Monday 30 October 2023

Iceland likely to be first European country to introduce RUC for light vehicles

Few remember Iceland when discussing experience in road user charging (RUC) in Europe, perhaps because it is an island (and so has virtually no foreign vehicles visiting), and it is also not a member of the European Union (but then neither are Switzerland or Norway). 

Iceland has had for many years a RUC for heavy vehicles, in the form of a fairly simple weight-distance charge on vehicles with a maximum allowable mass of ten tons or greater.  In 2008, it raised IKK1.083b (US$7.8m).  

RUC for EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles

However, Iceland is about to leap ahead of all other European countries in being the first to implement a nationwide distance-based RUC for electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen vehicles from 1 January 2024.  Consultation on a draft Bill (Icelandic only) to implement this charge has recently closed. Iceland Monitor reports that the fee will be ISK6 per km for electric and hydrogen powered vehicles (US$0.043 per km or US$0.069 per mile), but hybrids will be charged only ISK2 per km (US$0.014 per km or US$0.022 per mile), to reflect that they continue to pay fuel taxes. 

Iceland has had a significant growth in electric and hybrid vehicles, with 85% of new light vehicles sold in Iceland in 2022 being electric or plug-in hybrids.  This reflects a VAT exemption for such vehicles, and other very low taxes. 73% of Iceland's electricity comes from hydro-power and almost 27% from geothermal energy, so electricity prices in Iceland are immune from international commodity prices.  Nearly 20% of all cars in Iceland are either electric or hybrid of some form, so the impacts on fuel tax revenues have been considerable.

So Iceland will have surpassed the rest of Europe as no European country has so far mandated or even agreed to introduce some form of distance-based RUC for any light vehicles at all. 

RUC for all vehicles

This isn't the end, as the Icelandic budget indicated that the introduction of the new fee will be monitored in 2024 with an eye to applying it to ALL vehicles under ten tons, and to review the future of taxation of petrol and diesel. This had led to speculation that Iceland could put all vehicles on RUC and reduce or abolish fuel taxes used to fund the transport system. If it does so, then it will be a world-leader in transitioning from fuel taxes towards RUC, and so shifting from taxing energy to taxing road use.

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