• French lorry charge scheme welcomed

    The French National Assembly and Senate have reached agreement on the introduction of a national kilometre-based road charging scheme for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) to be introduced by 2011.

    [mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]The ‘Taxe kilométrique poids lourds’, will apply to all lorries travelling on national and some local roads in France.

    The charge is expected to reduce the total amount of lorry kilometres in France each year by 800 million, around 7 per cent of the 11 billion covered by the scheme.

    Approximately one third of lorry kilometres driven in France are already covered by tolls. The new system will extend coverage by a third. The remaining third, where lorries drive on smaller local roads, will not be covered. The new charges will be higher for dirtier lorries, with a tariff scale based on Euro emissions class.

    The announcement follows the introduction of similar distance-based charging schemes in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland in recent years.

    Jos Dings, director of Transport and Environment (T&E) said: “France has joined a growing group of countries that recognise the benefits distance-based road charging can bring for the environment and the economy as a whole. 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.”

    The French scheme, first announced as part of the October 2007 Grenelle Environnement, a package of environmental policy commitments, has been passed into law in less than two years. The government’s stated objective is to cut CO2 emissions from road transport to 1990 levels by 2020. But the road charging scheme was weakened substantially in the legislative process with poorer regions such as Brittany seeking special concessions on fee levels. Revenue from the scheme will also be used exclusively for infrastructure building, following pressure from the road industry.

    Dings said: “Using revenue from road use to build yet more roads creates a vicious circle that makes no environmental sense. Road charging should be used to manage traffic, not to build more roads. That aspect of the scheme is clearly wrong, and should be abolished in a future revision of the law.”

    The European Union is currently in the process of revising the laws that govern road charging schemes in countries that have them. Under the existing ‘Eurovignette’ legislation, France was effectively forbidden from including the so-called ‘external costs’ of road use, such as congestion, climate change and road accidents, in toll charges.

    Dings said: “That the EU continues to prohibit member states from charging road users for the environmental and social damage they cause makes no sense. It’s up to the Swedish presidency of the EU to get on with the job of agreeing the revision of this legislation as soon as possible.”

    A comparison of the French proposals and existing road charging schemes in Europe can be downloaded here.