What's the problem?
Despite the tried-and-tested benefits of road user charging for better traffic management, to reduce congestion, improve road safety and cut emissions, it is not mandatory and is not yet used across the whole EU. Several EU countries do already levy km-charges on trucks, whilst others require annual or monthly vignettes. More and more countries are however exploring the options to introduce tolls which will come closer to reflecting the real costs that lorries impose on society.
The current EU rules set maximum limits to how much of the air pollution, noise and congestion costs can be recovered in the charge. In some cases the limits are dramatically less than the real costs. However, the current law does not allow national governments to charge for the costs of climate-changing emissions from lorries or the costs of increased risk and severity of accidents involving lorries.
Unlike for cars, there are no CO2 emissions standards for trucks and there are no safety standards on the driver’s field of vision nor crash tests for lorries in collisions with cars, cyclists or pedestrians. T&E is campaigning for this to change.
The EU sets rules that member states must comply with if they choose to introduce road tolls for lorries. The rules are defined in the "Eurovignette" law. The third revision of this directive was agreed in September 2011, after lengthy discussions in the EU institutions. The directive allows for certain external costs, such as air pollution, noise and congestion, to be charged for. Lorries can be charged for such 'externalities' on all motorways.
The Commission proposed a review of this directive in 2017 and T&E is now campaigning for the Parliament and Council to support the differentiation of road tolls based on CO2 emissions. Trucks represent around 25% of road transport’s CO2 emissions, which CE Delft found result in €17 billion per year in damages. Such differentiation could help reduce the CO2 emissions from the transport sector by encouraging cleaner transport operations.
What should be done?
Lorries should pay for the damage caused on all roads across Europe, including infrastructure wear and tear, accidents, climate change, air pollution, noise and congestion. This will lead to better traffic management, smarter route planning, more efficient logistics, a shift to cleaner and quieter lorries, fewer km driven and an overall reduction of all of those impacts. This already happens today in Switzerland, where lorries pay a fair price for every km driven, instead of leaving that bill to be picked up by society and taxpayers.
There is some debate about whether the EU should also set a framework for road pricing for cars. There are several different systems in place already: Many countries collect motorway tolls or require vignettes for cars, Portugal has a km-fee for motorways, and many cities levy congestion charges or fees to enter low-emissions zones. EU law gives a lot of flexibility to design systems to meet different objectives and importantly does not allow road charges to discriminate against foreign vehicles, so charges must apply equally to domestic and foreign drivers. As yet, none of the motorway charges have any built-in environmental incentives to use cleaner vehicles and the fees are too low to encourage a shift to other modes, as they’re generally only intended to cover some of the cost of road maintenance.
National (or local) governments should be free to decide how to use the revenues from road charging. But the best use for the money raised from charging for pollution and congestion is to reduce the tax bill for workers and businesses, to stimulate a shift to a more sustainable economy.