Thursday, 18 August 2011

EU step forward in allowing pollution charges on truck tolls

Heavy vehicle road pricing in the European Union is governed by EU law, best summarised in a Directive I am quite familiar with.–Directive 1999/62 otherwise (inaccurately) known as the Eurovignette Directive. It sets rules that, in summary, have meant that Member States can charge heavy vehicles for road use, but only up to their contribution towards infrastructure costs. They have been allowed to vary charges based on environmental and congestion factors, but still must only recover in total the costs of maintaining and developing the infrastructure.

IEWY News and Business Green reported changes to the Directive to allow surcharges to be implemented to cover air and noise pollution.

The recently announced changes will mean that Member States will be able to charge large trucks an additional 3 Euro cents per kilometre to cover air pollution and noise.

Charges for congestion (which are already permitted) can now be up to 175 per cent more than the average charge during peak periods of up to five hours. Lorries with greener Euro V-class engines are exempt from the charges until 2014, providing firms with an incentive to operate cleaner fleets. The changes have to be adopted by the European Council and will take two years to come into force.

I'm somewhat wary of charging for noise, given that noise is typically internalised in the prices of properties adjacent to noisy roads.  Unless the additional "noise" money is being used to mitigate noise at those properties, it would seem like a less than well targeted surcharge.  On air quality, it is simply an extension of what is already done by some Member States (e.g. Germany, Austria, Czech Republic) in charging less for cleaner burning engines compared to the dirtiest ones.  That has had positive results in Germany at least, where stats I have seen show a profile of heavy vehicle usage moving significantly towards the Euro IV and V categories of engines.   However, congestion based charging is more difficult, given that without charging of all vehicles, you are not seeing much benefit to those paying.   Congestion charging of trucks simply means less trucks, with a small improvement in traffic flow, but not to the extent that may be justified by the high toll that the remaining trucks at those times would be paying.

I look forward to seeing the details of the revised Directive.

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