Monday 4 April 2011

France's Heavy Vehicle "Ecotax" to go to appeal

I reported some weeks ago here and here, that the tender for the proposed French heavy vehicle "ecotax" had been frozen because of a French court intervening regarding irregularities in the procurement.

The "Ecotax" is intended to be essentially a distance based toll system to apply to national highways in France - that being all major highways that are not currently tolled/owned by private concessionaires.  In effect, the proposed distance charge (which would also vary by vehicle size) would address issues of diversion from tolled routes to untolled routes, but was primarily intended to generate additional revenue whilst heavily incentivising a shift towards trucks with cleaner engines.  The "Ecotax" is intended to apply to all freight vehicles over 3.5 tonnes and 12,000 km of national highways (and 2,000 km of secondary highways that would otherwise face diversion from the national routes).  An estimated 600,000 French and 200,000 foreign trucks are expected to have accounts and the system is intended to be operational by 2013.

Thierry Mariani, Secretary of State for Transport has confirmed that the government has appealed the decision to the Conseil d'Etat, although it is understood this will delay development by some months.

The winning consortium was called Atlantia, on the basis of a 13 year contract worth 2 billion euros.  Atlantia comprises:
- Italian toll road owner/operator Autostrade (70%)
- French electronics manufacturer Thales (11%)
- French railway operator SNCF (10%) (which raises interesting issues of cross-modal competition)
- French Mobile phone operator SFR (6%) and
- French IT provider Steria (3%).

However, the issue was that one of Autostrade's past advisors - RAPP Trans - was acting as advisor to the French Government meaning the decision to award the tender to the consortium was against "the principle of transparency and the principle of inviolability of applications" according to the administrative court in Cergy-Pontoise.

A Dutch (language) website indicates that apparently the annual revenue estimated for the proposed "Ecotax" was 1.2 billion revenue of which two-thirds was intended to be hypothecated for the government infrastructure agency AFITF.   The average charge is intended to be 8-14 Euro cents per km, with discounts of up to 25% for more remote parts of the country.

One thing is for sure, Europe's likely second largest truck tolling system will be delayed and consultants will have to be particularly cautious about ensuring real and apparent conflicts of interest are addressed.  Certainly RAPP-Trans's activities around this project will be under the spotlight in the coming months.

UPDATEAppeal successful
SECOND UPDATE: More details on France's truck Ecotax here

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