Will more kilometre charging for trucks hasten the end of time-based vignettes?

The days of time-based charges for heavy-goods vehicles may be numbered after it emerged that two more EU member countries are close to introducing distance-based charging schemes for heavy goods vehicles. The Netherlands and Bulgaria plan to introduce distance-based charging, and the timing could be important for the future of truck charging in Europe.

EU member states are not obliged to charge heavy-goods vehicles for the use of roads, but if they do, those charges have to follow certain rules common to all member states. These rules are set out in the Eurovignette directive. In May, the European Commission announced a revision of the directive which is currently going through the EU legislative process.

T&E has argued for two decades that road haulage should be charged on the basis of distance travelled rather than time-based fees, as charging per kilometre driven provides a financial incentive for the most efficient use of vehicles and journeys. Now the timing of the two countries’ reforms could mean ministers, MEPs and officials might be willing to set a date for the phasing out of all remaining time-based charges as part of the new ‘Eurovignette’ directive.

Perhaps the more significant of the countries is the Netherlands, as it has traditionally been the biggest defender of the time-based vignette system (normally an annually renewable vehicle registration charge, confirmed by a sticker or vignette). The new Dutch coalition government committed in October to distance-based road pricing for goods transport, accompanied by reduced road tax. Although the exact application date is uncertain, it may not be before 2023 (ie, charging kicks in during the lifetime of its next government). T&E says the technology required for tolling can be deployed at a far faster rate and legislative proposals should be made as early as possible to ensure such investment and the introduction of tolling enters into force as soon as possible.

Bulgaria says it will introduce its distance-based electronic charge next year, and hopes to have a contractor in place to run the charge by the end of this year. The distance-based charge will apply to all vehicles heavier than 3.5 tonnes, while time-based charge will remain for vans and trucks under 3.5t.

T&E’s freight and rail policy officer, Sam Kenny, said: ‘Distance-based charging is a key instrument in cutting congestion, reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases, and generally ensuring the EU transport market functions properly. It is better than time-based charges because it helps internalise external costs, increases logistic efficiency, provides revenue to the state, and encourages the use of cleaner vehicles in particular and cleaner transport in general. We hope the moves by these countries add political weight to the Commission’s proposal to phase out vignettes.’

The revision of the Eurovignette directive is due to be completed next summer. The current directive gives member states three possible options: no charges, a time-based system, or a distance-based system. The big question is whether the time-based system will continue to be an option. Once the Netherlands and Bulgaria have introduced their new charges, it will mean 11 countries in Europe have distance-based charging.

Sweden could be the 12th, though not for a couple of years. Its governing coalition parties, the Social Democrats and Greens, have both committed to introducing kilometre charging, but progress has been stalled and the new system will not come into effect before 2019 at the earliest. Estonia is introducing a time-based charging system on 1 January 2018, which will leave just three EU members without any form of HGV charging (Cyprus, Finland and Malta).