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22nd Feb 2020

Lorries in EU could be slapped with noise and congestion tolls

  • Centre-right MEPs said it was unfair to charge trucks but not cars for congestion (Photo: EUobserver)

Lorries in the European Union could see additional tolls for the air and noise pollution as well as the congestion they create following broad backing in an EU parliament committee on Wednesday (11 February) for a revision of existing legislation on road charges.

Current EU legislation, the so-called Eurovignette Directive, allows road charging only for infrastructure costs on main roads, with environmental costs explicitly excluded.

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The directive is in the process of being revised to allow member states to charge for other ‘externalities'.

MEPs in the parliament's transport committee however stopped short of allowing charges to be applied for carbon emissions in the face of opposition from members of the European People's Party, the house's centre-right grouping.

The EPP also argued against applying congestion charges to lorries saying it was unfair when cars and other personal vehicles are also responsible for congestion.

A compromise was reached however, that will allow member states to establish congestion charges - similar to what is currently in place in London - so long as they apply not just to lorries, but to all vehicles.

Clean transport NGO Transport and Environment was disappointed at the manoeuvre, arguing that according to its figures, lorries are responsible for 20 percent of congestion, costing the European economy €24 billion a year, despite representing just three percent of vehicles.

"By tackling lorries first, congestion could already be cut substantially," the group said in a statement.

Small business groups however were happy that proposals on including charges for CO2 emissions were excluded. But the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UAPME) said it was worried that congestion charges were supported by MEPs and their possible economic impact on operating costs.

Some trade unions have also criticised such green taxes and congestion charges if introduced without a sliding scale of fees, saying that they hit the plumber who needs to use a truck as much as a multi-national haulage firm.

MEP calculations suggest that the overall extra cost for road users as a result of the changes would rise by approximately three percent.

Despite their disagreements on other aspects of the revision, deputies were united in demanding that the funds collected from new tolls be earmarked for the improvement of vehicle environmental standards and the development of alternative transport infrastructure and not just end up in the general coffers of member states.

Additionally, the existing Eurovignette rules only apply to international roads linking EU countries and to vehicles above 12 tonnes. According to the new draft text, the rules would apply to all roads "that customarily carry a significant volume of international goods transport" and, from 2012, to vehicles above 3.5 tonnes.

The revision of the law was lobbied heavily by many stakeholder groups, said the MEP responsible for shepherding the legislation through the parliament, Belgian Socialist deputy Saïd El Khadraoui.

"The trucking sector wants to pay as little as possible," he said. "I understand that, but the sector has to take its responsibility, and we need to encourage them to organise their operations more efficiently."

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