Will it be more trucking (and polluting) or more efficiency?

Jos Dings, director of T&E writes in today's Financial Times:
Stefan Lorentzson of Volvo (Letters, March 22), seems to suggest that Europe should stop promoting road charging schemes for trucks because "higher charges for road will not result in the desired shift to rail". But this reasoning fails to acknowledge one of the main additional benefits of road charging, namely the dramatic improvements in the efficiency of the road haulage industry that result.

A recent study by the German Federal Office for Freight Transport (BAG), on the impact of Germany's distance-based toll for trucks introduced in January 2005, is illuminating. For example, internet sites that sell freight space on trucks that would otherwise return from their destination empty have seen rapid growth. The results speak for themselves: there has already been a 13 per cent decrease in "empty truck kilometres".

Evidence from Switzerland has shown that higher tolls for dirty vehicles resulted in an increase in sales of newer, cleaner trucks - a fact that Volvo will surely appreciate. All this is good for business, the economy and the environment.

Regarding the impact of road charging on shifting freight to rail, Mr Lorentzson refers to an (as yet unpublished) study by TransCare. According to Mr Lorentzson, that study shows that a €1-per-km toll increase leads to "a less than 1.2 per cent shift of road transport volume to rail".

But raw volume seems an odd metric to use. It is widely acknowledged that the advantages of rail freight are over long distances. Therefore tonne/kilometres are more commonly used in studies of this type and would have shown a much more significant figure.

Europe needs transport policies that encourage technical innovation, efficiency and reduced environmental impacts. There is plenty of evidence that road charging can achieve these aims.

Sadly, some elements of the road transport industry simply want to keep on trucking (and polluting) the way they always have.


T&E Position Paper on the mid-term review of the European Common Transport Policy

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