The announcement of the charge, due to be in effect by April 2014, was buried in a transport ministry ‘business plan’.
T&E deputy-director Nina Renshaw said: ‘There are two negative elements to this proposal. One is that it is time-based, which creates an incentive for people who have paid the charge to drive more and is implicitly a bonus for UK hauliers; the other is that it only starts from 12 tonnes, which will leave a huge proportion of freight traffic outside the scheme. These two aspects show that the UK plan is more focused on charging foreign lorries than about cutting congestion, pollution or accidents. In that sense, it feels like a wasted opportunity.’
The first vignette system was introduced in France in the 1950s. It is now 10 years since Switzerland led the way on technologically advanced distance-based heavy lorry charging. Within the EU, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia all have distance-based charges, while France, Hungary, Poland and Belgium all have plans to introduce them.
Speaking at a conference in London last month, the deputy head of cabinet for the EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas said the Commission was disappointed at the British government’s focus on such an ‘old-fashioned and out-of-date’ scheme when most member states were looking at smarter kilometre-charging.