MEPs challenge governments to approve strong new ‘Eurovignette’

MEPs have sent a strong signal to EU governments that they want financial incentives to encourage the uptake of zero-emission trucks. In a vote in the full European Parliament last month, members from across all parties supported the European Commission’s proposal to give zero-emission heavy goods vehicles a 50% discount on road charges as part of an overhaul of road tolls in Europe.

Under the EU’s current ‘Eurovignette’ directive that sets the framework for road charging, a country cannot base road tolls on CO2 emissions. But the directive is being reviewed to ensure distance-based charging whereby charges must be differentiated based on the truck’s CO2 emissions.

Under proposals scheduled to come into effect in 2023, time-based charges would be outlawed, to be replaced by distance-based charges. In their vote, MEPs supported what the Commission has proposed, but they went further on air pollution and noise. The original Commission proposal said member states could charge trucks for noise and air pollution damage, with recommended levels which governments could use as a guide, but MEPs said there should be obligatory minimum levels on all tolled roads, replacing the current upper limits on what states can charge for external costs.

T&E’s freight officer Samuel Kenny said: ‘Distance-based charging makes road transport more efficient for everyone concerned, as it ensures vehicles pay for the road damage they cause, helps manage road use, and boosts sales of the cleanest trucks. The overwhelming support on this vote means MEPs have challenged EU governments to approve a strong set of road charging standards so the current proposals can become law.’

Under the proposed legislation, zero-emission vehicles – covering electric and hydrogen-powered trucks – would pay half what the most fuel-efficient diesel vehicles would pay, with dirtier diesel trucks paying even more. It also envisages charging vans used for freight transport as well as trucks, which would go some way towards fixing the legislative gap between light and heavy goods vehicles.

T&E has urged national governments to avoid introducing giveaways for gas-powered vehicles, following the decision by the German government planning to exempt fossil gas trucks from its motorway toll from 1 Jan 2019. However, such a change is clearly unlawful under the directive. A T&E report published last month shows how transport running on fossil gas is as bad for the climate as diesel, petrol and marine fuel, and in some cases worse. Kenny added: ‘The German government must reserve such incentives for zero-emission technologies in line with the Eurovignette Directive. Tolls should incentivise technologies that actually help us meet our climate targets rather than promote alternative fossil fuels like gas.’