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Road toll should finance cost of trans-European transport infrastructure

Toll revenues from the trans-European road network should be reinvested into transport infrastructures and be clearly earmarked, with charges from road use going to cover the costs of developing, operating and maintaining road infrastructure, while charges linked to external costs should be used to mitigate the negative effects of road transport including alternative modes. This was the key message of an EESC opinion on the Commission's proposed overhaul of the so-called Eurovignette directive, adopted at the EESC's October plenary.

As the Commission proposal stands, revenues generated by the trans-European road tolls would go into state coffers. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has proposed changing this, based on the "user pays" and "polluter pays" principles introduced by the Commission's revised directive.

"The 'user pays' principle means the money would go back into road maintenance and new investments in road infrastructure, while the resources generated under the 'polluter pays' principle would go towards reducing pollution, rolling out innovative traffic management systems and recharging points for electric vehicles, developing alternative modes of transport, etc.", says opinion rapporteur Alberto Mazzola (Employers - IT).

Resource allocation should be as transparent and visible as possible, stresses the EESC. The Committee's rapporteur suggests putting up billboards at the motorway entrance saying how much has been paid over the course of the year for its use and how much reinvested in it. Congestion, accident and emission reduction indicators could also be displayed, he says.

"This system has already been tried out on the Brennero motorway in Italy and the results are very encouraging, both in terms of how the money is spent and of public acceptance", highlights Mr Mazzola, and "we suggest applying it on a much larger scale." User revenues from the Brennero motorway have already brought in about EUR 500 million to be allocated to financing alternative infrastructure, the rapporteur points out.

The revenues from the revised directive, which are estimated to stand at between EUR 10 billion and something more than 20 billion, could boost the completion of the trans-European transport network. 

"But for all this to work we need fully interoperable electronic road toll systems instead of the 20 incompatible systems in use across Europe now", says Vitas Mačiulis (Various Interests – LT), rapporteur for  an EESC opinion on a related piece of draft legislation – the Commission's revised directive on the interoperability of electronic road toll systems – also adopted at the EESC's October plenary.

Although legislation aimed at establishing interoperable toll systems has been in place since 2004, much of it has remained a dead letter, with losses currently estimated at EUR 334 million a year for users and about EUR 300 million a year for authorities, unable to enforce tolls on dodgers from other countries. "We fully back the Commission's renewed efforts in this area. The EESC is in favour of a simple, flexible and low-priced system that can quickly be extended to cover a wide range of users and road networks," said Mr Mačiulis.

The EU's road transport economy provides 5 million direct jobs and generates almost 2% of EU GDP, with 344 000 passenger transport and 560 000 freight enterprises. At the same time, road transport is responsible for 70% of all transport gas emissions. While transport infrastructure needs are estimated at about EUR 130 billion per year, the average investment levels in the EU have been well below EUR 100 billion since the beginning of the crisis.

The Commission's draft Eurovignette directive proposes to extend charging on international roads from heavy good vehicles to all forms of road transport, including light passenger vehicles, and phase out time-based vignettes in international transport in favour of a single, distance-based system across Europe. The interoperability directive aims to introduce a single contract between clients and electronic toll service operators across the EU and a set of technical standards for the provision of the service.

The two directives are part of a larger Mobility Package including eight legislative measures and several accompanying measures published by the Commission in May 2017.

The EESC's opinion on the Eurovignette directive is available here

The EESC's opinion on the toll interoperability can be found here

See also Clean and competitive mobility for all