T&E welcomes common rules to enable smarter road tolls in Europe
Earlier this week, Violeta Bulc, the EU’s head of transport, announced plans to develop a Europe-wide scheme to charge lorries and cars for using roads. Bulc clarified that the scheme would be optional, meaning that countries like the UK could opt out if they want to. The Transport Commissioner also stressed that the amount of the fee should be based exclusively on the distance driven and should not be time-dependent, which would bolster more efficient use of roads.
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Currently European countries have too many different schemes for road tolls. Some, like France and Italy, have tolled highways (péage). Others have time-based vignettes for cars and lorries while others, like Germany, Poland and Austria, have kilometre-based charges for lorries but not for passenger vehicles.
William Todts, senior policy officer at sustainable transport group Transport & Environment, commented: “EU governments are all faced with similar problems: falling fuel tax revenues, heavy congestion, and stubbornly high transport emissions. Smart, distance-based tolls are the way to tackle these problems head-on, and Europe can play a very useful role in making sure that systems across the continent work together as well as possible. So we’ll need some common rules for those countries that want to introduce kilometre-based tolls.”
“The EU should also make it easier to introduce distance-based charging, and avoid putting too many rules and obstacles in the way. It should remove technical barriers and ensure the compatibility of different systems. And it should use its infrastructure funds to help countries overcome the investment barriers they face when they want to start road charging.”
The discussion about European road charging rules flared up after Germany announced a new car-vignette that targets foreign drivers using German roads.
Germany, just like many other EU countries, is faced with high maintenance bills. It estimates its own underinvestment in road infrastructure at €2.5 billion annually for every year since 2002. And that is just for maintenance – not for building new roads. 
At the same time the cost of congestion amounts to a staggering €100 billion annually.  Smart tolls such as the London or Stockholm congestion charges have been proven to drastically reduce congestion.
Smart and environmentally-differentiated road user charging will improve transport efficiency and clean up vehicle fleets. The money raised from road toll schemes could be used to reduce labour taxes, creating much-needed jobs and strengthening the economy.
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