As the European Commission’s draft proposal for a revision of the rules for charging heavy goods vehicles — the Eurovignette Directive — has recently passed the Commission’s internal regulatory scrutiny board and is expected to be published on 31 May as part of the Commission’s Mobility Package with several road-related measures, CEEP actively contributes to the debate on how to best ensure that the review is in line with the EU’s overall strategy for low emission mobility.
CEEP supports the European Commission’s aim to facilitate road charging systems which support sustainable mobility objectives. In practice this should mean that the regulatory framework ensures that infrastructure charging systems comply with the “polluter pays” principle. In this context, CEEP welcomes the European Commission’s Strategy for Low Emission Mobility that includes its plans for a revision to Directive 1999/62/EC on the charging of heavy goods vehicles for the use of certain infrastructures (‘Eurovignette Directive’). CEEP supports the application of road user charging as one of the tools to tackle the challenges of noise and pollution, among other externalities.
CEEP believes that externalities will become an important part of policy decisions and thus when decisions are made on the choice of transport infrastructure as well as related investments, their respective externalities should also be taken into account.
Any revision of the Eurovignette Directive must facilitate the development of innovative and flexible road charging systems. In developing those systems, Member States should have the flexibility to decide both the type of roads and vehicles in scope. Roads have different characteristics and serve different purposes, for example Trans-European Network routes which are important for intra-community trade and smaller rural roads which are important for social cohesion and accessibility. Similarly, the externality impact of vehicles and the public policy objectives Member States might want to pursue varies greatly from heavy goods vehicles to private passenger cars.
Member States should have the flexibility to develop road user charging schemes that are most suitable for their national, regional, and local situations. A new Eurovignette Directive should contain, and thus allow for, a broad palette of cost components. In addition to infrastructure, noise and pollution criteria, CEEP would support the inclusion of other externalities and congestion into the pricing variables. It would also support an element of “demand” pricing as a means to encourage a shift to more sustainable transport options. It should also not be prescriptive on the level of charges, nor set a maximum, for each externality, as long as pricing is proportionate and non-discriminatory.
CEEP has long supported ever more stringent EURO emission standards which have been successful in gradually reducing harmful vehicle pollution. Moreover, they are simple and well understood by citizens. CEEP would not support any attempt to phase out road user charging schemes based on EURO emission classes.
Although CEEP favours encouragement at EU level for distance-based pricing over time-based vignettes, it recognises there is a case for the latter in smaller schemes where sophisticated pricing models will not be appropriate or effective. Such schemes would also require disproportionate investment including infrastructure which might be problematic to install, particularly in urban areas. Systems relying on overhead gantries are a case in point. Moreover, the phasing out of vignettes for light vehicles would result in unfavourable traffic diversion to secondary roads. As a result, CEEP would oppose the phasing out of vignette charging completely. Both regimes have a place in the policy tool kit.
CEEP believes that public support for road charging regimes is likely to be strengthened if it is clear that the revenue generated must be reinvested in the transport network. However, earmarking the use of the revenue from road pricing should not be prescriptive. Earmarked funding should in principle be available to any transport-related project, not just to road infrastructure projects. Consideration should be given to a project’s ability to deliver improved and sustainable outcomes prior to the allocation of such funding. However, it is important to ensure that the costs of proper road maintenance and operations can also be covered.
Finally, CEEP supports the retention of the exemption for road user charging schemes largely covering urban areas (and their peripheries) aimed at combatting environmental, congestion and other externalities. Although urban areas face many similar challenges, local characteristics mean the precise policy instruments to address them will be different from those applying to long-distance networks. Urban areas require policy flexibility if they are to succeed. In particular, that means the ability to include an element of “demand pricing” in the road user charging model rather than pure “externality” pricing.
In conclusion, CEEP believes a new Eurovignette Directive will only have an added value towards sustainable mobility if:
- The permitted chargeable externalities are widened to include the possibility for accident, congestion and demand pricing
- Member States have freedom over the level of charging, subject to the principles of non-discrimination and proportionality
- Both distance-based charging and under certain circumstances, vignettes, are permissible
- Net revenues are re-invested in sustainable transport measures based upon objective criteria while proper road maintenance and operations can still be safeguarded
- The exemption for urban schemes is maintained
The key issue for the Eurovignette Directive should be making sure there is a balance between the costs and benefits while being based on the principles of clarity, simplicity and flexibility.