• French join growing club of nations with distance-based lorry charge

    France is set to become the fifth EU member to introduce a nationwide heavy goods vehicle charge. But late concessions and a provision for ‘earmarking’ revenues have dampened environmental campaigners’ enthusiasm for the scheme.

    The French environmental lorry charge (in French ‘Taxe kilometrique Poids Lourds’) was approved earlier this month by both houses of the French parliament. It is scheduled to come into force in 2011.

    France already has motorway tolls levied by private operators, which cover around a third of kilometres driven in France. The new charge will mean lorries will have to pay to use two thirds of the network, but there may be some regional roads which
    will not be affected. Certain regions, notably Bretagne and Auvergne, are lobbying for re-
    duced levels of the tax or even total exemptions.

    The aims of the scheme include shifting freight transport away from road and air, and achieving an overall reduction in CO2 from road freight transport to 1990 levels by 2020.

    T&E director Jos Dings said: ‘France will join a growing group of countries that recog-
    nise the benefits distance-based road charging can bring both environmentally and economically. Existing schemes have shown that when charging is
    introduced, pollution goes down and the efficiency of the road freight sector goes up. It’s clearly a win/win.’


    But environmental NGOs are angry that the revenue
    from the new charge will be used exclusively for infrastructure building. That is seen as a concession to the road industry, but has been criticised by environmentalists as creating a ‘vicious circle’. A French government agency was created last year with specific responsibility for financing transport infrastructure.

    The new tax has been set at rates between €0.02 and €0.20, averaging €0.12, differentiated according to the Euro standards for lorry air pollution emissions. The rates can be
    reviewed every year when the French national budget is approved.

    This variability that could be significant, because under current Eurovignette rules the charge can only cover costs of infrastructure, not external costs such as congestion, accidents and environmental damage. The Eurovignette directive is currently under review, so there is scope for the French lorry charges to be increased if EU rules are changed.
    Dings added: ‘That the EU continues to prohibit member states from charging road users
    for the damage they cause makes no sense. Let us hope the Swedish presidency gets on with the job of agreeing the revision of this legislation as soon as possible.’