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22nd Feb 2020

Plans for 'eco-tolls' on Europe's lorries unveiled

  • Road haulage is responsible for 28 percent of EU CO2 emissions (Photo: europa.eu)

Lorries in the European Union are to be charged a toll for their production of air and noise pollution, according to "greener transport" proposals unveiled by the European Commission on Tuesday (8 July).

Currently, truckers are only charged for the wear and tear of roads and motorways.

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The commission's transport chief, Antonio Tajani, proposed that EU member states for the first time be allowed to charge truckers for the environmental damage they cause.

The proposal permits measures similar to toll systems that have been in place in Switzerland - which is not a member of the EU - since 2001.

The specific tolls, to be calculated by an electronic system, will affect only vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes and vary depending on the air and noise pollution produced, as well as congestion levels, but a standard truck is on average likely to pay an extra four to five cents a kilometre.

Under current EU rules, road hauliers cannot be charged more than the costs of maintaining transport infrastructure.

Countries are not, however, required to introduce such measures.

"These external costs currently fall on the shoulders of citizens," said a commission official explaining the proposals to reporters.

"This package is about ... making sure the polluter and not the taxpayer pays for environmental damage," said Mr Tajani, speaking to reporters in Strasbourg.

The commission hopes that the scheme will force haulage operators to use cleaner lorries and employ better route planning.

In Switzerland, the only European country where road user charges that internalise external costs of transport are applied, the number of kilometres travelled by heavy goods traffic decreased by 6.4 percent while amount of goods transported increased by 16.4 percent between 2001 and 2005. At the same time, there was a 10 percent reduction in air pollution, and a six percent reduction in CO2 emissions.

The sector is responsible for 28 percent of CO2 emissions in the EU.

The commission however, decided not to include in its new proposals earlier plans to allow road charges associated with greenhouse gas emissions, a source of frustration for environmental groups, who are also critical of rules that cap the charges countries can impose.

Jos Dings, the director of Transport and Environment, a green group that focuses on transport issues, said: "This proposal seems to take EU transport policy two steps forward and one step back.

"Member States will no longer be banned from charging trucks for the negative environmental and health impacts of their journeys," he said. "But the charges will be capped to such a degree that the areas that suffer the worst environmental impacts will be unable to set charges which reflect the real costs."

Road hauliers, for their part, complain that the proposal means they will be saddled with substantial extra costs at a time of already soaring fuel costs. Throughout Europe in recent months, truckers have blocked motorways and engaged in "go-slows", virtually bringing traffic to a halt near major cities.

Last month, traffic in Europe's capital, Brussels, was paralysed for a day when lorry-drivers and farmers on tractors drove at a snail's pace through the main streets of the city.

Mr Tajani's proposal now moves to the European Parliament and the member states for approval.

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