End of charging ban comes at cost of congestion charging

October 25, 2010

The EU’s ban on member states charging road hauliers for the unpaid costs of lorry journeys looks set to be partially lifted, after a compromise deal was agreed among member states that could lead to a new Eurovignette directive next year. But the cost of the Belgian presidency getting agreement appears to be the retention of important restrictions on how states can charge for the costs of congestion, plus an air pollution loophole for newer lorries that T&E has described as ‘bizarre’.

[mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]The compromise deal would allow member states to charge lorry operators for the external costs of their vehicles’ journeys but only to cover air and noise pollution. But any charging for congestion would have to be revenue-neutral, which means governments could charge extra during busy periods, as long as it reduced the cost of driving in less busy periods – effectively making for very little change compared with the current law. It also means the true cost of congestion caused by lorries cannot be covered.

In approving the deal, EU transport ministers introduced exemptions from air pollution charges for current generation Euro-V lorries and the next-generation Euro-VI, a change that may well be questioned and possibly thrown out when MEPs debate the deal.

T&E has given news of the compromise a mixed reception. ‘It is welcome that this revision of the Eurovignette directive looks set to overturn a long-standing and counterproductive ban on external cost charging,’ said Nina Renshaw, T&E’s deputy director. ‘This prohibition never made any sense, as it violated the polluter-pays principle and blatantly prevented member states from dealing with environmental problems at source.’

‘But not recognising congestion as an external cost restricts how much you can charge and makes the law less effective as a tool. Charging lorries for the damage they cause makes the freight industry smarter and more efficient, and in economically hard times it is much more productive than raising taxes on labour as some countries have done. Furthermore the Euro-V/VI exemption is bizarre – it’s rather like exempting smokers of low-tar cigarettes from smoking bans, and we hope MEPs will throw out this loophole when they review the legislation at its second reading.’

Research for T&E concludes that the unpaid bill to European society caused by lorry transport is around €90 billion a year. Yet successive Eurovignette directives going back 17 years have not allowed member states to charge for the costs to society not paid by lorry operators.

The compromise on congestion charging will apply only to motorway congestion, not to city schemes like those in operation in London and Stockholm.

Related Articles

View All