance, Germany’s Autobahn is showing wear and tear. Hoping to raise money for needed repairs, on Dec. 17, 2014, the German cabinet approved a road toll that, for the first time, would charge noncommercial drivers a fee for using German highways. 

On March 27, 2015, the proposed toll passed its final vote in the Bund­­­estag, leaving it set to be implemented as scheduled in January 2016.

Though the German lawmakers call it a toll, the charge actually works more like a fee. People who want to drive on German highways will be required to purchase road-use badges (stickers) in 10-day, 2-month or one-year packages at 10 (near $11), 20 or 100, respectively, and attach them to their windshields.

At no point will motorists be charged separate, multiple tolls while driving on various German roadways.

According to the plan, both German and non-German drivers will have to purchase the stickers. However, residents of Germany will see the cost of the stickers returned to them in tax deductions, while foreign drivers will have no recourse to recover what they pay. It is estimated that more than 170 million foreign-registered cars cross the border into Germany every year.

Unlike most other countries in Europe, Germany does not currently have a road toll system in place (other than for commercial trucks). However, the countries that do — including Germany’s neighbors, among them France, Austria and Switzerland — do not offer refunds of those tolls to their own citizens in any way. 

Because Germany’s proposed toll will effectively treat non-German drivers differently by not offering them the chance to recoup the costs of any tolls paid in Germany, some countries have complained that the proposed toll is discriminatory against them.

Austria and the Netherlands have both threatened to take the matter to the European Court of Justice. However, German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt contends that the proposed toll falls within the bounds of European Union law.

Cars rented in Germany should be expected to already have the necessary stickers, saving foreign renters from having to purchase them. For travelers heading into Germany, it is anticipated that, like the toll stickers sold in neighboring Switzerland and Austria, German toll stickers will be available for purchase at any border crossing.

 

Speaking of driving, on April 1 the GPS navigation company TomTom (www.tomtom.com) released a list of cities with the worst traffic, based on information collected in 2014 by its network.

The company gathered data on 218 cities around the world and, with each, chose a route that would take 30 minutes to drive in conditions of free-flowing traffic (defined as traffic conditions that did not affect travel time, found most often at night). 

Next, countless times over 230 work days, TomTom recorded how long it took people to drive each route and averaged the figures all together to find the average driving time in each city.

They then took the difference between the base driving time and the daily average in each city and expressed it as a percentage, referred to as the “congestion level.” 

For example, if the daily average was 33 minutes on a route that took 30 minutes to drive with no traffic, that city’s congestion level was 10%. A level of 100% would mean that the commute took an extra 30 minutes, or an hour total.

Using the same method, TomTom also determined the percentage differences between the base driving time and the driving times during peak hours of traffic, during the morning and afternoon rush hours.

Cities then were ranked accordingly. (Just so you know, some famously congested cities like Cairo, Delhi, Bangkok and Tokyo were not included because TomTom was able to measure traffic only where its services were available.)

That brings us to this list of the top 20 cities with the worst traffic, on average, among the places for which TomTom had data. Each city is followed first by its average traffic congestion level (in bold type), then its highest peak-hour congestion level:

Istanbul, Turkey, 58% and 109%; Łódz´, Poland, 56%, 102%; Mexico City, Mexico, 55%, 93%; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 51%, 81%; Moscow, Russia, 50%, 103%; Salvador, Brazil, 46%, 75%; Recife, Brazil, 45%, 82%; St. Petersburg, Russia, 44%, 96%; Palermo, Italy, 42%, 68%; Bucharest, Romania, 41%, 82%; Warsaw, Poland, 40%, 75%; Los Angeles, California, USA, 39%, 80%; Taipei, Taiwan, 39%, 77%; Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK, 39%, 82%; Chongqing, China, 38%, 84%; Rome, Italy, 38%, 71%; Tianjin, China, 38%, 64%; Dublin, Ireland, 38%, 81%; Beijing, China, 37%, 74%, and London, England, UK, 37%, 67%. 

Sydney had the highest congestion and peak levels in Australia, at 35% and 66%, respectively. Vancouver was the city in Canada with the highest congestion levels, 35%, and shared its peak-hour level of 66% with Toronto. In South Africa, the only nation in Africa with TomTom service, Cape Town had the heaviest congestion level, 29%, and heaviest peak level, 72%.

For comparison, the notoriously packed streets of New York City ranked 54th, with a congestion level of 31% and a peak level of 56%.

The complete list and methodology can be found at www.tomtom.com/en_gb/trafficindex.

 

Let’s get off the road. Donna Perelman of Narragansett, Rhode Island, wrote in about a lesson she learned at an airport.

Donna booked flights for Aug. 9 and 11, 2014, with the regional airline Air Iceland (not to be confused with the much larger airline Icelandair).

She wrote to ITN, “For travel in Iceland between Reykjavík and Akureyri, I purchased Air Iceland Netoffers-fare tickets for a total of 173. When I booked the flights on the airline’s website, www.airiceland.is, a pop-up window appeared saying something about extra luggage, but I had no extra baggage to check, just my carry-on, so I never gave it much thought.

“At the airport, I was told that my carry-on bag was too large and had to be checked through. It measured 22x14x8 inches (55.9cmx35.6cmx20.3cm) and weighed just under nine pounds (4kg).

“With the carry-on too big for the overhead bins, I wondered if I could do a hand-off at the plane door, but that was not allowed. I was charged 20 each way to check my bag. I was very upset about the additional charges. I was used to the usual size limits on flights in the US.”

On Air Iceland’s website, under the Netoffers ticket-class option, the pop-up that comes up states, “Please note there is no luggage allowance for Netoffers. Except for 6kg hand luggage…” That message might be interpreted two different ways, but, on the homepage, clicking on the “Information” link brings up a page with several headings, and under “Hand Luggage” it states clearly, “… Maximum size of hand luggage is 55x35x25cm.” (That’s 21½"x13¾"x9¾".)

Ms. Perelman’s experience carries a few lessons. (1) Be sure to read all of the fine print. (2) If the meaning of something is ambiguous or not clear, it may be explained a little better elsewhere. Look for it. (3) Do not assume that the size and weight restrictions on carry-on bags are the same on all airlines or in all countries.

 

A CORRECTION to note —

In last month’s issue on page 44, Susan Jerrick wrote, “I was greatly impressed with David Selley’s letter ‘Tips on Exchanging Currency’,” and an editor’s note indicated that David’s letter could be found in the issue “Feb. ’14, pg. 14.” That actually should have read “Feb. ’15, pg. 14.”

Donna Altes of Napa, California (who has a Feature Article in this issue), pointed out the error. I apologize to all those who went searching through back copies for that item, though I was pleased to learn that readers were following up on it. 

Subscribers with online access can always do a quick search for a title using the search box on our website, www.intltravelnews.com. Or just call us here at ITN at 916/457-3643.

 

Starting now, if you would like to send anything to our Features Editor, Beth Habian, by surface mail, please mail it to our main office: ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. You may continue to send email to Beth at beth@intltravelnews.com, but she is closing her post office box.

Feature Articles can be over a thousand words long and must include photos. Everything else should continue to be sent to us here in Sacramento: any trip reports, letters, travel tips, suggestions, questions, “Person to Person” queries, “Where in the World?” guesses, etc. Most people use email (editor@intltravelnews.com), but we’ll even accept smoke signals and papyrus.

 

Barbara Dozier of Denver, Colorado, wrote, “I was wondering if you have any information on what to do in the event of a death abroad? How do you go about returning the person to the USA or arranging for burial abroad? 

“My husband and I are seniors in good health and we’re planning to travel to Europe. If something should happen to one or both of us, what do we need to have prior to leaving the US and what do we do in Europe? We just want to be somewhat prepared, should the occasion arise.”

Though 10 years have passed since it was printed in our February 2005 issue, the best article that I know of addressing this issue is one written by Betty Patterson of Largo, Florida, after her husband, Jim, died during a trip to France. You can find it on ITN’s website by typing the title (“Coping With the Red Tape of an Overseas Death”) into the search box.

Anyone who has any particular advice that may help someone navigate through the paperwork — or simply better cope — at such a difficult time is encouraged to submit it here. We welcome advice of any nature to share with travelers.

 

Carol Peim and Russell Ault wrote, “We were gifted the April issue of ITN and are now subscribers. Thank you for providing us with a very informative magazine and a way to connect.”

Kathleen Jewett of Kailua Kona, Hawaii, wrote, “ITN is the reading material I look forward to each month. Keep up the great work you are doing!”

And Phyllis Bismanovsky of Mountain View, California, wrote, “I just love ITN. I enjoy reading about others’ adventures and always find ideas for my next trip. I have contributed articles and have used other readers’ referrals for guides and tour operators. All for $24 a year. What a bargain!”

Remember, if you patronize one of ITN’s advertisers — or even just call to inquire about something — let them know where you saw their ad. They’ll appreciate knowing they’re getting noticed in ITN.