• EC still hesitant on ending ‘externalities’ ban

    The Commission has proposed an end to the ban on member states charging lorry operators for the 'external' costs of road use, but it has put such a limit on the charges that may be imposed that T&E has described it as 'two steps forward but one step back'.

    The unveiling of three Commission initiatives on ‘greening transport’ earlier this month is designed to make transport prices better reflect their real cost to society. Last year, the then transport commissioner Jacques Barrot promised a new approach to ‘external’ costs – such as environmental damage, noise, health and congestion – not paid by the road users causing them.

    Under current EU legislation, member states are banned from charging for external costs, a situation which conflicts with the ‘polluter pays’ principle. They are only allowed to charge for building and maintaining road infrastructure.

    Under the proposed revision of the Eurovignette directive, governments will be able to charge hauliers for the external costs of road use, but only electronically and only according to a strict formula. There will be no obligation to charge – but any country that does charge must follow these rules.

    T&E director Jos Dings said: ‘Member states may not be banned from charging trucks for the negative environmental and health impacts of their journeys, but the charges will be capped to such a degree that the areas that suffer the worst environmental impacts will be unable to set charges which reflect the real costs.

    ‘The decision to set a cap on charges makes no sense economically, or environmentally, and should be scrapped. We call on MEPs and ministers to make sure this proposal will really make transport greener.’
    T&E has also been critical of the time it has taken Brussels to propose this legislation. Seven years ago Switzerland started charging road freight operators for the environmental and health impacts of their journeys, with the result that Switzerland has improved its efficiency in the road transport sector, reduced emissions, and improved its competitiveness ranking, all without negative effects on the labour market.

    • Among the package of measures is an initiative to reduce rail noise from existing trains by 50%. The aim is to reduce considerably the amount of rail noise currently suffered by 16 million EU citizens.