Thursday, 30 August 2012

Tolling of cars in the European Union

Following on from yesterday's post, the European Commission also released this map of national tolling arrangements in the EU.

Tolling in Europe (cars only)
This time there are fewer categories, as it only involves light vehicles.

Toll with physical barriers (distance-based charge)
6 Member States have extensive toll road systems, using manual tolls (universally with electronic options).  These being Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Poland.  Of course there are manual tolls in other EU Member States (Germany, Netherlands, Denmark/Sweden, UK), but so few as to not comprise a network of toll roads.   However, the depiction of these as involving distance based charges is a misnomer.  Whilst there is some corollary to distance, it isn't about pure distance and is not always based on this.  Still it gives a clear picture of where conventional tolling has been dominant for charging cars.

Vignette (time-based charge)
7 Member States have vignette systems, whereby access is bought in advance for periods ranging from 4 days to one year.  These countries are Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Of interest is that Hungary and Romania have fully electronic systems, with a vignette needing only to be bought online with a number plate registered, rather than the stickers offered in other countries.

Vignette under preparation
Belgium is the only EU Member State currently considering introducing a vignette for private cars.  However, it will be of interest as to whether Germany chooses to do so, given its size and the extent of foreign car traffic in the country.
Electronic Network wide toll (distance based charge)
Curiously, Portugal gets this classification because it does have a growing number of fully electronic free flow toll roads. Yet it still has manual toll roads too, and it is not the only country with free flow tolls (Ireland has it for one road).  In fact, the only real difference between Portugal and Spain is technology, it is still a country with some major toll highways.

Neither vignettes nor tolls
12 EU Member States - the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania (despite the colour on the map) and Latvia are all classified as having no such charging systems.  Malta and Cyprus come into this category as well (and Belgium would be included if it were not for its decision to pursue vignettes).

EU Member States tend to go three ways on charging cars.  Either they embrace tolling for major motorways extensively (which involves charging trucks as well), or they charge vignettes if there is sufficient transit traffic to justify it, or they don't bother at all (using fuel tax and ownership taxes to raise revenue). 

What trends are appearing?  Clearly manual tolls will evolve over time to include electronic tolls, but this is hindered by enforcement difficulties across borders.   In addition, vignettes appear to be gaining in popularity as a way of raising revenue from foreign traffic (but needing to charge all vehicles equitably to be compliant with EU law).  Rumour has it that Germany is considering such a move, which would transform the impacts of vignettes in Europe considerably.

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