EU unveils distance-based road charging plan

Plans to develop a Europe-wide road-charging scheme have been unveiled by EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bluc. The charging of cars and lorries for road use based on distance driven would be optional, allowing member states to not participate if they did not wish to.

The aim is to promote more efficient use of roads through a pan-European road charging scheme by providing common rules and removing technical barriers, which will lower costs and facilitate its introduction. Commissioner Bulc has stated that charges should be ‘exclusively based on the number of kilometres actually driven and should not be time-dependent’.

At present EU countries have many different schemes for road tolls. In France and Italy, highways have tolls (péage), while others have time-based charges (vignettes) for cars and lorries. Germany, Poland and Austria have kilometre-based charges for lorries but not for cars and other passenger vehicles.

‘There are many options,’ Bulc said last month. ‘A fee could be obligatory but it's also possible to make it optional, ie that countries decide themselves whether and on which roads they want to levy a road use charge based on kilometres driven.’

The announcement comes as Germany is preparing to charges vehicles for the use of its autobahn, although German citizens would be able to deduct these costs from their annual car tax. The European Commission is understood to be concerned at the proposal, which would discriminate against foreign drivers.

The move is in response to high maintenance bills faced by Germany, like many other EU countries. The government estimates German state underinvestment in road infrastructure maintenance at €2.5 billion a year since 2002. Meanwhile, congestion is estimated to cost EU countries €100 billion annually, according to the European Commission.

T&E has argued that smart tolls, such as the London or Stockholm congestion charges, have been proven to drastically reduce congestion. It said smart and environmentally-differentiated road user charging would improve transport efficiency and lead to more efficient vehicle fleets. The money raised from road toll schemes could be used to reduce labour taxes, with knock-on effects for job creation.

T&E’s senior policy officer William Todts 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.’